If you haven’t stopped to think about whether you’ll need to be taken care of when you are very old or how you’d pay for it, believe me, you are not alone.
But, if you are a woman, this is a question you cannot afford to avoid.
As Dr. Atul Gawande explains in his book, Being Mortal, “increasingly large numbers of us get to live out a full life span and die of old age.” Because of this, we live for longer periods of time needing help with basic life activities, like bathing, eating, and dressing.
You’ve navigated your frail parent’s hospital stay and now it’s time to go home. You probably can’t wait to leave but …what’s coming next is extremely uncertain. Leaving a hospital with a frail older adult in tow is like stepping off a cliff blindfolded.
This blog is all about resources and tips to help you with this transition but first there are two things to know that will help you understand my advice.
It always comes as a shock to me that being likeable doesn’t solve all my problems. In my mind, being accommodating is the key to being likable. Of course, the problem with this thinking is that occasionally all that pent up accommodation and desire to be likeable comes boiling to the surface and I become enraged and irrational.
I’ve found that I can sometimes avoid this cycle by being less accommodating and clearer right up front about what I need and what I expect. But, it’s not easy.
There is no better place to avoid the likeability trap than when your parent is hospitalized. You have to be firm and relatively non-accommodating so you can head off the white-hot fury that ends up making you look like a looney and reduces your effectiveness.
I’ve always had a hard time with planning. I find the process of “thinking things through” boring and tedious. Occasionally this impulsiveness gets me in over my head. Like the time I ordered 20 zillion ivy seedlings for the shady part of my backyard without realizing that the soil was more clay than dirt. Getting those little buggers in the ground was much harder than I thought it would be — to the extent I had thought about it at all.
However, I’ve found that leaping before thinking has a nice side benefit. It gets you in the game. If you don’t know what’s ahead, you are much less likely to sit on the sidelines. Once 100 tiny plants arrive on your doorstep, you’re committed to their survival, no matter what the obstacle. Would I have ordered them if I had known what I was going to come up against? Probably Not. Am I glad now that I did? Definitely.
I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself
About two months after my husband moved out, I noticed an awful smell coming from somewhere in the kitchen. I spent a whole week trying to locate the source. My kitchen cabinets have never been so clean. Naturally, all it took was getting half a dozen nine year old boys over for a birthday party to find eight dead baby possums right outside my kitchen window.
I’ve been noticing that when I get caught in the undertow of feeling like a failure at parenting, it makes me really angst-y and hyper-controlling with my kids, especially my 15-year-old daughter, Grace. This happened last week when, mid-stream in spring softball tryouts, she suggested that maybe she wasn’t really all that keen to play softball after all. Turns out the practices were sort of grueling and boring and she’d rather be hangin’ with her girlfriends at Starbucks.
This made me worried. Inner dialogue: “Does this mean colleges will think Daughter is lazy? She needs to play softball! I’m going to talk to her. I am going to point out how to her how important it is to be involved in activities!” I love watching her play but I also love how it makes me feel — like a rock star mom — when I see her out there tearing up the field. And, if she’s just sitting around every afternoon, what does that say about my competence as a mother?
In my next life, I want to come back as Dr. Kathy Selvaggi, the palliative care doctor who appears in a new Frontline documentary series about how our health-care system handles end-of-life care. I think we should all idolize clinicians who escort people to and from life — midwives, labor and delivery nurses on the one hand. Hospice nurses, chaplains, and palliative care physicians, on the other.
Dr. Kathy Selvaggi and Dr. Atul Gawande (author of Being Mortal, the book on which the Frontline series is based) both say that it is really, really hard coming to the realization you or a loved one is dying. They tell us that, for most people, when it comes to dying: Fear Rules.
My best friend from college and I use a term “the hard professor,” as shorthand for situations where our heroic efforts haven’t felt good enough. It comes from an analogy I created to make a point. It worked like this: If you were in a class with a professor who, in 20 years of teaching, had never given a grade higher than a “B” and you earned a “B+,” would you be mad at yourself for not getting an “A?”
I’ve learned that when you lose perspective about the value of your efforts, it’s always nice to have a friend point out that you are in the hard professor’s class.
I was trying to explain to a male colleague why I am naming my new website “daughterhood.org.” He’s both an expert on aging and shares responsibility with his sister for their mother’s care. So, I wanted his advice on creating a resource that helps families care for their parents.
But when he heard the name of the website, his first reaction was: “So this isn’t for me?” A couple of other men were confused too.
The idea of “daughterhood” as a career-disrupter occupies little social media, blogging, and media real estate relative to motherhood. BUT, being a daughter can wreck a woman’s professional plans faster than anyone can say, “lean in,” or “play big.”
Taking care of an aging parent is the furtive, not-talked-about “de-railer” of women’s careers — not to mention their own health and sanity. I write and talk a lot about caring for the frail elderly. It’s what I have been doing for the past 20 years.
Here’s what I know about how this new life challenge takes the motherhood-career dilemma and makes it look like small time problems.