Growing Old Ain’t For Sissies

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There is not enough time in the day…or week for that matter. I am having trouble managing my time. I am behind in my schoolwork already. I work for a company who provides companions for seniors in their homes. It is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had but not one that provides good pay ( it is outrageously expensive, so go figure) or benefits. It is the perfect job while you are in school however. You can pick and choose your days and hours. The only challenge is I’ve been having a problem saying no. There is so much demand for this kind of service. More clients than caregivers.

Plus, evidently the word is out that I am good at this and there  have been personal requests for my time. Flattering, but even more challenging. I acknowledged this as I realized I worked close to 80 hours in a week. Some of the shifts are overnight which quickly add up. I only accept hours that I can sleep part of the time. I am not a night person.

I have met some remarkable people who have charmed my socks off as well as extremely difficult ones that would test the patience of any saint. Saintly I am not. I am an observant person and am astounded at the lessons I am learning. What it is to be old in our country and how I want to be treated. I get a birds eye view of family dynamics between parents and their grown children. In many cases, even though there is great caring and concern for the aging parent, there is also great impatience and intolerance. I have seen, overwhelmingly so, how the adult children become the nagging parent. The seniors don’t want to lose their independence while the offspring want to ensure that nothing can happen to the beloved parent they must begin to say goodbye to, so they begin to challenge and change their environment. The parent fights it. Sound familiar? Throw in unresolved emotional issues and it’s adolescence all over again.

We all know it is easier to be kinder to strangers than our own family. Familiarity does breed contempt. Civility is sometimes the cost of facing the immortality of our parents. I think it is a kind of distancing that starts to happen in preparation for that final goodbye.

When you are 90, you don’t see or hear well, unless you are incredibly lucky. Even my clients with hearing aids find it difficult, but it still drives their kids up the wall, like the parent is personally trying to annoy them. Communication breaks down even further. I know of one person who is convinced their parent is developing dementia but the reality is they can’t hear well even with an expensive hearing device and they are extremely frustrated that they are misunderstood. It contributes to being helpless and feeling out of control. Little things become very important. How you fold a towel, where you put something. They resist any kind of change because day by day they are losing the very life they have created over decades. We must develop a more respectfully inclusive culture for the elderly in this country, starting with our youth. Aging is denied, surgically removed or enhanced, and refuted and rejected in our culture. No wonder the young revile aging.

I have seen seniors’ worlds shrink from a busy, useful life to a recliner in the corner of a room, and a t.v. remote on a night stand. How does one make that transition? Many of my clients tell me their grown children make them feel useless and childlike. It is easier to take care of a child in some ways than to negotiate with an adult when you have the demands of your own job, family and life on top of it. It is true that some elderly want to be dependent and some can’t help it because of illness and decline. The thing we forget though is that we will one day be in that same position. I find myself asking how do I want to be treated?  So far I haven’t been able to translate that to positive behavior when being behind a senior driver. I’m working on that.

The more we honor that person for what they brought into the world, the more we can honor them in how they leave it. All of my clients love to talk about the past because it is what they are most valued for. They felt important. I realize through observing all of this that I have to be responsible for my self care as a caregiver. Caregivers are the first to get sick when they don’t practice this very important rule.

I have a favorite client that is from Argentina and has lived in this country since her twenties. She is ninety and is a breath of fresh air. Her health is failing but not her spirit and I look forward to every minute I am around her. I also see that her independent spirit is a pain sometimes to her two children. One is accepting and validating of their mom’s feistiness, and the other is not. That is because one is a bit too much of a caretaker (and like their mom in temperament), thus takes on too much, and the other lives farther away and is more distanced from the daily stresses. How they each deal with their mom can cause friction between the siblings. Codependency, old rivalries and resentments flourish in these situations. There are always exceptions to every rule; situations that are challenged by financial concerns for both parties. It is not easy.

The aging population is growing exponentially in our country but yet, we have very little training or education on what that looks like. All of a sudden, as a result of a stroke or a fall, things can change in an instant. Your relationship with that parent changes forever. I have begun to talk to my kids about this. The more I communicate to them now, the more they will be prepared for it. No parent wants to burden their children with this but it is a reality none the less. Yet more reason, to be personally responsible for our health. Physically and otherwise. Self care.

I have begun a book Retirement Heist, How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers by Ellen E. Schultz, an award winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal. This book will forever change the way you see employers as the overburdened carriers of healthcare and pensions. It will make you sick at the amount of propaganda we are spoon fed for the profits of companies at the executive level. Executive profits and greed are growing more massive by the minute and we are paying for it. It’s not a good time for me to be reading this, but I can’t put it down. Knowledge is power. I’ve also got The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the wings, by Muriel Barbery.

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4 responses »

  1. I am so glad that you are reading “retirement heist” because I am in the middle of it! I agree growing old is not for the faint hearted. There are a lot of variables involved – health, financial resources etc. But the biggest difference is our choices that start very early in life. Practice doesn’t make perfect – it makes permanent. I chose hope, love laughter, discovery, and interdependence. It has made all of the difference.

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