Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Inevitable Role Reversal

Last night, I was faced with the fact that one day my parents will become old and feeble and will need us to take care of them. I also realized that I will probably be a hot mess when the time comes.

For the past week my mom has been in and out of the hospital after a fainting spell and a trip to the emergency room uncovered blood pressure and heart irregularities. After going through a “minor” heart procedure to hopefully correct the problem, my sis and I paid her a visit.

I hate hospitals. I don’t deal with sickness well and avoid wakes, viewings and funerals if I can. I never really know what to say to try and soften the physical and emotional pain of those who are suffering. So I keep away. And I internalize what those around me must be feeling or how I’d feel if I were in their shoes.

Up until now, there had only been one close family member I’d visit when she’d land in the hospital time after time: my 26-year-old vibrant cousin whose diabetes has slowly been taking a toll on her for years. And even then my visits would be short and quick with few words, half smiles and hopes that things would get better soon.

Seeing Mom lying on that bed last night, hooked to God knows what, barely able to lift her arms just got to me and I had to step out. To know that someday we’ll have to hand feed her, help her take her medicine and hold the phone up to her ear all the time was a tough pill to swallow. Yes, I’ve known this will happen, but I’ve always chosen not to acknowledge it. I’ve even brushed aside Dad’s requests to help him with his will. Doing that would force me to confront the fact that one day he won’t be around anymore and I cannot do that yet.

Na├»ve as it is, I like to think that my family will be around forever just so I don’t have to deal with the day after.

How do you handle sickness and death?

Image: healthypr.wordpress.com


  1. I wish I knew what to tell you. My dad is almost 60, so I know that my time to do all that will come when I'm pretty young as well. We were in the car today when he told me that I am now his emergency contact if anything happens.
    I don't think any of us want to think of our parents like that. They were our childhood heroes and it probably pains us the most to have to watch them suffer.

  2. I find the "right" words are difficult to find when at wakes, viewings and funerals - one has to consider their purpose: to say goodbye, for closure, and perhaps most importantly (for me) to offer a presence to the nearest bereaved - to reassure them that they are not alone in their grief journey. Words themselves may be unnecessary. Just saying, "I'm sorry for your loss" - in person - quaint as it is - can be a help.

    Relating to them just how the "departed" blessed your life in someway can help you remember something special about them over the years afterwards.

    You are jumping the gun, however, and dealing with something different - the realization that your own parents will not *always* be in your life (if the normal course of nature prevails).

    Planning ahead for the inevitable is hard. I was told I was to be my parents executor - meaning not only do I need to know where the Will actually is, but also what what they expect when (and not if) the day comes. I found that planning actually helpful. I most certainly do NOT look to the day when I have to put that plan into action. Hoefully someday you will reconsider your Dad's request.

    I hope your mother feels better soonest - hopefully it will be a goodly while before phone holding, spoon feeding and/or diaper changing might be needed. Now, however, is the time to enjoy her company to its fullest.

  3. I tend to be in denial as well Dorkys. I do not like to think about anyone getting sick or older. I also avoid funerals and since most of my family live in Tennessee I have only been to one funeral. The distance has been an excuse to not be there during the sad times, but the truth is I don't know if I could go even if I were there.

    I really hope your mom feels better soon. I know it is scary to have to see a loved one hooked up to all of those contraptions!

  4. Let me tell you...I have been thinking about this A LOT. As an only child, I am the only one who is going to have to deal with everything when my parents get older. Being that I have one parent who lives in Montana and the other who lives in Ohio, and I live in Minnesota....I have NO idea how this will work.

    I have to trust that I will make the best choices for my parents when the time comes.

    I just hope it doesn't come any time soon.

    I hope your mom is OK! : )

  5. Omg, I wish you mom the best, I too think about this sometimes, I am the oldest child,and even thought my parents are in their mid 40's, I think, if my parents would die in a horrific car crash I would have to take custody of my 2 younger sister, I would have to quite school, buy a car and find ANY job, I truly wish ur family the best.

  6. Having gone throught the same thing with both my parents, I know what you're talking about. It's hard accepting the fact that we're all getting old, and someday we'll have a role reversal. The child becomes the parent, in a way, and the parent becomes the child. Sending postive vibes your way...SITs sent me over.

  7. I hope your mom gets well soon!

  8. It's a scary thought for me too. Fortunately, I haven't have to deal with sickness or death just yet in my life. And when I do, I will have my two older brothers and my husband to help me through it.

    I hope your mom a speedy recovery.

  9. I meant to check on you last night, by the way, and I petered out on the couch before T.O.

    If your parents are anything at all like mine, they simply want normalcy. They want chatter, talk about the latest game, the silly thing that so-and-so did, how work is, what's the weather, etc. When faced with discussion with people who are closer to Heaven than Earth (or their loved ones at a funeral), I tend to tell them in "everyday conversation" tone what it is I love about who they raised, or their grandchildren, or their presence at THIS event or THAT event.....I remind them of a story about them that had an impact on someone else. I remind them of silliness that we experienced together.

    When people are tired and weak in a hospital, I either ask what they need done or handled, and then I rest with them. Chat idly and quietly about the television shows, or about the nurses, or about some cute doctor. I ask if they want to talk about ANYTHING. Sometimes, they WANT to talk about what hurts, to get it out there, and not avoid it. If they want to talk, be an ear. They may not want any words at all, just a hand to hold while you watch people crash on Wipeout. :) You'll find the right way to conduct yourself each time you're faced with LIFE. Just remember to ACT and not think too much. Our Earth time is short enough to be caught up in the halls with random nurses. Go give your mom a kiss and maybe bring her some Hersheys too. I know that's what I'd want.

  10. i'm the same way, i have a hard time dealing with sickness and death too. when my grandfather died, i was on this complete denial/stoic mode, up until his funeral when i broke down and just couldn't stop crying for days. its really tough seeing a loved one suffer, and like you, i tend to internalize things.

  11. Thanks for the well wishes everyone. She was sent home early yesterday and seems to be doing much better. Hopefully there won't be another scare.

  12. I'll be praying for you and your mom. I was just home visiting my mom and she told me all about her will and told me where all of her papers were and what she wants me to do with her stuff and money. The conversation sucks, but it has to happen. Unfortunately, the older we get the closer we get to death and death of loved ones. All we can pray for is no suffering and peace when they go.

  13. I know this is a bit late as I was away from blog land for a few days. It is so hard dealing with illness & death...and I truly don't believe there is a recipe for what is right. Each person, being an individual, will handle their pain differently. Your mom knows you love her...tell her often..as once our parents are gone we don't have another chance. I lost my mom to cancer in November of 08. She was a vibrant, healthy woman who was always on the go! She got a cold in April...cancer ran it's course through the summer...and one day...gone. I miss her terribly. I don't know how I got the strength to be with her in critical care, rubbing her bald head...as she took her last breathe. But as hard as it was I am so glad I was there to comfort her.

  14. I'm alot like you in this case. I don't handle even thinking about it. I know for sure I'll be a huge mess when the time comes.

  15. I hope your mom is doing better. I've had that talk with my mom - what should we do as they age - and I just don't know how it will be or what I'll do. I'm like you in that I don't want to think about that right now. I really hope your mom gets better soon.


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