Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sandwiched between Grandma and a hard place

As we Boomers hit a certain age, the whole world has acknowledged that we've become the 'sandwich' generation, dealing with kids and maybe even thoughts of our own retirement, along with elderly relatives. My own situation is probably easier than most. No kids, for one thing. And for another, I lost both of my parents years ago -- my mother at the way-too-young age of 60 and my dad 20 years later at 80. Both were in comparatively good health, if you can say that of someone who died so young of an aneurysm. And my dad was able to do his favorite thing, work in his garden, right up until the day he died of a heart attack.

So what am I doing writing about this topic? For one thing, almost every one of my friends is or has been struggling with the demands of elderly parents, so it's a hot topic among all of us. In addition, over the past six years or so, I've had at least partial responsibility for helping out with an uncle, his wife and an aunt who is now 94. My uncle died after a long battle with cancer that took its toll on all of us, but especially his wife and his son and daughter. Then, only a couple of years later, we all struggled with the decision to put his wife -- their mom, my aunt -- into an assisted living facility. At the time, it seemed like the very best option available, but given her very quick decline and subsequent death, we all regret not keeping her at home with help.

Here's the thing, though, we all make the very best decisions we can at the time, for our relatives, for our families and for ourselves. At one point friends of mine had both moms living with them in very tight quarters. It was an incredible strain, but it was a decision with which they were comfortable. Those of us who watched from the outside marveled at their capacity to juggle the needs of two women, one with Alzheimer's. And -- to be honest -- the two women didn't even like each other very much. Yet my friends incorporated them into their lives and those of us who cared about them made them part of our lives as well.

Today I'm just back from a two-day visit with my 94-year-old aunt, who still lives alone with very little outside help. She has someone who comes in to clean and someone who will go with her to doctor appointments. My cousins -- her niece and nephew -- shop for groceries for her. When I'm in Virginia, I go up every couple of weeks to take her out for a ride, a meal, a hair styling or whatever else she wants to do. She's still sharp, but her hearing is going and so far none of us has been able to drag her to an audiologist to get a hearing aid. There are things she does that make all of us a little crazy. My own particular gripe is that she treats water like medicine and refuses to drink it except in very tiny doses. I've tried sending articles, explaining the consequences in terms of her health, pleading. So has the doctor. It all falls on deaf ears -- no pun intended. She didn't get to be 94 without having a few strong opinions and, believe me, I'm not going to change them at this late date. She has the Woods gene for stubbornness in spades. My cousins and I have promised her we will do everything in our power to keep her at home as long as she's careful and not in need of more assistance than we can get for her. I hope we never have to renege on that promise.

If any of you are dealing with an elderly relative -- or have tried to help out an elderly friend with no family around -- let us know your thoughts about this. Have you had to make the difficult decision to move a parent into a nursing home? Divide your time between your family and an ill parent in another city? How have you coped? What choices have been the hardest for you? What kind of support system have you put together? Tell us. . .just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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