Thoughts on Aging parent issues

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anna
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Thoughts on Aging parent issues

Postby anna » March 3rd, 2005, 9:34 pm

I am struggling with the insanity of treating an aged parent as though he were capable, and sane, when in fact, there are moments when nothing parses, and I am talking to an empty mind. I recall Gurdjieff stating that most of us are "multiple I's", meaning we shift about from one identity to another, unbeknownst to us, and thus, the conflicting priorities, opinions, attitudes, jumbled memories, are simply evidence of multiple or different I's that don't communicate with one another. This is starkely apparent within my aged parent. For some reason, however, it is harder to deal with than when communicating with a younger, more apparently, sane individual. I suppose I am seeing in bare relief the evidence that all of us express - that we are not consistent, nor are we truly sane, because we too are confused and full of multiple I's.

That said, does anyone recommend a good book on how to talk or communicate with an aged parent and stay within their sphere of illogic without going nuts yourself? There must be such a book. if there isn't, someone ought to write one.
Last edited by anna on May 5th, 2005, 1:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby anna » March 4th, 2005, 5:36 pm

Well, I have decided just to talk to myself. I received a generous and heartfelt response privately, for which I am most grateful. One of the suggestions contained therein suggested that perhaps I ought to write a book myself! That's a thought - so I figure I'll just let my train of thought run here for a while, and nobody needs to read it, unless they too are under a similar sentence of caring for an elderly parent. (What this is of course, is a "blog" - and while this format is not truly "blog" format, it will do. Perhaps I will be politely asked to move over, or enter this under some other format, but that's fine, if it evolves to such.) Of course, responses and entries are very much welcome.... :)

Of course, it would be helpful to understand that the elderly frequently find themselves within the inevitable conflict that arises when an individual, who believes that he is only that body and mind, observes its dwindling capacities, and has nowhere to turn but to himself. What a predicament to find oneself in. And yet, what an epidemic within this country of individuals condemned to live through that very nightmare. This is no doubt due to lack of spiritual work, but also due to the inexorable emphasis in this country on youth, capability, self-dependence, and self esteem based on what one DOES, not on what one IS.

Of course, my own emphasis in my life is on dealing directly with a parent who is going through that phase. However, that said, there is no doubt that my difficulties with dealing with it can be directly attributed to my inability to give it up, surrender, ask for help from my own God or source, and were I able to turn entirely away from my own sense of capability, the problem would be solved instantly. As for the predicament that the elderly find themselves in, no doubt when I am that age, unless I have somehow anchored within my mind the realization that I am NOT the body/mind, I will rage at the decrease in abilities, and behave in similar manner to those I am compelled to deal with presently. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I do not have children - I will not have to subject them to the inevitable dismay at having to deal with an irrational adult, who behaves like a child, but dismisses his own child as a child.

So, anyway, here we are. I am in the difficult situation of having a parent ask me to do things, while at the same time, insisting that he is doing them, and consequently is not only ungrateful, but is illogical, absurd, stubborn, and confrontational. Lest we conclude that this is a unique, and uncommon situation, it is not. My husband's father behaved similarly in his old age, as did both my grandmothers, so I am concluding that this is probably typical of an individual grasping for his "individuality" and "self-worth", by getting things done, which need to be done, but being unable to do so, but refusing to acknowledge that fact, because his "individuality" and "self-worth" depend upon his self-sufficiency. Does this sound familiar? Can we conclude that this is not limited to the elderly, but is ubiquitous in this culture, and that the elderly express this tendency in its full-blown archtypal image, because there is less inhibition and more desperation? I think we can. I think the stress on capability and self-sufficiency, which generates a sense of personal power, but which falls under the umbrella called "individuality" in this culture, has produced people who are often incapable, or at best, reluctanct, to ask for help, much less to acknowledge it. Indeed, there seems to be even amongst the young, great difficulty in asking for help, much less being grateful for it when given. Whether this is unique to this age I do not know, perhaps it is not, and is simply evidence of a facade of invulnerability that we all pride ourselves on, or depend upon, in order to feel safe. (A bit delusional, but who says we aren't all delusional?) Whatever it is, it is destructive not only to the individual who cannot express the gratitude, it is deadly to healthy relationships.

But I diverge. Years ago, when both my parents were younger, and more reasonable, I wondered at the statements by the very elderly who complained that their children did not spend enough time with them, did not call them enough, did not visit. I thought the children ungrateful, and lacking in respect and love for the parents who gave them life. So little did I know of elderly parents in those days!

What I did not know then was that it was a very painful experience for a child to consistently, without complaint, and to politely and graciously attend to his parent's requests, demands, and needs, when, at the same time, that parent was ungrateful, impolite, complaining, and disruptive, to the extent where the confrontation was heart-breaking and painful. Any psychiatrist would advise his patient who was working under these conditions to either leave the job to another, or limit his exposure to a minimum if possible. And yet, in this culture, children are expected, and sometimes required, and, coincidentally, driven out of love and concern for their parents, to ignore this mechanism of protection, and subject themselves over and over to continuing conflict and discomfort out of a sense of obligation and gratitude to their parents. It is an untenable situation that just reeks with non-resolution and anxiety producing situations.

In other words, how does a child, who wishes to assist, and has a cantakerous parent or parents, who want that assistance, but refuse to acknowledge it, even ask for it, but when given, is dismissed as unneeded and deficient, maintain that detachment needed, without loss of love, and objectivity and a stable peace of mind when subjected to this.

I realize, of course, that this is a mechanism a parent uses to maintain control and the resemblance to self-sufficiency. It is probably a normal response to lack of control. But it is harmful to any relationship, because it does not keep the energy flowing, but damns it up on one side. Relationships depend and thrive only on give and take, and when that ceases, the relationship sours and usually fails. And yet, in the unique arrangement of a child caring for an elderly parent, whether on a full time basis, or an occasional basis, this pressure relief gauge is by-passed, the child is unable, or circumstances may not permit, or he simply can't bring himself to walk away out of concern and filial duty, and therefore submits over and over again to the continuing abuse and unhappiness.

Why is he required, you might ask? Of course, he is NOT required, but he wishes to persist probably out of gratitude for the care his parents gave him over so many years, it is a natural response to wish to care for one's parents, it is a healthy and caring act, it is a balancing of the scales at the end of the parent's life. It allows both the parents and the child to reconcile differences, to repay care and love, to ease another's life, to prepare another for death, and all the rest of it. And it may be a heartless act to walk away from an elderly parent who needs that interaction for his own mental health. The elderly are isolated already, if not physically, then emotionally and mentally in many ways; it is inhumane to ignore that pain, and unbearable to observe it and do nothing when seen within a close relative.

I see here that I am talking about a classic case of what causes social workers frequent burnout. And no doubt, they too have found no solution to the dilemma. If this supposition is correct, then there is no way out of the pain, except to suggest to others, and oneself, that they work on themselves to the extent that they can walk through fire without getting burned. I realize that this is the ultimate solution - the spiritual solution to everything is always the ultimate solution. However, that said, it does not bring solace to those who are not on the spiritual path, and who find themselves in similar circumstances, without recourse to any resolution to the problem. In other words, what do they do in the meantime?

More later........ :P

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Postby Bhakti » March 5th, 2005, 1:11 pm

As you know, Anna, I had struggled with these same thoughts and feelings about my mother, Josie. And I wondered (and still do) as you do:

You said:
So, anyway, here we are. I am in the difficult situation of having a parent ask me to do things, while at the same time, insisting that he is doing them, and consequently is not only ungrateful, but is illogical, absurd, stubborn, and confrontational. Lest we conclude that this is a unique, and uncommon situation, it is not. My husband's father behaved similarly in his old age, as did both my grandmothers, so I am concluding that this is probably typical of an individual grasping for his "individuality" and "self-worth", by getting things done, which need to be done, but being unable to do so, but refusing to acknowledge that fact, because his "individuality" and "self-worth" depend upon his self-sufficiency. Does this sound familiar?


Yes it sounds very familiar. For 5 years after she had fractured her femur, Josie had wonderful caregivers in her home around the clock. They became family to her and all her children (my 3 sisters and myself, although I lived 2,000 miles from them). Initially Josie disliked having these caregivers in her home because she believed that her children should care for her and they were strangers and could harm her; however, as she grew to know and love them, as well as held the pretence that she was sick and needed them, she because dependent on them, even to speak for her when what her brain wanted to say something but could no longer connect with her ability to speak.

In any event, here's a story about Josie to highlight your point, Anna: One day while I was staying with Josie, I asked her why she didn't have bottled water delivered to her home instead of having my oldest sister drag in gallon after gallon when she went shoping for Josie. Josie lived in a big city with a terrible crime rate and was very paranoid, so her reply was: "I live alone and can't have a stranger coming into my home!"

All I did was laugh to myself. Her denial was so great that I couldn't believe my ears were hearing that. At that time, her caregivers had lived with her for 3 years. Following her femur repair, she used a walker for over a year to maintain that she was sick and this was why her children had caregivers staying with her. Denial again!!

Your advice to me, Anna, was to forgive her and treat her like a child. This is what I was finally able to do finally, and before Josie's death. What a relieve I experienced! And once I felt this in my gut and heart as well as know it in my mind, Josie no longer bothered me. If I felt the least bit of frustration, it was gone before I could blink. I truly did forgive her for how she treated me throughout my life and I had great compassion for her.

Josie had given up eating and had instructed her children many years before her death that she wanted to die in her home. It was very difficult to honor this as my sisters were worried about Josie suffering. Once her physician told us that people don't suffer from dehydration, they were fine with keeping her home. Three hours before Josie died, I arrived. At that time, she was in a coma, or unconscious. My 2 older sisters left once I—the nurse—got there. My youngest sister was still at work. I literally anointed Josie by cleaning her mouth and rubbing her from head to foot with massage oil. Her caregivers had taken such good care of her that Josie's skin was a soft and pure as a child's. They were as devoted to her as were my sisters, but she didn't push any of their buttons and they thought that she was the sweetest and most saintly person on earth. Of course, they knew that we thought and felt otherwise.

I lay with Josie those last 3 hours, lit candles, and chanted softly. I was near falling asleep when I heard her respirations slow. I then held her in my arms and she died there peacefully. Her caregiver called my sisters while I kept chanting and holding her. My oldest sister said that she waited for me, and I believe that Josie did. She chose me to make this passage, this giving up of the body with her, and it was comforting and a blessing for me. I felt great inner peace and I believe that Josie did as well.

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Postby Bhakti » March 5th, 2005, 2:22 pm

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The last post was from Bhakti.

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Postby anna » March 8th, 2005, 12:13 am

Bahkti:

What a beautiful story, and what a gorgeous ending! Thanks for the reminder, I needed it to put things into perspective. I think when it comes to family relationships, there is so much under the water that it takes real effort and friendly reminders to put things into perspective. and you did just that for me. In particular, reminding me to treat my parent as a child; it is quite a transition to look at a parent as a child, particularly a male parent who finds it impossible to behave as a child. Anyway, I will remember that.

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Postby anna » May 5th, 2005, 1:21 am

Well, here I am, with an update.

For some strange, and inexplicable reason, and to which I can not attribute a cause, one day, I woke up with a changed attitude, and while I am unable to treat my parent as a child, yet, at least, I am able to say "no" to the old need to fill the need to be capable, to answer the needs of another. Perhaps this is true of others, but it is certainly true of me, that in my efforts to assist my parents, I was also fulfilling a personal need that claimed myself to be 'capable", "able and willing" to make things right. It was this characteristic of my own personality that was getting in the way. (This of course is obvious now, and in retrospect, should have been apparent to me all along, but when in the thick of battle, sometimes we can't get detached enough to see the obvious.)

Actually, I believe I CAN pinpoint the cause of this shift. I am not normally a reader of "best sellers" but something made me buy Jane Fonda's book, and there was a thread throughout her life with which she struggled, and that was the near obsession with "making things right" for others. And I realized, while reading her autobiography, that I too have been motivated entirely too often by a similar directive. I had attributed that mostly to being a middle child, but I think it was deeper ingrained in my for other reasons, and my self-worth was tied, even recently, to that capacity to make things right for others. And suddenly, simply by virtue of reading her book, it dropped away from me, and the mantle no longer remains. Isn't it incredible what the words of another can do for someone?

Consequently, I am in the position now to simply observe the shenanigans of my parents, or any others, for that matter, and say, "is that so?", without being driven to correct it, fix it, or otherwise do anything at all about the situation. It is incredibly freeing, and I wonder at my poor soul burdened by this imperative for so long.

I wonder how much of this is a feminine character trait? I wonder how much of it is related to estrogen? And I wonder how much of it is cultural indoctrination? Suffice it to say, I am chagrined at my delay in applying what I have intellectually known: that there is nothing anyone can do to change anything, and that we are all in this soup called life, and we struggle the best way we can to get through it. I KNEW this, but I did not apply it in practice. I suppose then, I must be grateful for the struggle with an aging parent, because it taught me in a very direct way, who and what I think I am, and that, after all, is what life is all about. :roll:

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Postby anna » May 5th, 2005, 1:31 am

Bhakti wrote:In any event, here's a story about Josie to highlight your point, Anna: One day while I was staying with Josie, I asked her why she didn't have bottled water delivered to her home instead of having my oldest sister drag in gallon after gallon when she went shoping for Josie. Josie lived in a big city with a terrible crime rate and was very paranoid, so her reply was: "I live alone and can't have a stranger coming into my home!"


Bhakti, this reminds me of my 94 year old grandmother, who had a companion who had lived with her for about 5 years, and who was sitting next to my grandmother when my grandmother told me, "Well, of course, my dear, you know that I live alone." I think that was the last straw for the companion, who shortly thereafter told me she had to get away, because she couldn't stand the treatment any longer. <Sigh!>

I pray that genetics don't predetermine character, or I am destined to abuse my care-takers similarly! :oops: Perhaps we all stay at the party too long. As my mother states "Golden Years....like hell they are!" :P

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Postby Bhakti » May 21st, 2005, 2:16 pm

Anna has said:
. . . In my efforts to assist my parents, I was also fulfilling a personal need that claimed myself to be 'capable", "able and willing" to make things right. It was this characteristic of my own personality that was getting in the way. (This of course is obvious now, and in retrospect, should have been apparent to me all along, but when in the thick of battle, sometimes we can't get detached enough to see the obvious.)


Anna went on to say that this is probably a trait of women in general. I believe this to be so because women have more or less been caregivers for eons, which is not only due to estrogen but also to our ability to carry and nurture our offspring.

I enjoy helping people in general, which is rewarding, and my husband feels that my desire to help others is my calling or vocation. However, I have to monitor myself constantly because all too often my ego fools me into thinking that I can make things right for others. In fact, I'm the only one capable of being a miracle worker.

On the other hand, giving with no expectations or attachment—with no making things right or perfect—is an act of love and gives me love in return. As I see it, this is what Stefan and Anna call Self-fulfilling and Who We Are in Truth.

Namaste, Bhakti


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