As some friends know, an aging me has spent much of the last month trying to sort out health and care issues of aging parents. I am not really writing this post to complain (or vent!) but because it seems that this is an increasingly common situation in today’s world, at least among people of my generation. Following years of parenting children, many are suddenly trying to learn how to skillfully “child” aging parents.
I am not at all good at it. It is simply excruciatingly difficult to persuade parents, especially parents, who like mine, were marked by the Depression and World War II, to accept the idea of outside help, especially paid help.
There are generational obstacles at play, then too, the natural reluctance of age==issues of ego and feelings of self-worth.
Of course, there are also “simple” problems of logistics, economics, ethics (issues, for example, of free will).
Perhaps more difficult are problems inherent with certain types of personalities. People change as they age– some distinguishing characteristics (hair, for example) fade or even wear away, while many other traits (let’s say, noses, or ears, or how about stubbornness) seem to accentuate.
Some of these personality traits, as well as age-old habits, even belongings, can feel like like life rafts for the elderly–they are clung to with desperate persistence even when the weight of years of flotsam causes them to drag their charges down, or worse, speed them headlong into a dangerous waterfall. (Leave out the water.)
More painful difficulties arise from the emotional history between the parent and child–all those incidents, tendencies, expectations, frustrations–similarities. The same personal traits mentioned above may have already played starring roles in each of the parties’ lives–sometimes to great and wonderful effect, sometimes less so.
History, memory, reverberation–even small sounds are magnified in an echo chamber. How confusing that these same echoes are interpreted so differently by each side–the parent who feels that they can never please the bossy child; the child who feels that they can never please the bossy parent.
An impasse. With a history. And echoes. Complicated by love, guilt, control! All played out with a semi-reversal of roles, and with the backdrop of looming disaster.