Cutting the cord, emotionally
My wife and her sisters are presently struggling with the health and future care of their 96- year-old mother. Jean has recently been moved to a care facility. Both her hearing and her eyesight continue to decline. She now transitions in and out of reality. Her four daughters are caring women. However, their mother is no longer the person she once was. Though difficult, in some ways it may be necessary to do what is best for her physical comfort and care, but be less emotionally invested, allowing trained professionals, who are not emotionally attached, to provide the necessary care. This is a difficult step, but one that might be better for everyone involved, including Jean. It will help Jean to accept that her new surroundings are now her permanent home, at the same time lessening the physical and emotional stress the daughters are experiencing.
Many years ago my mother was in a similar downward spiral. I am an only child. In some ways having the sole responsibility for my mother's care was more stressful and difficult. In other ways it was no doubt easier, not having to deal with competing emotions and opinions.
My mother's decline was much quicker. At first, I denied the reality. Then one day she and a friend were visiting. In the same short period of time she came out of the bathroom with her nylons still down around her ankles. Then, when asked, what she'd had for lunch, the friend with a puzzled expression said, "That's not what you had." Other signs began to surface. The woman who cleaned her house, fortunately an honest person, reported my mother attempted to pay her $400 rather than $40.
One day my mother, a former teacher, related to me that there were kids upstairs in school. She was in her one story home. My mother was on a downhill spiral. She was no longer the mother I had known and loved. She was physically alive, but emotionally not the same person. She was no longer clear who I was — her father, her husband or her son. While being assured she was well cared for physically, I came to realize that I needed to let go. That decision freed me to move on while at the same time feeling I had done the right thing.
In my former profession I encountered adult children, where the caring for a parent took a toll, both physically and emotionally, to the extent that the ill parent survived and the caring child did not.
The decline of a parent is difficult. On the one hand, I work to be sensitive to the dilemma my wife and her sisters are facing. On the other, I encourage them to let go, allow the professionals to take over, and care for their mother's physical wellbeing.