Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A delicate balancing act

I've written before about the difficulty of a generation trying to care for kids and their own families, right along with aging parents. Lately, though, I've been trying to balance the needs of an elderly aunt with her own desires. Believe me, when dealing with someone who possesses the stubborn Woods genes this isn't easy.

My 96-year-old aunt, who has no kids of her own, hit a rough patch over the winter. From Christmas day until early May she was in and out of hospitals and rehab. Some situations were better than others, but none were to her liking. My cousins and I have always promised we'd do all we could to keep her at home, as long as she cooperated by doing whatever was necessary for her own safety. In theory, she agreed.

Now, however, with reality setting in that she needs a live-in caregiver, she's not half as cooperative as we'd always hoped. I try to time my weekly visits -- she lives two hours away from me -- so I can chat with the visiting nurse or physical therapist to get some idea of what kind of progress she's making. Instead, most of the time I listen to a litany of complaints about how much she's paying for food for two people, instead of what she paid when she was living there alone. She wants to cut back care to a few hours a day...even though she's barely walking and certainly couldn't prepare her own meals. My cousins and I have repeatedly balked. It's created some tension. I suppose one of these days, she could simply fire the help, but we keep praying she won't.

On the one hand, I understand exactly how she feels. It must be incredibly difficult after living that many years independently to suddenly have someone else underfoot. On the other, it's frustrating to have her not see that for now she needs the help. It's been difficult for all of us, maybe more so because we're not dealing with a parent, but an aunt. It's even trickier for my cousins, who've recently dealt with the deaths of both parents after difficult illnesses. Their patience has worn thin.

If any of you out there have dealt with this with a parent or another elderly relative, I'd love to hear how you've dealt with the difficult decisions. Click on comments below or email me directly at


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