Don’t Discount Childhood Baggage-Pack Carefully Thursday, Feb 1 2018 

Back in the days when the Hubs and I were assisting his Mother, I discounted the impact of having spent one’s childhood with the person you are assisting being your ‘authority figure’. While everyone has different types of childhoods, rarely does a child come through their childhood without some emotional baggage that carries over into their playing adult. The Hubs didn’t have much childhood baggage with his Mother (another story with his father, for another time), so we didn’t bump up against many historical emotional issues between him and his Mother while caring for her.   Since she was not my Mother, I carried even less emotional baggage into the situation, as my relationship issues with her started after I was an adult. (Let’s not pretend that all humans have perfect relationships with their parents or mother in law, shall we?) Don’t misunderstand, there was plenty of emotion, but it wasn’t tied to the four year old that resides within us.   You know that child. It’s the flare of anger or other emotion you feel at a basic level when triggered and your adult responses just aren’t available to that inner child.

My relationship with my Mom growing up was rockier than the Hubs with his Mother. While Mom had the best intentions of not allowing her upbringing to impact how she raised me and my brothers, it crept in. I was an only child for 5 years, so I got the brunt of the learning curve.   Before her illness was firmly in place, Mom often referred to me as her practice child and the joke was she improved her parenting skills with my younger brothers. The result of this situation, as my youngest brother and I have discussed, is that I was raised with a different set of the same parents than my brothers were.   And this created for me some emotional baggage that I carry around with me. Like a little emotional suitcase.

This suitcase is not in the forefront of my life and many of the things that I unpacked and allowed myself to react to as a younger person no longer have impact. I was able to let them go.   At times, I even thought I had lost the suitcase. I was wrong. I am finding out, as my Mom progresses down the dementia path and Dad becomes more physically and mentally disabled, that remnants of that childhood suitcase, now pretty tattered, remain deep within me. I feel its weight these days, as I am opening it more often than I should when dealing with my parents. Funny how that happens.

My parents are in their 80’s, live in their home and are basically home bound. It takes a creative balance and effort to keep their household running, their appointments kept, and their medications on schedule. Although I am the primary handler, and the first on the call list, I’ve started enlisting the help of my brothers and the Hubs. I cannot physically do all that is needed to assist my parents. I work a full time job, and live the farthest away from my parents. I’ve also discovered, that emotionally, I cannot always deal with them, as their actions or needs open my suitcase.   The Hubs has stated I am showing increased signs stress which probably adds new levels of packing in my emotional suitcase.

I wonder what baggage my kids carry around, and if they will unpack it when I need help in my old age. I wonder if I will ever be able to discard the suitcase I am shifting back and forth in my grip as I walk this path. I wonder why, when I created this suitcase, I didn’t put rollers on it, so it would be effortlessly dragged behind me or shoved aside.

I wonder what tomorrow holds.

Dementia, It’s Here Tuesday, Dec 23 2014 

I knew this time in my life would come, but always held out hope it would not. I think I am really an optimist hiding behind the ‘glass is the wrong size’ philosophy. It is never half full or half empty, but something is sure going on with the darn glass. I am stuck between my feelings of obligation and my ‘why me’ selfishness. I want to do the right thing, but cannot decide exactly what that right thing is.

I’ve been down this path before. The ‘take care of an elderly parent’ path. If anyone ever read my earlier blog entries, I wrote about it. How my Hubs and I spent 12 years assisting my mother in law through the various stages of Alzheimer’s decline, how that impacted us, our immediate family, and how we recovered. Yes, recovered. Because we didn’t assist from a distance with our lives continuing on without interruption. Our lives were completely disrupted and we were not able to continue normal daily functions of family life as so many other did at the time. Because for them it was someone else’s problem to take on and handle. (This is the ‘don’t get me started’ part of the post.)

Which is why now that my Mother, at the age of 77, has been diagnosed with dementia, and is showing definite memory loss, I find myself once again heading down the assistance path. And feeling some conflict, obligation and selfishness.

This time is different for a few reasons. The first item is that both my parents are involved. With my mother in law, it was just her and there was no balancing act between two people to consider. As strange as that might sound to someone not dealing with this type of issue, it really makes a difference to be able to make decisions without having to consider another elderly patient. What was best for her as her dementia worsened was all there was to consider. The second item is that I carry childhood baggage into the mix. I am ‘the child’ regardless of my physical age, and some of the old hurts and feelings bubble to the surface as we start to navigate the changes mental and physical disease is placing on both of them. As an example, Mom’s new blank look (when she doesn’t understand something or is trying to process something, which now takes longer) is very, very similar to the look of disapproval she graced on me when I was a child and I have found myself feeling extremely six/eight/eleven on more than one occasion.

Another element to the situation is the new, or should I say different level of interaction with my two siblings. I do not plan on doing all that is and will be needed to be done on my own. I, as the oldest and only girl, have typically been the one is charge of parent issues in the past. And there have been some. But this is a long term, multi level problem and more than a little bit of assistance is required.

So bottom line is that Mom and Dad understand they need assistance. However, their idea of assistance and their level of cooperation versus what their offspring think is required, are not lining up. And that’s where things are right now.

We all lead busy lives, including working full time and wonder how providing the required and appropriate level of assistance is going to impact us.  As I stated earlier, I am stuck between obligated and selfish.

Visit Monday, Jan 30 2012 

We drove over to visit my brother in law yesterday.  About four hours one way.  He is not doing well, and basically we’ve been told it is just a matter of time.  His body is failing, and the main goal now is to manage the medications so he doesn’t feel any pain.  He is in a facility, what in the old days would have been called a nursing home.  He has a semi private room.   It was pretty depressing.  Not just his situation, which was awful enough, but the whole place.  The people there.  It’s not the fault of anyone, the place itself was clean and as cheery as one can make a place full of very sick or incapacitated people.  What was depressing was the craving for contact that so obviously radiated from so many of the people.  We had our 4 year old grandson with us, and most of the people at the home reacted to a child being present.  He spoke to everyone as he walked by ‘hi’ on the way to the room, ‘bye’ on the way out, he roamed the halls, he found the entertainment room, which had a pool table in it and rolled the balls into the pockets as patients watched and smiled.  A tiny bright spot in the day perhaps.

My brother in law is no longer able to move around and made no effort to do so while we were there. He drifted in and out of sleep, mainly due to the meds, and would join the conversation with a comment from time to time.  He seemed to be aware of his surroundings, and who everyone was.  But he hardly ate at all, and from what I’ve been told, that has become the norm. I won’t list all the things are are going wrong.

Diagnosis August.  That is not so long ago, and here we are.  Watching him die. Were all those years of smoking worth this? A body riddled with cancer and pain?  It is easy to say the words that smoking causes cancer.  It is not easy to see the reality.  It is not easy to see the consequences of the action.  And I am certain it is not easy to experience it first hand, as he has too.  Quit smoking.