Thursday, December 08, 2005

Independent Living

It is a natural desire to be independent. Two year olds express their indepence as they use the word "NO." High school kids can hardly wait to turn 18 - longing for indepence from their parents. They have to learn that being fully responsible for themselves can be challenging. And they make mistakes-and learn from them, and continue to grow and develop.

When people live long enough, they reach what we sometimes call the "declining years." As a culture we value independence, taking care of ourselves. Especially for people who lived through the depression years, being independent and not needing "help" is an important part of their self-esteem. But old age robs us of many dignities - and independence is one of them. Role reversal is difficult for both generations. For the aging, it is difficult to admit that you don't remember well enough, you don't see well enough, and you don't hear well enough. We have a mental image of ourselves - an idealized one - where we can do everything needed. But sometimes the reality is that age has robbed us of some abilities that we had when we were younger.

For the caregiving generation, it is difficult to know how to handle some things. My mother-in-law, Evelyn, so much wants to be able to do everything herself. And she has always been a capable, hard working individual. But at this period, she is up several times during the night with Gene. It is hard for her to remember all the things that are on the caregiving schedule for Gene. And the schedule is complex - first thing in the morning, blood sugar reading, one pill before breakfast, breakfast, 9 more pills, using the vital signs monitor, something that resembles a bath, shaving, lunch, mid-afternoon pill, supper, after supper pills. Not to mention, getting shoes on his feet, foot massages, keeping the feet propped up, therapeutic exercise, deep breathing, monitoring the fluids he gets during the day, and following a diet restricted by so many physical problems.

My quandry today is how much should I just do the things to keep things optimal for Gene's possible recovery and how much should I step back and see how much Evelyn is actually capable of doing. Are my assumptions incorrect, can she really do more than I think? (They did better using the monitor this morning than I expected - I left them alone to see what would happen.) If I let her do all of it for several days, will she get too tired? I truly don't want to hinder her ability to care for herself in the long run, and yet, I know that the physical care for Gene at this point has the potential to ruin the good health she has now. It would be easier if they were not fretting because they feel like they are imposing on us. It would be easier if they had had more realistic goals concerning their old age. They truly intended to take care of themselves until the very end in their own home without involving their children in their care. A noble goal, but very few people are lucky enough to achieve that.

How do you communicate these issues, how do you help them understand that this is the natural cycle of life, how do you help them come to terms and be fully at peace?

While I was beginning this entry, Evelyn came in. I had a chance (once again) to try to talk with her about some of these issues. We both had tears in our eyes.


Rebecca said...

That is tough. I often worry about my parents and in-laws and what there plans will be. The power of prayer will see you through. It is great that you are able to talk to Evelyn about this, that is a blessing.

Anonymous said...

Mary Ann my heart goes out to you. I know this can be very difficult. Hard for you and Henry, yet for Gene and Evelyn as well.
I can identify with the tears as I was with Elaine as she had to make the hard decision of giving up her home. Her longing to stay and take care of herself and knowing she had reached a time when that was not possible any longer. You are in my prayers,
Our love to all of you.