Caring for a parent

I’ve just had to cancel a trip today to go take care of my mother. She’s 89. We’re not exactly a long-lived family, so she’s now outlived her siblings, her husband, and his siblings. And while she still lives by herself, she needs to see her doctors regularly, takes an amazing variety of pills every day, and sometimes needs additional medical care.

My mother was brought up the old-fashioned way when it comes to illness. One can complain about one’s ailments, but there’s no point in bothering to see a doctor about them unless you’re having a near-death experience. And it had better be a real near-death experience; you must actually have seen the grim reaper hovering nearby before you qualify.

So we have phone discussions like this.

“Brian, what are you doing?”

“Oh, just about to leave for a trip to New York.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I’m in the hospital and I was wondering if you could come up.”

“WHAT? When did you go into the hospital? What’s happening?”

“Yesterday. I was feeling so bad I checked myself in. The doctor was just here and says I need [a major medical procedure].”

“When is this going to happen?”

“Oh, it might be tomorrow, or Wednesday, or . . .”

“Well, I guess I’d better cancel my trip.”

“No, no, you don’t need to do that. I can get someone else to take care of me. Besides, when are you getting back?”

“I was planning on coming back Thursday . . .”

“Oh, that will be fine.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t even know what day they’re going to operate, or how many days you’ll be at home before I get back. I’ll have to cancel my trip and figure out how to get up there.”

“Well, that would be nice.”

Now all this, you must understand, is as reliable as a script, and yet at the same time is perfectly honest. Such are the complexities of parent-child relations when the parent is elderly and wants to stay independent and the child is allegedly a responsible middle-aged adult. My mother doesn’t like to trouble her children with minor problems like being hospitalized and facing surgery, really does feel badly about my canceling my trip on her account, and yet is also quite happy I’ll be coming up to take care of her. And I will be regretting the canceled trip, so I’m no angel, but will be there at her bedside in a few hours.

Anytime I’m bothered by this arrangement, I think back to when I was in third grade. I had to have eight teeth pulled, because my baby teeth weren’t dropping but my adult teeth were coming in. This was a serious problem because, my reputation to the contrary notwithstanding, I do not have a big mouth. So the dentist decided to do this as in-hospital surgery. Really. Insurance companies let you get away with things like that, back when “Flower Power” was not an ecological slogan. Well, anyhow, I had the surgery, which was my first time in the hospital since I had been born. And I was lying there in bed in the evening, feeling lousy. Then my mother came in. And she sat down on my bed, and gave me a present: a chocolate ice cream soda, fresh from the fountain at the local drug store, my absolutely favorite beverage in those days. Forget pain, sore gums, and the like. I had a chocolate ice cream sodaAnd my Mom had brought it for me.

And she came to watch me get my doctorate, too!

And she came to watch me get my doctorate, too!

That mattered a lot when I was 9. Now that she’s 89, my showing up is what matters, so that’s what I’ll do.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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21 Responses to Caring for a parent

  1. crimsonprose says:

    I’m so sorry to hear your mother has taken another turn for the worse. But, at least she has trained carers on hand, so she’s in the best place. I can empathise with the independence thing. I am exactly the same. I dread the day I need to call on my daughters for help. They, I know, would say, But Mum, you’ve helped us, now it’s our turn. Perhaps you’re feeling the same. Time to give it back. My thoughts are with you.

  2. suzy beal says:

    Wonderful caring piece, Brian. I love seeing the photo of you and your Mom together, I wish you both, patience, peace, and many acts of kindness in the coming days. Suzy

    • Brian Bixby says:

      The hospital staff was very disappointed, Suzy. My mother wasn’t as much trouble as they expected, and emerged out of her surgery in far too good a shape this afternoon. 🙂

  3. I did the same for my Mom on several occasions and I will never ever regret going to her. I hope your mother’s surgery has come and gone and she, and you, are doing well. It is wonderful to hear someone else lovingly taking care of an elderly parent. They did so much for us and now it is our turn to do for them. So proud of you, and your Mom. My heart and prayers are with the both of you!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I appreciate the support, Henrietta, especially from someone who has to wrestle with so many health problems of her own (exacerbated by STUPID laws about painkillers). The surgery went fine, and last I saw of her she was polishing off her lunch with gusto.

  4. Judy says:

    I just returned from helping out my 90 year old Dad and my 85 year old Mom. In fact Mom turned 85 on 7/28…so a great time to be there. I read parts of this post to them..the funny dialogue and they enjoyed the conversation and thought it cute…especially..’that would be nice.’ Gotta laugh at these realities a bit and they do. When I visit though I am as bad as they are sometimes. Mom has memory issues and I have trouble hearing. By the time I understand and answer the question, she forgets she asked and asks again. Keeps us laughing anyhow. Aging isn’t for sissies!!

    My very best wishes for your mother’s recovery from surgery….she seems like a spunky lady checking herself in and all that!! And, best wishes to the good son too!!

  5. Gail Bixby says:

    Why do you think I haven’t moved to Florida?

  6. danagpeleg1 says:

    Dear Brian, this brought tears into my eyes. So sweet. During my mom’s last year I came and helped her and my dad almost every weekend, as much as I could. I felt like I switched roles with her, me being her mom…It wasn’t easy, but I still feel that if I could do more, I’d do it. Has your mom had the surgery yet? When she recovers, I would like to know what she thinks about her old country, should it secede from the UK or not. They’re having a referendum in September…

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Dana, I must admit I know little about your parents. I’m sorry. Yes, one feels like the parent, but not just quite, at the same time.

      I just got back from the hospital, having spent five hours there. Not that the operation took five hours; apparently it took more like half an hour! And it went well.

  7. Brian Bixby says:

    Now that she’s pulled through, it’s time for a beer.

  8. Hey Brian, I love that you cancel everything for your mom. you are a wonderful son. When my parents got ill, dad first, he lived with my sister who could care for him where my mom couldnot. When my mom got ill she had to go in a nursing home, we were literally always there with her. Its the right thing for kids to do for their parents. Im glad she did well with the surgery. thank god we were raised properly. Hugs to you and yours. say hi to your mom. Pam

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I will do so, Pam. It is hard to cope with parents as they get old, with all the complexities of medical care . . . but for them it’s even tougher. So we do what we can, and hope it’s the best. Thanks for the good wishes.

  9. Paul Diming says:

    Love the story Brian! And oh so familiar as we take care of my 93 year old mom. Love your blog!

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