Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Child Is Father to the Man (and Woman)--A Personal Journal

My muse has been wrestling with reality lately. So far, reality has an edge in this week's match.

I have never had children.  But I am unique among my friends, in that both of my parents are still alive.  At 77 and 83 respectively, my mother and father have shown alarming symptoms of age-related decline over the past year.

I have had to reinvent myself as a caretaker of two often difficult people with difficult challenges and ailments.  There are no road-maps for people like me, known as The Sandwich Generation. *

(Although, without children, I am more of an open-faced sandwich.) 

I try my best to provide basic needs, safety and comfort to a mother whose world has finally diminished to a small space of fear and forgetfulness, of self-neglect and mindless distraction to others; and to a father who has used silence and rage in equal measure to maintain his view of life and our place in it, who has stubbornly refused offers of help or requests to discuss future plans.

In brief, there was the car accident last Spring; the trauma; my fragile mother's breakdown; my father's annoyance and denial; an initial hospitalization; treatment by electricity; frantic uncertainty; more denial, and a relapse. 

There is my father's lack of mobility due to recent falls, his rapid weight loss, and his refusal to have his injuries examined.  Cognitive decline is evident, possibly due to lack of sleep.  That is due in large part to his insistence on caring for my mom at home....

My mother is in the early stages of dementia, and chronic (maybe lifelong) depression.  After returning home last June, she had not slept a whole night, and continued to keep my father awake.  She was filled with anxiety and confusion, asked the same questions over and over, and responded with belligerence to attempts to care for her.  It had been violently chaotic. It was recommended that a hospital stay would be best.  I agreed.

In this, her second hospitalization of the year, her medical professionals have deemed her unfit to ever return home, and so tomorrow, we must look at the situation and begin to make some hard decisions.

American medicine, and our culture at large, seem unsympathetic to the helplessness and pain of old age. 

In this journal I have chosen not to dwell on these things.  I never felt that this journal's purpose was as a confessional, or as a way to elicit sympathy. I feel that unless one knows the characters involved, it is difficult to make this relevant and to foster understanding with only one or two brief entries.  There are privacy concerns as well. 

Writing this now, as a way to refocus my efforts and clear my mind for appreciation of higher culture and  the kind of writing I want to do, I realize that there is so much more to all of this. The story of my parents, as viewed through the eyes of a son who always felt responsible for making them happy, and who followed his own path with a mixture of regret and pride, is so complex, and so deep, that this could make for a novel. 

You might think you have read this story before.  But if I ever decide to pursue this and shape it artistically, and do it justice, it could be a stunner, the novel I was meant to write.  But it might be so painful, I might not recover.

At such an intense time in the life of this narrator, I felt it was helpful to share some of the events that have consumed my time and mental energy, to put them in perspective.  I intend to return to film and art and animals and politics as the rightful topics of this journal.

Perhaps, instead of avoiding this topic altogether, I might visit it with more frequency.  It would be a release for me, a therapy.  If I can write compellingly, so that others will read with keen interest, then I will grow as a writer. If I share what I am learning from the experience, it might do someone else some good.

I conclude with a brief anecdote:

My parents have never been demonstrative with their affections.  More often, as a child, I witnessed hair-raising conflict, and always felt at fault.  It was rare to see them embrace, or to hear them speak endearingly.  Last night, as I started to wheel my father from the hospital at the close of visiting hours with my mother, I saw them reach toward each other tentatively, as if to shake hands. My mother mouthed the words, "I love you".  My father replied "I love you too". 

Had they been able to do that at home, instead of maintain the horror show that was their dysfunction, I would bet that things would have turned out so much differently. 

Thank you for listening..  I will return from time to time to relate any progress that we have made.

(* If you are a parental caretaker, check out this web site designed to provide help and information, researched and written by Carol Abaya, M.A.)

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