katie couric and her parents
By Katie Couric
On a recent Saturday, I stopped into McDonald's to use the ladies' room (not to splurge on fries, I swear!). There, I saw a woman my age with a concerned look on her face, helping an elderly man slowly make his way to the men's room with his walker. Photo courtesy of Andre Eccles
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"Is this your father?" I asked gently, as we all headed back to the parking lot. "Yes," she replied. "We're spending the weekend together." She seemed like a loving, dutiful daughter dealing with the inevitable role reversal that comes with age-those moments when it feels like you're taking care of your parents, instead of the other way around.
As a member of the sandwich generation, I can relate. I often feel like the peanut butter between two slices of bread: I'm trying to hold it together for my two teenage daughters, and also meet the needs of my 89-year-old mom, Elinor.
My mother's day-to-day care took on a new urgency after my father passed away last year, a loss that's still very fresh for my siblings-my older sister in Boston, my younger brother in Virginia-and me. My parents cared for each other through Parkinson's, heart disease, bladder cancer. But they went through it together. Now Mom is living alone, in the same house in Virginia where we grew up--the house that used to be full of her children squabbling at the dinner table, practicing the piano, making student council campaign posters, getting suited up to play basketball or cheer on the sidelines. It's full of 55 years' worth of memories, and the thought of leaving it and the life she shared with my dad is understandably overwhelming.
But what if something happens to her and no one's there to help? She has an "I've fallen and I can't get up" necklace, but I've seen it hanging on a picture frame instead of around her neck more than once. What about the hours of loneliness that can't be alleviated with a phone call?
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I'm lucky that my siblings and I are in regular communication and we all want to do our part. We have checked out assisted living facilities, but she always comes back saying, "Everyone there is so old!" ("It's like God's waiting room," she usually adds.) She's not interested in a nurse moving in, either. Partly because she's shy by nature, and partly because the idea of having a new person in her home makes her uncomfortable.
We don't want to decide for her, of course. Mom fiercely protects her independence, bristling when people try to help her out of the car, and getting angry when medical professionals direct comments to one of us, as if she's "a potted plant," she says. We do have options: We could work with an occupational therapist to ensure that the house is safe, or bring in someone a couple of hours a day to cook a few meals and do light housekeeping. The most important thing is to keep talking about it as a family, and to keep Mom involved in the discussion.
Whatever we decide, we'll do it together, and I take some comfort in knowing we're not the only baby boomers dealing with these questions. There are no easy answers. Mom sacrificed for us her whole life, and we want to help her age with dignity, as gracefully as possible.
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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