Caring for a parent

Speed Aging

I feel like I’m aging by the decade rather than by the year. Mama’s mechanism for coping with her own deterioration seems to be to load everyone into her canoe; and I think I have one leg over the gunwale.

When I sat down to blueberry pancakes with her this week, I told her I had been for a walk. Her reply was an incredulous, “In the dark?” The sun had been up for an hour and a half. She said she had thought about walking in the driveway, but looked out and decided it was too dark. And dark for her means dark for me. Apparently.

“You didn’t eat much breakfast after your long walk.” I had four pancakes and two and half pieces of bacon. I just finished 30 minutes before she did. And, besides, I only walked a mile, tops. Suddenly I feel exhausted.

Monday morning I found her in the chair wearing three sweaters and a heating pad on her lap. And she had closed the window I opened earlier when I went upstairs at 6:30 to turn off the dadgum furnace before I died of heat exhaustion. That night I put the duvet back on my bed, thinking I might be cold.

We had an electrical problem this week and she told me to leave it until morning when I could see. I could see just fine, thanks to the miracle of lights and the fact that it was still daylight out; and that I don’t have glaucoma and macular degeneration. Last night I couldn’t seem to get my glasses clean; at least I hope that’s why I couldn’t focus on the computer screen.

She’s incredulous that I can put up a tent by myself; because she couldn’t have. Well, I could not have put up our family’s five-person heavy canvas WWII Army surplus tent with poles that go inside by myself either; but times have changed. Now I’m thinking about the day that I won’t be able to.

She doesn’t forget things: she denies that they ever happened. She looks at me like I am losing my mind when I remind her what she said or did. Maybe I am.

She hates to ask me to do anything for her because I do “so much.” One gets just as tired doing nothing; perhaps that is confusing her. Then she acts like I invented God when I fulfill three requests “faster than she could.”

On the other hand, when she’s not suggesting that I can’t walk up the driveway with her because I don’t have shoes on, she thinks I can see, hear, and remember like an eagle, owl, and elephant. I never know if she is going to explain to me how to lower a blind or ask me what Obama said in his inaugural address right after he finishes it. Both make me feel stupid. Keep ’em confused; make ’em think they are crazy. That is her strategy.

And now, a confession. At this writing, I have not told anyone this and now I am going to tell it on the WWW. I have lost my mind. (No, that is not the confession.) I have loved getting older. I did not want to be the forever 39 that jokes and greeting cards are made of; I was excited to turn 40. I made it known that there was to be no black doom and gloom to celebrate 50; I was thrilled at the milestone. But as I approached 60, I took a wait and see attitude. Sixty-one now, I have made my decision. I long to be young again. I mean, I have a deep gut yearning for the younger me I see in the rearview mirror. I am not loving the 60s. I am envious of my friends turning 50. I want it back.

Perhaps it’s living closer to my daughter and seeing her whole life spread in front of her. Maybe it’s because after hiking this summer my feet are complaining and my surgically-corrected knee twinges. It could be because I forget stuff a lot and it scares me. There’s a good chance it’s because I’m afraid for my financial future: no longer able to close my eyes and mind to the precipice I’m careening toward. Very possibly it’s the loss of independence and self-reliance that is dogging me these days living in my mother’s fiefdom.  I worry that I am stuck here, as I promised myself a year ago I wouldn’t let happen; and that I have no different future. I wonder if it’s being single and wonder if I am fooling myself that I’m fine with that; and feeling like any chance of it changing is lost forever.

But really I think it’s living with my mother, having chosen to do so; and seeing up close and personal what it means to be old. And the constant subliminal messages she sends that I can’t see or hear or walk or do tasks quickly or multitask, because she can’t. I’m afraid it’s going to start to be true. And, yes, I want Mama’s younger self back for her, too.

Rebecca asked Mama what she would have done if she had gone blind at 60 (the age at which she started worrying about it). She said she guessed she would have gone to live in some kind of institution. That was all she could think of. Astounding. I will not be my mother. I will not skip the next 30 years anticipating what might be, or what won’t. I am only 61; the rest of my life is ahead of me.

6 thoughts on “Speed Aging”

  1. I would leave a comment identical to Jo Ann’s.

    I wish we were coffee friends or hiking buddies because I think you are extraordinary and I’d want to tell you to your face .


  2. Gretchen, I feel what you are saying. I am grateful you opened up with us who love you dearly about what it’s like right now for you. I KNOW you are capable of so much more independence than me! To have boldly embraced a life where you give up so much of your freedom to care for your mother is so much more than I could ever do. Know that I am here reading your frustrations and ups and downs holding you in my heart.


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