Caring for elderly parents

Rob took his work along when we visited the States this summer. Three weeks of checking email and troubleshooting from afar. He even attended a virtual meeting during week two when we were in Iowa. He very seldom leaves work at work. His reporting supervisors have even nominated him for awards because of his long distance dedication to “a job well done”

And around his workplace, Rob is known for staycations that are anything but due to the ongoing renovation. His latest bit of time off in fact is all about plumbing, electrical and hardwood flooring.

Our recent trip to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia was more about helping his mother pack and purge (the latter being rather subjective) than relaxing on the beaches of southern Skaha Lake.

We are at an age where holidays are anything but relaxing. If elderly parents do not need attention, children do.

The eight days at my mom’s in July was all about her renovation project. Instead of the hiking and fishing we’d tentatively planned, it was filled with trips to Lowe’s and supervising the contractor. The B.C. trip consisted of packing, hauling and errands.

Part of the problem is that Rob is dependable, knowledgeable beyond the average person and just too damned handy for his personal good. And he is a number one son. Everyone’s go-to. Got a problem? Rob can probably fix it and if you are family, he’ll feel obligated to try even if he can’t.

In the month of August alone, he’s had no fewer than 3 family members approach him with issues that they could have dealt with on their own, but as Rob never just says “no” outright, he is usually a safe bet.

I remember this well, but living on the opposite side of an international border has really cut down on the number requests I receive anymore.

Vacation deprived last year because of the whole “heart attack” thing, we worked as much holiday into our schedule as we could once the weather warmed. A week in Fairmont Hot Springs at the timeshare was laziness itself, but three weeks gadding about in the holiday trailer sometimes felt like work and the “family time” squeezed in between Yellowstone and camping in the less traveled areas after was all about getting Dee fortified with grandma, auntie and cousin time with a side-order of looking out for an elderly mom. In more than a word – exhausting.

The trip west was motivated by Rob’s mother moving to Arizona. Her husband is already there, getting the place ship-shape and hounding his congressman, who is hounding U.S. Immigration about my mother-in-law’s residency application. Even though it’s just paperwork, the U.S. is quite tight-assed about granting legal entrance to the foreign spouse’s of American citizens. There’s nothing they can do to force Americans to just marry each other but they are snitty about it when one doesn’t. Holding up routine requests like this is just one of the ways America lets its miffed feelings be known.

So without her husband to help, Gee has been packing to be out of her condo at the end of the month, and she needed help. Naturally, none of Rob’s other siblings can help. At least I have DNOS when Mom is in need. Rob has …me. And I am better than nothing but not by much because with me comes Dee.

At nine now, she is less mothering intensive, and she is a far superior road warrior than she was when we first moved to a country where nearly every trip of consequence exceeds an hour or more one way. But she is nine. She needs periodic interaction, regular feeding and watering and sleep at the minimum, so my attention is divided.

But I am fully aware that no one factors Rob’s needs into any request for assistance like I do. His heart attack looms over my thought processes whenever stress rears its evil green dripping with fetid slime self. I can tell by the sheen of his eyes and the hallow of his cheeks when he’s running on fumes and the depth of his sighs speak eloquently. If I am not on the scene monitoring, no one else will.

Some of this is Rob’s fault. Competency and a history of saving the day are never rewarded. Good deeds are always punished with being taken for granted and more work. He never says, “I’m tired or busy or have a literal mountain of my own crap to do”. He says “Sure, I might be able to assist” even when he’s really going to stretch himself beyond his limits. My husband is a victim of his own history of awesome successes and even really competent patch-work. The curse of the number one son.

Death found an author writing his life.. Desig...

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Expanding one’s vocabulary deserves missionary zeal, but how many of us bother to learn a word a day?

Here’s a word for you – micromort – it’s the one in a million probability of death. Check out the chart. Very cool.

Most of us don’t spend much, or any, time worrying about our impending deaths. But make no mistake, everyone’s death is pending and has been from the moment you first drew breath.

The lucky majority, and I use the term “lucky” subjectively, will shuffle off to the undiscovered country at various degrees of ripe.

Statistically, only a small percentage of those over 70 can be considered healthy enough to be envied. The rest are, in various ways, chronically ill or disabled or both. One’s sixties, realistically, are the last frontier because the exercise one didn’t bother to do, the healthy foods not eaten, sleep deprivation, needlessly self-imposed stress and a general wishful thinking about being one of the lucky few because one’s great-grandfather married a twenty year old and had a half-dozen babies with her when he was 70 won’t matter one bit. Old age is ruthless and can really only work with the raw material at hand, not the genetic promise willfully squandered decades before.

Some of us though will bite it long before our born on dates could conceivably be considered stale.

Bad luck. Bad timing. Bad roll of the genetic dice rendering us susceptible to environmental triggers for all manner of nasty conditions. Whatever. Still dead.

And the odds mount as we age. At 60 a man’s risk of dying in his sleep on any given day is 27 out of a million. It climbs to 118 out of a million at age 75. In 1841 the odds sat at 86 and 266 per million respectively. But though modern life affords us more years, it doesn’t usually grant us good ones.

If you knew that sometime in your mid to late 60’s you’d physically deteriorate to the point where daily life was a real struggle, would a long life be as appealing?

The yogis – the serious ones – tend to live and live and then just die. But I suspect that their lifestyles make that possible in a way that no one in North America can really emulate.

My mother had a health scare recently. A lump in her breast turned out to be a harmless cyst, but at nearly 80, she has slowed noticeably. Her eyesight is failing at a rate that will result in blindness at some point yet to be fully copped to by her doctor, and she suffers from a variety of ailments that haven’t dampened her enjoyment of life but are harbingers of heart disease and strokes yet to come.

I am reminded of mortality – again – by the death of a friend’s father this last weekend.

Sudden but yet not really.

“How old was he?” Rob asked.

“Five years younger than Mom,” I said.

“Oh, well, that’s getting into prime death territory for men.”

And he was right.

We are lulled by media stories of centenarians climbing mountains but they make the news precisely because there are so very few of them.

The clock is always ticking. It just speeds up at 60 and gets steadily louder and slightly faster with every year after.

It’s beautiful in the valley like something out of a Hollywood drama about the new rich and the wannabes who hanker after their wives and daughters, but it is stuffed like a California roll with people in search of a good life that doesn’t exist anymore and never really existed for most anyway.

To clarify, this has not been a vacation. Anything with family attached to it is not restful and is fun in only the most abstract of ways. There is always too much to do, and too many errands or odd jobs to take care of.  Elderly parents in particular are needy. There are things they cannot, or simply don’t do, on their own. They wait for opportunities like “vacations” to catch up on these things. For the past two years, all our trips have entailed duty. Our obligations as adult children took precedence over anything that we might have wanted to really do. We did manage to sneak in a couple of getaways, but they always felt rushed … because they were.

I have stated repeatedly that post this trip there will be a year long moratorium on vacations that include “family obligations”. We are going to rest and the family be damned. Anyone with the temerity to get sick, die or in any way need us does so at his or her peril.

We finally got a decent span of sleep Sunday night. It was not enough to right either of us, but I no longer feel like falling down. I am just a little light-headed and feel a tiny bit detached. Actually, I should say that I got a good night’s sleep. Rob was awake on and off waiting for a phone call or a text from ED, telling him that she and her sister had gotten back to Edmonton.

Despite reminding both the girls that he worried and wanted to hear from them that evening, neither of them called.

“They probably decided to stay over with Cee and Why (the newly married couple),” I said, trying to be reassuring.

It certainly made sense to me. Neither had gotten to bed much before 6AM Sunday and when we saw them before heading out, they were loopy from lack of sleep.

Around noon Rob broke down and called Cee, who was surprised to find out that Rob hadn’t known the girls had made plans to stay on a couple of extra days. Rob made his disappointment known to MK who passed it along to her older sister, who in turn sent a Facebook message trying to convince Rob that he had indeed been told about their plans. If he was then it was when I wasn’t around because I don’t recall that at all and I am the one who would have remembered it anyway.

I was always one to call my mom and let her know if I’d arrived safely. I still do that. My siblings never have and still don’t. People will scoff, but I think it’s a simple thing that requires nothing by way of effort, so I do it. That is just me.

The weather hasn’t been nice. Sunshine’s sporadic and it’s still quite chilly. We didn’t get outside much and Monday was eaten up with little things needing care and a futile trip to Apex Mountain only to discover the resort had closed for the season just the day before.

A highlight was our first sushi experience at a little place downtown. Rob was the only one who’d had sushi before and he walked us through the menu. The restaurant was just about empty as the ski season is over and the summer season hasn’t begun. Even BabyD managed to eat a bit of salmon which she liked more than the tuna. Mostly though she worked up an appetite trying to work out the chopsticks.

Our homeward journey begins tomorrow. Perhaps it will afford me a few more “vacation” like moments similar to the one of strolling Revelstoke in the hazy early morning or when Rob helped me work out the kink in my Night Dogs novel (I can finish it now) and helped me come up with the draft outline for a new idea (another novel with an “end of the world as we know it” feel and a strong female lead character). I can dream, can’t I?