Com­ing to terms with mother’s de­cline

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Weather - BY CAR­OLYN HAX

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.

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