Stop Pretending. Do it willingly

How to cope with an aging parent  

Day 2: Do it willingly

 

Taking care of an aging parent is one of the most emotionally difficult things a person can experience. In my initial entry for this series I promised to share with you my experience and the things I have learned in taking care of my mother.

Here are the most significant things I learned as I’ve cared for my mother that helped me, each of which I will discuss individually in the entire series.

  1. Do it willingly. It has to be something you want to do.
  2. Accept that things have changed.
  3. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in conflict with your siblings.
  4. If you need help, ask.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up, and have fun

I was anxious to see my mother but at the same time I had no idea what to expect. I did not know what her situation was; I just knew I wanted to see her.

“Be ready when you see mamai (mom) because she will throw tantrums and make a drama when she sees you,” my brother warned me on our way to his house in Cavite.

I would be lying if I said that did not scare me. I was quiet for a moment and tried to digest his warning, but deep inside I was really worried. What will I do if my mother starts to cry?, I asked. Should I scold her, or pacify her? I knew she was upset with me because I cancelled her trip to America. My brother told me she was devastated, that she had cried interminably, and had not been eating.

Since the day my mother had her first stroke 14 years ago, I was the one who took care of her. There was no question in my mind whether I should do it or not. I knew I had to do it. I had just graduated from college and I was not yet working. Both of my brothers were not around. One was in Chicago getting his Ph.D., and the other one was taking the bar in Manila. The responsibility of caring for our mother rested on me.

I remember after a few sessions with her speech pathologist, I decided to teach her myself at home to save money. I taught her the alphabet, vowels, and consonants using flash cards; I let her identify the kitchen utensils like kutsara, tinidor and kutsilyo (spoon, fork and knife) until she was able to speak again. I remember her first word was “moon”, and she spoke it in English! I went outside and saw the full moon. She then continued talking in our dialect of “Bisaya”, saying “bulan dako, bitoon daghan” (big moon, many stars). I also bathed her, brushed her teeth, and dressed her. My brother used to tease me that I was mom’s yaya (nanny), kusinera, labandera, dentista, barbero, parlorista, etc., in other words, her maid.

I never complained, I enjoyed every bit of it. It was all fun for me, like I was just playing house. She was my doll. I never considered my mother to be a burden. Even though I had no experience as a caregiver, it was not really that hard. My ability to care for my mother just came naturally and I enjoyed doing it. In fact, even now, when I am thousands of miles away, I still want to be the one to care for her.

 

 

Later, my brother and I started talking with her to give her practice speaking. At first she seemed to be the same person she was before her stroke, but as time passed she started to talk to herself, was easily upset, and sometimes screamed as if she was fighting with someone. She also used to make me laugh with childlike questions, and sometimes she would playfully dance to music. I guess I now know where I got my sense of humor. 

Now, however, that funny, happy, and bubbly person, was gone. Now I see an old woman, sitting on her couch, with her lips pouting, often sleepy and drooling.

She did not notice when I entered my brother’s house until I handed her the buffalo wings that I brought from my hotel. I asked her who I was, and she looked the other way. She obviously knew who I was but she ignored me, frowned, and dismissed me.

Did I just travel 21 hours to be ignored?, I asked myself. I turned my back and in that moment I realized what my brother had warned me about. Should I be upset? Scold her? Or pacify her? I went to get a glass of water and let my brother entertain her, and joined them later.

Taking care of our parents has to be something that you want to do. If you do it because you think it is only an obligation, you will be unhappy and your parents will feel your unhappiness. But if you do it willingly you will enjoy all of it.

To take care of someone is actually a gift, and not everybody is given that gift. There are various ways to take care of your parents, and you do not necessarily have to be with them physically.

Be honest and confront your feelings. Stop pretending that you will put your life and career on hold to hand feed, clothe, and wash your parent, even if it is against your will. Instead of imagining yourself as Mother Teresa, be realistic, because the truth is it is not easy. You might think you can do it, but when you first begin to care for your parent it may hit you that it is not something you really want to do. Don’t ignore that realization and pretend that it is not real. Parents are not children, they are adults who have minds of their own. They can still do things toddlers can’t, like opening doors and turning on stoves. So don’t take on the challenge of caring for your parent unless it is what you want to do.  

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