It’s been quite a while since I have blogged about my travels because the journey I have been on is only about people, not places. I am referring to my 90 year old parents’ aging process. There is no preparation, no guide book, no map. I find myself groping in the dark on an emotional roller coaster to parts unknown, searching for some light to guide me and them on this path.
I am the only woman I personally know who has both parents alive…. but not well. Witnessing my mom slip in and out of lucidity and helpless to lend a guiding hand as she continues on the Dementia Road to Hell is truly the saddest experience of my life.
My dad struggled with the decision to place mom in a safe facility with professionals who can engage her in activities and watch over her. It took him a long, painful time to accept the reality of her situation. He has always been a man who solves problems, fixes tough situations and helps people find their happiness and security in this crazy world. Now the woman he has loved since high school days, been married to for 69 years, the one dearest to him, needs his help and he is unable to provide a solution to this horrific disease that has grabbed her brain and scrambled it.
He, too, is not well but his is physical deterioration, not mental. Handicapped by COPD, congestive heart failure, sleep apneia, and AFIB, he continues to move forward using a cane to stabilize his every step. He has fought cancer on numerous occasions and won. He is a persistent, courageous warrior who finds meaning in keeping alive for his family: wife, 2 daughters, grandson and son-in-law. He still asks me, his 68 year old unmarried daughter, if I need money. Amazing.
My dad now lives with a caregiver/companion. He fought my sister and I on this decision, holding tightly onto his pride and independence. But we are concerned for his safety and we insisted. What if he fell, had a stroke or heart attack? Who would be there to pick him up, call 911? He insists on driving short distances and, while he is careful, who knows what can occur? Taking away his license and car will inevitably happen but until then we keep fingers crossed and pray for his safety as well as others’ on the road.
I look at my 90 year old parents with awe and admiration. They have lived full lives. I ask myself: at what point is a person old? Too old to have quality of life? What if there is nothing to live for, to look forward to? Why are we not legally allowed in most states to make our own decision regarding how long to remain alive? I want to be as kind to myself as I have been to my sick pets, letting them go rather than allowing them to suffer.
I can’t know what lies ahead but I do know I don’t want to spend my last years living in a facility, drugged to keep anxiety at bay and playing bingo. Or trying to. At least that’s what I think now. And I’m not even talking about the cost to keep alive in old age. Who can afford it?
When will we wake up to this epidemic and take control of our future years? I know I am asking myself. Are you?
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.