Imagine being married to the same individual for 51 years. Now, imagine your spouse has died. Your children are grown and live in other parts of the city, or in another state. You go home from the funeral, and the sense of loss is overwhelming. Oh, the kids call. They visit and spend some quality time with you. But at the end of the day, at the end of the visit, they are gone. And you are once again alone in the home you shared with your lover for 51 years.
You are older, so maybe you aren’t as able to do the things you once did. You don’t see as well; you can’t drive at night anymore; you can feel your body beginning to break down. You are lonely, and you are growing old alone.
Do we children of older parents have a responsibility to them? That’s a silly question. Of course we do. The Bible says it this way: “…if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in their own family and to make some return to their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” (1Timothy 5:4)
Sometimes we live close enough we can visit them several times a week, and they are able to stay in their own home. Many times, our parents become ill and need nursing care, so we find the best facility we can for them and pray they are comfortable for their last years on earth. Often, the best option is to have them live with us. The idea, of course, is to be sure they are cared for and they aren’t lonely.
I read a book recently titled When I Married My Mother, by Jo Maeder. In so many ways, I identified with this woman and her relationship with her mother. It was interesting and a bit unnerving. I finished the book, and then I asked God, “Are you going to make me let my mother live with me?”
I have to be honest with you, the thought of my mother living in my home makes my stomach hurt. We have pretty much worked through the terrible past, and I understand fully she can no more change the way she lived her life than I can change my own past. It’s the present that is rough. We don’t get along very well, at all. I don’t do manipulation well, and she is a master at it. That’s all I’ll say about that, because who knows what the future holds, and I don’t want to make it more difficult than it may be.
Dave’s mom came to live with us a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t something we were even considering two months ago. If you’d asked us then about the possibility of her coming to live with us, we’d have said that wouldn’t happen. Reba was getting around pretty good, and she’d always said she would never live with her children.
But something happened that the doctors can’t see on MRI’s. She either had a mild stroke, or she just got really, really tired of being lonely. Whatever happened, she lost her short-term memory and was often agitated. She would call Dave and just cry because she had to ask questions about how to do the simplest thing. Since she’s moved in, she and Dave have had the same discussion about wills, money, property, etc., every single days—sometimes several times a day. She can’t remember if she’s taken her medicine, and it makes her cry because she can’t remember. We gave her a pill case to put them in, but she keeps forgetting to do that.
Just a while ago, I was making a grocery list based on a couple of dishes she wants to cook for us. She told me several ingredients, stopped and stared out the window and then asked me, “What am I giving you ingredients to make again?”
But what concerns me more than what she can’t remember, is what she vividly remembers that never actually happened. For instance, she asked me what I did with the cake in the refrigerator.
“What cake?” I asked.
“The one in the big pan.” She replied. “Somebody had taken some of the icing off of a piece, but it wasn’t me.”
After assuring her several times we have not had any cake in the refrigerator since she’s been here, she started crying. The things she’s remembering are not happening. I suppose it’s possible that past memories are recycling through, but the certainty she has about certain events—and the fact that they haven’t happened—gives me cause for concern.
My friend, George Parler recently posted on his Facebook page: Most people don’t like hearing the words, “growing old,” but for me the phrase, “growing old together,” has a nice ring to it. It defines a lifetime of love in the midst of the variable turbulence of life. No, growing old doesn’t bother me, but growing old alone scares me.
Our initial goal was to get Reba here with us to help her with her loneliness and to help her begin to thrive again, instead of sitting depressed in her apartment all day. We felt that her being with other people regularly would help her regain some of her old self. Since she’s been here, though, it’s become clear this is what needed to happen, because of this new development in her memory. She’s only been here two weeks. She may begin to thrive and regain some of her old self. Or she may be her old self now with a few glitches in her memory track. We do believe we have done the right thing.
Truthfully, it’s strange having her in the house all the time, and we are still working on getting used to this. I’m sure it’s just as strange for her, too.