Chances are if you're in your fifties or older and one or both of your parents are still alive, some of your time is spent in a care-giving situation. It may involve paying bills and doing paperwork. Or driving to doctor appointments, the mall or the grocery store. You may change light bulbs, take out the trash cans and do some gardening. You may even go one step further and play nurse, doling out meds and keeping wounds clean. And in extreme situations, you may be forced to play the role that your parents once played with you - that of chief bottle washer and potty monitor.
In my case, I'm fairly lucky as my mom is quite able to care for herself and in a financial situation where she can afford 24/7 care for my father who suffers from Alzheimer's. So, my main function is one of giving emotional support. I call my mom every morning. I listen to her dilemmas, ranging from issues dealing with my dad's health to when to mail her property taxes to which vegetable to serve for that night's dinner.
Every decision seems to carry the same weight. My support includes listening, sorting through the issues and giving my advice. Much the same as she did for me when I was growing up. And then of course, she does whatever she wants to anyway. Much like I did when I was younger.
A typical conversation goes something like this:
Mom: So what's new with you?
Me: Not much. How are you today?
Mom: I'm fine. What's new?
Me: Nothing. What are you doing today?
Mom: Going to get the car washed and stop by the market. How's by you?
Me: (Didn't I just answer this question?) I'm good. Did you decide what to do about Saturday?
Mom: No. And stop asking. When I decide, I'll tell you. So, how are you?
You get the picture.
Mind you, my mom is a very sharp lady. She runs a book club, writes newsletters and is computer savvy. She doesn't repeat herself because she is forgetful. No, her condition is one I call "leave-no-silent-space" behind. And, face it, when you talk to someone every day, sometimes two or three times a day, there isn't that much to talk about. There's bound to be some silence.
On the other hand, my best friend is in a totally different care-giving situation. Her mother does suffer from some dementia. She repeats herself because she really doesn't remember. For her, it's like Christmas over and over again, discovering that her favorite show is on TV or that my friend is making her favorite pasta for dinner. She couldn't be happier.
For my friend, it's like Groundhog Day every twenty minutes. She feels like she is losing her mind.
Still, as frustrating as it can be, my friend cares for her mother, as her mother once cared for her. We do what we have to, because we care. It's not what we talk about that matters. It's the talking itself. Because one day the words will stop. Our attention will no longer be needed. There will be silence.
And then before we know it the cycle will start over again. Only this time we will be the ones needing help with the trash, the light bulbs, the paperwork and the potty.
As they say, history repeats itself. And if the family wheels are rolling forward in a loving matter, so does care-giving.