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?