09 February 2010

Let This Be a Lesson

When my brother calls and leaves voicemail messages on two different phones, it makes me anxious. My parents are in their late 80s, with their share of health problems. My brother and his three adult kids live close enough to help out, and they do. If something bad happened to my parents, I would hear it from him first.

So when he called this morning and left messages on two phones, I figured either my dad is in the hospital again, or my mother is driving him crazy. This time, it's option two.

My mother is a very angry woman. I guess she always has been, although I didn't realize that when I was growing up. In her defense, she has had to deal with some crappy stuff the last few years. She underwent the colon cancer torture -- chemo, radiation, surgery, perhaps not in that order. Her vision has deteriorated to the point where she's virtually blind. My dad's GI problems landed him in intensive care for almost a month. Although his recovery has been remarkable, since no one expected him to live, it has been slow.

I don't know what they expected their life would be like at this age, but I'm sure this isn't it. They live in the house they bought in, I don't know, maybe 1953? At the time it was in the middle of nowhere, but now it's the 'burbs. They have always been fiercely independent, accustomed to jumping in the car and going where they want, when they want. Mom can't drive at all now, and dad shouldn't. They live right off PCH in Southern California. This is no place for an 89-year-old man with dodgy vision and reflexes to be driving, even if he has been driving it for the last 50-some years. There is not much public transportation where they live, and let's face it, even if there were, it's never as convenient as grabbing the keys and heading out the door. My brother, who has a day job by the way, has made it clear that he will happily drop everything and take them where they need to go, if they would only ask -- but they need to ask a day in advance. I don't know if transportation issues are really the most critical thing for them, or just the most obvious target, but that's what we usually hear about. Miscommunication about transportation to a doctor's appointment, when it's often not entirely clear who misunderstood whom. Some absolutely essential item forgotten on the previous day's trip to the grocery store, that can't possibly wait for my brother to bring it by after work. It's always something.

Suggestions that this is just the way it is, and it's never going to go back to the way it was before, just make them mad. That's OK. I don't see the sense in it, but if they want to be mad about things they can't change, it's OK. But they take it out on the people who are trying to help them. That's not OK.

Two things have come out of this. The first is that I'm about to have the "You Think You've Got It Bad" chat with my mother, and I'm going to win. I've never talked about my MS symptoms with my parents because, well, what would be the point? They can't fix them, it would just make them feel bad, and they have their own health problems to deal with. But Ma, if you think you are put upon because you can't grab the car keys and go get your nails done, imagine what it's like to sit at your desk with a piece of paper in front of you, and not be able to move it. My brother is doing the best he can to come up with solutions that will work for you. Don't beat him up because he can't turn back the clock.

The other thing is that I must remember not to take out my frustrations on the people who help me. I understand the temptation to do this, believe me I do. My mom is not a bad person, but she is setting me a very ugly example.


  1. Please let us know how your conversation with your mom goes.

    My mom has become more understanding and less critical where as my sig others mom has gotten more vindictive, self centered, and greedy.

    We each pole fault over our mouse turds and climb our mountains differently - hope no one wins (because to win someone has to lose) and you find understanding (and a solution).

    Your brother should not have to take the brunt of their frustration and anger and neither should you.

    Peace, Love, Joy,

    P.S. Your brother sounds like a nice guy. and hope this was not to I dunno -since I do not really know ya and all that.

  2. Zoom - I remember when my grandma's husband was aging and so dang cranky about assistance. He'd fall, get up with blood running down his face and snarl at anyone who asked if he was ok.

    I used to tell myself that to age gracefully, I would need to accept the changes and help. I didn't know that I'd be working on that in my 40s.

    I really wish you the best with your mom. It doesn't sound like an easy conversation but you sound solid and ready.

    Good luck.

  3. Jan - Thanks for the reminder that winning is not the goal, here. I won't play the MS card, for the same reason I usually don't -- it won't solve the problem. Maybe I should remind my mom that I spent my childhood beating up my brother and it didn't change anything, so it's unlikely to work any better for her than it did for me? You're right, my brother is an exceptionally nice guy. I'm glad I let him live.

    Donna - Thanks for the encouragement. Who knew aging gracefully would be so hard, or that we'd get to start practicing so early?