Tag Archives: aging parents

Patience and the present moment

Patience: n. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without gettingangry or upset 

Present: adj. existing or occurring NOW.

When I started 365 P Words back in April, 225 posts ago, it was my intention to focus on words that represented problematic issues for me – like productivity, practice, perfection, procrastination, perseverance, and PATIENCE.  

It quickly became apparent that other P words would intrude on these ruminations – some inconsequential: poodles, post-its and purple poop – and others of consuming passion: politics, prevarication and Palin. 

This week, I’m parent-sitting my 94-year-old Mom at my sister’s home in Nashville while she and her husband take a much-needed vacation, and PATIENCE is the word of the week.

Mom is trying to maintain her grip on reality, but her brain seems only able to grasp what is directly in front of her. This means that when I leave the room she’s in, I disappear, just like an infant thinks the toy you hide under the covers is gone. 

My sister’s house is not big, but it’s laid out in a meandering pattern, so it’s easy for Mom to lose track of her companion.  If I’m in the kitchen and she’s in the living room, she suddenly notices nobody’s there and she starts a quest for the missing person, poking her head in each room, calling, “Hello?? Anybody here??”

This morning while I was dressing in my bedroom, she came in three times, to call, “anybody home?” I tell her I’m dressing and she wanders off, momentarily satisfied, then in a minute she has to check in again. 

I know she doesn’t mean to drive me nuts, so I breathe deeply and try to avoid rolling my eyes. It wouldn’t be so bad to just hang out with her, but she wants to be good company, so she keeps asking me about my life – her attempt to be a good conversationalist.  In the moment, she is a good conversationalist; but my patience is tried when it’s the same conversation we just had.

I’ve been living alone for six years and have come to savor the chatter of my own tiny mind and I don’t like being interrupted. After decades of living with kids and a super-talkative spouse, I need the external silence. I can’t think or write without it. 

My sister and brother-in-law are singer-songwriters (in Nashville, what else?) – how DO they DO it with Mom always nattering away?  I’m in awe of them.

At the rate I’m going I’m not going to be a Buddhist monk any time soon. Patience? What’s that? I can be infinitely patient in traffic or in a slow checkout line, but in the present moment with my own mother? Not now.

Placeholder: parent-sitting

Placeholder: n. an empty frame inserted into a document to hold space for text or graphics to come later.

It’s been hard to find the time to create posts this week because I have been out of town since Thursday, first visiting kids and grandkids in the Bay Area, and now taking care of my 94-year-old mom in Nashville. This is a top-of-my-head placeholder post till I have more time to think.

Mom lives with my sister and her husband (who along with hundreds of thousands other boomer couples caring for elderly parents deserve nomination into sainthood) and they wanted to take a vacation, just the two of them.  How could I say no?  

That said, Mom isn’t easy. She’s in robust health, but life with her is one continuous time loop. Like Ground Hog Day. “So… what are you doing these days?” she says, professing deep interest in my life. 

I tell her a couple of things, she nods with understanding, maybe even asks a followup question, then the conversation stops. Two minutes later, she says, “So… what are you doing these days?”

The first few go-rounds I give a straight-forward answer, but after the fifth or sixth time I begin embellishing, adding new characters, peculiar occupations, maybe jungle animals. She laughs, knowing (sort of) that I’m joking, but even so, she’ll ask again and again until I can finally steer the conversation on to an exciting new topic – like what we should fix for supper. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll go to a botanical garden she especially loves, as we do every time I come. We’ll get back and have lunch, and then she’ll say, “So… what are we going to do today????” 

I don’t know how Holly copes without throttling her.  Mom is too healthy and together to be “put into a home” but too discombobulated to be left alone. 

You could say she’s in a placeholder position too.

Parenting a parent

I just returned from Nashville where I was celebrating my mother’s 94th birthday.

Mom has lived for the past five years with my sister and brother-in-law in an apartment they built onto their home so she wouldn’t have to move to an assisted living facility. She is still in robust health and, in the instant, seems totally present and sharp. She carries on a conversation, responds appropriately to questions, laughs heartily at jokes.

When I come to visit this is where we start:

“So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately…” she asks. “How are you spending your time these days?”

The first time she asks this, I give her the full rundown of my five most interesting activities.

She nods approvingly, asks a couple of questions, which I answer.

However, two seconds after the conversation has ended, its content has disappeared without a trace into a hole where her memory used to be.

“So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately….”

We go through several iterations of this, and each time my answers get shorter and a little wackier.

Finally my sister rescues me. “Mom, we’ve already covered this. She TOLD you what she’s doing.”

Mom is embarrassed for about two seconds then immediately forgets that she’s been chastised. Fortunately my sister has become so skillful at managing her that she is ready with some potatoes: “Here. Sit and peel these.”

This is the least of what my sister has to put up with though. Mom can no longer follow the long arc of a magazine article or TV show nor does she do any handicrafts so she gets bored easily. She meanders into the kitchen every few minutes to ask when the next meal is happening, or if we’re going to the store, or if there’s any tea in the pot.

These are minor annoyances compared to the question she asks at least a dozen times a day: “May I be of any use?”

My sister saves up little tasks for this question. Setting the table, cutting up celery, washing lettuce, refreshing the flowers in a bouquet, wiping off a counter. But it’s like having a two-year-old – without the pleasure of seeing him grow ever more skillful as the months pass. I can’t believe how patient she is. Her husband too. So kind.

I’d have killed Mom by now.

I appreciate my sister’s saintliness especially because our mother was never one of those wonderful parents for whom no payback is too great. On the contrary, she was supremely focused on our dad and on her music career – we three kids were an afterthought – a duty she never got into, except as we reflected positively on herself. In fact looking over her scrapbooks – you’d hardly know she had kids. (Ditto grandkids.) They’re all about her.

Perhaps that’s why my sister and I have been such attentive parents. Our other sister was wiser than my mother and knew right off the bat that she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and chose to have no kids.

Of course if Mom had made the childless choice, I wouldn’t be here to write this blog.