Coming to terms with mother’s decline
Dear Carolyn: The holidays were great except ... my mother looks like she is dying. She had a significant fall the week before. Went to the hospital. Somehow managed not to break anything. Was given antibiotics for a infection. She and my dad managed to get to our family gathering over six hours’ drive away.
She looked awful. She was in pain the whole time.
They live in a continuum-of-care place and have friends and activities and help with medical issues available at the pull of a string. But I just can’t get over how awful she looked.
I’m having a hard time integrating this. I’ve known this level of decline was coming for ages. But I maybe thought that moving to the new place with more assistance would be a magic cure that got us a few more years? Now, I’m not so sure. Help? Can’t Get Over It
Dear Can’t Get Over It:
I’m sorry your mom is sick, and that it brings painful feelings sooner than you had hoped.
You sign off by saying you “can’t get over it,” though – when you can, and almost certainly will. Remember, we are built for this. We are meant to die and we are meant to witness death.
I say this knowing – hoping – your mother may well have rebounded by the time I finish this answer; we are also built to heal.
I also know I might already be too late.
So I’m going to give you the answer for all potential outcomes.
Renounce “magic.” The more we invest ourselves in an outcome, the more we set ourselves up to lose.
And, more important – the more we miss of the life we have as we wait for a different one to come true.
This goes beyond just involvement with parents in decline: Take steps because they’re necessary and/or helpful, but don’t expect anything of them beyond their face value. See any future benefits as a pleasant surprise.
Meaning: Choose housing with extra assistance because you know your mom needs extra assistance, not because you think it’ll buy Mom X additional years.
This is a subtle change in thinking, but it’s everything. It changes your orientation from securing a specific future outcome to immersion in your present.
A destination focus is what tells you your mother is dying and you weren’t ready for this yet and you can’t bear it. A journey focus is what tells you your mother’s circumstances have changed, so you need to change, by doing A, B and C instead of X, Y and Z.
I sincerely hope your mom is OK. But whether she is or not, presence is the surest way through. Email Carolyn at [email protected]post.com or chat with her online at noon ET each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.