Heart Revolution
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Heart Revolution

When Parents Become Elderly

An Experience of Love

“Courtesy of the Author”

I was still so young when I heard from an old lady in a beauty salon: “Old age is not bad. What’s bad is what comes with it.” At that time old age for me was as far away as the Earth from the moon. I knew that death existed, but it was not yet real to me because I felt eternal. Today that distance is already small because not only have men reached the moon, but the years have passed by quickly.

Getting old is not easy, only those who did know. The skin ages, the wrinkles appear, the beauty goes away even we take care of it. Beauty is not what matters most, but health. We become slower to walk, to think and diseases prowl the elderly like thieves on the lookout when they perceive the fragility of the house. Although literature also praises old age, pointing out and extolling its advantages as the indispensable wisdom, the fact is nobody wants to get old, we would all prefer to be young, or at least, less old.

Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, the elderly do not have much space among young people. They are slow to get in the car, they are insecure to cross the street, they do not listen well. They are always ridiculed in comedy programs broadcast on television and passed over in job vacancies. When the elderly are not ignored, they are treated as children. How to find a way out or a middle ground to live a healthy old age or live with those who have already grown old? Nothing is more real than the awareness of the fact that the old age exists and that it will arrive for all, by the natural law of life.

We will all be old people unless death takes us prematurely, it’s obvious. Another obvious thing: before we get old, we will have old parents.

Most young people don’t think about it. Nothing more natural, as this is not yet part of the concerns inherent to their age group. Nobody told us when we were teenagers: “one day you will have to take care of your parents!” Of course, this finding will come in time for everyone. But when it arrives, we realize that we are not prepared for this task. Nobody is. It is only the day-to-day of this work that clarifies, guides, illuminates the path that you have to follow. Without belittling the knowledge that is in the books, perhaps who else can talk better about the dramas of relationships between elderly parents and their sons and daughters are themselves.

There is so much to learn before being on the battlefield. For example, we can learn that for the elderly the water in the shower can be threatening like noise and dangerous waterfall. When they have their back to us, if we speak a little louder, they are easily startled. There are so many simple things that need and must be taught and learned, but what you learn is dealing, relating, especially loving.

It seems that just yesterday we were dependent on our parents. We had food, clothes, school uniforms, everything cleaned and ironed. If we were affected by the flu or other illnesses, or even if injured in a game with other children, our injuries received bandages and even kisses. There they were always medicating us, measuring our fever. They were the adults who knew everything, who could arrange and solve any problem in such a way that our life would be perfect. Everything was a happy party, we went with them hand in hand wherever they went, not worrying about documents, money, or tickets. At the school party, there they were watching us reciting a poem about mothers and fathers. Suddenly, after all, it was not so suddenly, the situation changed. Now we have to take care of them. Sometimes it starts slowly, a tired look we detect, a shaky walk we didn’t previously observe, an insistent forgetfulness, a sadness that turns into depression, in short, a weak way that was not theirs.

Without knowing how to act, we take them to the doctor. Riddled with questions, we respond to the professionals with uncertainty because we do not know when exactly those symptoms appeared. Our parents were so confident, so knowledgeable about everything and they didn’t tell us about it, they didn’t complain. They even hid their complaints. Our parents got old. Just that! In the day-to-day rush, those age spots on their hands escaped our gaze, that hoarse tone on their voices, and other signs.

That was when the geriatrician examined them. He took her hands and arms for a long time, examined her throat with that pointed look from which nothing escapes, and there he comes again asking questions that we don’t know how to answer. The doctor looks at us with that apparent accusing look, and we have stamped in our son/daughter record: guilt! We come home with an endless list of recommendations, exams, and prescriptions. In the morning, when the sun is already set, walk around the block, every day. Plenty of fluids, and adequate food.

Our life falls apart. And now, how will it be? I have my own life, my kids to look after, I can’t quit my job! And there are our parents depending on us for almost everything. And when they are peaceful, good-tempered parents, it gets easier. They accept everything with resignation that even hurts. They capitulate before our authority, our omnipotence because now we are the ones who know. We are the ones who arbitrarily take their documents from them because they have already forgotten in supermarkets and clinics. We keep their identities with us. Yes, that’s what we do, literally. But worse: we confiscate their own identities, their subjectivity, forgetting that they still think, they can still ponder. And the worst: we forget they suffer. We also confiscate their passwords, after all, it can be very dangerous and we go taking their lives, taking away their last possibilities to exercise their minds and enjoy their dignity. We get tired and irritated by their forgetfulness, then we vent to friends in an always “… I don’t know what to do with my father and my mother.”

Sometimes our elderly people want to question, but, frightened, they accept and keep in their hearts a revolt because they were not asked about such and such a question. Without having how and to whom to vent, they do it with some neighbor: “… now they know everything, they are in charge.”And we find out much later, in a phrase that escapes in the conversation at the street gate. Without understanding well what old age is, in an eagerness to reestablish the routine we had before, we rush, we take everything from them, we direct their lives in the way that is most comfortable for us, according to our convenience.

And what’s left of them? People without a life of their own, immersed in apathy, with few rights like watching television and with limits for everything.

It doesn’t mean we are bad people, ungrateful daughters, and sons, without compassion. We too were taken by surprise. We cannot simply give up our life, our work, to dedicate ourselves entirely to them. It’ a terrible conflict. We mix all the feelings within us: guilt, compassion, hurt, and revolt. In the most tiring days, when discouragement reigns inside and outside us, we bring up a terrible question that remains inside our hearts and that we do not dare to ask: “so, is that what was in store for me?” And then this daughter or this son will feel like a monster and their torments will become even heavier.

However, we know that we love our parents. Well, let us also know that what we feel is only human, too human, as Nietzche would say, just the product of our tiredness and helplessness in the face of serious situations unknown until then, after all, perhaps, this odious question “so, is that what was in store for me?” also echoes in the minds and hearts of the elderly who, as perplexed as us, find life strange, once so charming and happy, and now so bad.

And when our parents are brave and rebellious? They lock their autonomy under the key. They frown, they do not facilitate anything. The whole rosary of griefs falls on us. They list every care they took with us, demand every act of love, and blame us for their unhappiness. And what about us? We feel outraged. We do not hesitate to respond vehemently, armed to the teeth because we are as brave and rebellious as they are, and like any badly healed hurt, the wounds of the past open again. Sometimes we keep silent so as not to make the situation worse, but the wear and tear are immense.

As if it weren’t enough, old age can also lead to dementia, which certainly makes the situation worse, because in this case there is no single argument to use with old parents. We will only have the exercise of love and patience. We get terrified when we consult the sheet on the characteristics of dementia, item by item. We recognize almost all of them in the behavior of our parents, and what about, now?

Dealing with senile dementia is a delicate task, it requires sensitivity and patience, nobody should blame him/herself for not always getting it right. The most likely is to make mistakes. It is by making mistakes that we learn. Sometimes, demented elderly people have a different temperament than they did previously, making us believe that their feelings and behavior were repressed for life. Thus, freed from censorship, they truly manifest their true selves. They can also show a temperament in such an exacerbated way, that coexistence is almost impossible. I saw a desperate daughter losing her patience with her father who for years obstinately she dedicated herself to taking care of him. She told me that at night, in prayer, between tears, she begged God to give her another opportunity to do everything right. It was very difficult to convince her that we are all human, and that “imperfection will certainly accompany us to the grave”, words fo Saint Francis Sales.

All this family chaos is stabilized with the time, as the family finds ways to deal with the new situation. When it is possible to hire professionals to assist in the care of parents, so much the better because the family caregiver also needs care or will be weakened to face all sorts of problems arising from this strange new phase of life that now lies ahead.

“Courtesy of the Author”

Until a routine is established, it is natural that there will be resistance on the part of the elderly. For the parents, the professionals are strange people who invade their world, their home, their lives, and they are in fact, after all, who does not appreciate the privacy? Everything can be achieved with patience and subtle insistence. There are cases in which it is necessary to make many exchanges until the parents can accept and like the one who cares for them. I, in particular, could only sleep better when I knew for sure that my mother was happy with her cheerful caregiver. It was comforting to watch the smile on my mother’s face when the caregiver arrived, even though my Mom didn’t have any idea who was that girl. She didn’t even know her name, and when she wanted to call her, the most varied names possible came out.

I will never forget when this precious collaborator was on her last day of vacation, and my mother who until then had not noticed her absence, in a clear lucidity amid cruel dementia, she said: “Maria left me”. I hurried to tell her that no, that exactly next day she would return, but by now her mind was wandering elsewhere, she had already forgotten her Maria’s comment and presence. It is necessary to say that before Maria, many other Marias passed by the house of my mother until there was an empathy built with patience and love. We had also many disappointments with other caregivers. We made mistakes and learned.

Another important issue is to make an effort not to want to embrace the entire universe alone. Not all families can maintain a well-formed team of caregivers to take care of their parents because everything costs a lot of money, but as far as possible, the direct caregiver needs rest, distractions, or she/he will not survive physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. It is admirable the strength of some sons and daughters, husbands, and wives who tirelessly take care of their beloved ones. However, even when it is possible to delegate tasks, they do not accept, on the contrary, they expose a thousand difficulties as if only they and no one else would be able to take care of the parents.

CONCLUSION

There is no other way to live this situation of care for the elderly than that of love and patience. And what would be the path of love? Perhaps looking into their eyes, entering their time, their rhythm, their universe. Spending some time with them, discovering the things that still give them pleasure, that reminds them of a time when they were happy.

This care time is very precious for the family, for parents, sons, and daughters. It may be the time to heal emotional wounds, to rescue a tenderness that has always existed, and that was hidden. I still feel in my hands the soft contact of my mother’s hands, when we were hands clasped, feeding our needs, in an exchange of affection so rare before, although I never doubted for one second in my life of her love for me. I will always remember those slow gestures in which she tried to keep the handkerchief in her pockets or between the buttons of her blouse. These memories are so precious that I do not say that I would live through the difficult period again and cry all the tears I had to cry, but I say with certainty that it was a profuse period of learning and love.

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Writing from your heart and sharing the unconditional, divine love that exists within waiting to be shown. We are ONE collective, ONE humanity, ONE love

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Misa Ferreira de Rezende

Misa Ferreira de Rezende

I write because the world enchants me, death frightens me and life amazes me. I am a writer. “About me” stories

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