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From the Baltimore Catechism No. 2:

 Which are the Commandments of God?

The Commandments of God are these…..

4. Honor thy father and thy mother.

In yesterday’s post about life with an aging parent, I linked to Sandra Tsing Loh’s article Daddy Issues from the Atlantic Monthly. Today, I have a different take on the same subject, also from the Atlantic Monthly, Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Forced Into Adulthood by an Aging Parent, by Sarah Khan.

In Ms. Loh’s article, she looks at her father through the lens of the inheritance she sees him burning through: “That’s right: my family is throwing all our money away on powdering our 91-year-old dad’s giant-baby ass, leaving nothing for my sweet little daughters, with their thoughts of unicorns and poetry and dance, my helpless little daughters, who, in the end, represent me!”

In Ms. Khan’s article, she represents herself as a child-woman who is forced into adulthood when her father, away from their family on a business trip, alone in another city, is hospitalized with bleeding ulcers. She is the only member of the family who can go to be with him, so she goes: “On his side of the curtain, my father proudly announced to anyone who would listen, ‘She flew in from New York to be with me.’ ‘You’re a good daughter,’ they all told me — people at the hospital, friends, the clerk at the front desk of the apartment building. I didn’t know what to make of the statements. Isn’t this what kids are supposed to do for their parents? Isn’t this what my family did for me?

If you read my post yesterday, you know what my feelings are about this. That said, I know that every family is different. Sometimes, even as an adult, you cannot come to terms with what you perceive as your parents’ failings. Our perceptions of those closest to us can be frozen at a place in time that makes forgiveness and friendship and love impossible. Sometimes, they’re not perceptions– if your parents were abusive, or crazy, or if you were abandoned, you have very good reasons not to want to care for them when they are old and infirm. Sometimes, it’s your time of life– it’s easier to care for your dad when you are thirty years old, without spouse or kids, and can hop on a plane without putting your job in jeopardy. But I think that the willingness to do it at all is at the heart of the matter. Are you willing to be the caretaker for the person who took care of you? How far are you willing to go to do so?

I’ve wondered how things would have gone for my family if my father’s death hadn’t come as suddenly as it did. I hired his caretakers on a Monday. They started that Thursday. The first day went very, very well. The next morning, Friday June 11, 2010, he left his home sometime early in the morning, before his caretaker– a geriatrics nurse– arrived. When she saw he wasn’t in the house, knowing his history (in the previous three months, he had been brought home by the police on three occasions, having gotten lost in the town he had lived in for fifteen years), she called my youngest sister at work, called me at home, and called our friend (who was Dad’s afternoon caretaker) and the two of them, separately, drove all over Union, searching for my dad. I called the police, and they had their patrols driving and searching for him within an hour of my call.
We searched Union and the surrounding towns for the next three days, putting up flyers and talking to anyone, everyone, trying to find him.
My father was found four days later by the Essex County Police bloodhounds in the woods near his house (which we had searched repeatedly– just not where he was found, deep in the brush).

If he had been found that first day, and had been none the worse for the wear, if it had been like the other three times, what would my family have done? We had just started day care for him– would we have continued with that? He was a very recalcitrant man, as stubborn as they come– how would he have dealt with having people who were not family members in his home, watching him, all the time? How would we have dealt with him? The bulk of the day-to-day tasks fell on my youngest sister, her husband, and their teenage daughter, because they lived in the same town. I was the next closest, but two hours away by public transportation, and working full-time. Our other sisters lived hundreds of miles away, as did our brother.
We had all agreed that it was better for Dad if we could keep him in his home, even if it meant having full-time care available. I thought it would kill him if we moved him into assisted living. He loved being able to go out for a walk whenever he wanted to; thanks to his physical therapist, his gait had really improved, despite the Parkinson’s.
It was a quality of life decision, and despite how it turned out, I stand by it. He lived and died on his own terms, with a good mix of autonomy and support. He was free, and he was loved. He went for a walk and he didn’t come home. It was hard for us, especially for those four days, but I can’t think of a better “good death” for him.
If he had lived another five years, maybe he wouldn’t have had such a good death. I don’t, and can’t, know.

Okay, you have (or have had) parents. What kind of planning, what kind of decisions are you making/did you make?
What do you do when you love them, and you see them fading?
What do you do when your relationship is fraught, and time is running out to try to repair it?
What do you do? What did you do?
I’d love to hear about it. Please post in my comments section~ please share your story.

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