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It Was My Choice, Not an Accident

As my parents aged, accidents became an integral part of their lives—and mine, as their caregiver. These accidents ranged from falling to losing bladder and bowel control. Each time something happened beyond my parents’ control, they lost a part of themselves—of their sense of independence and adulthood. Perhaps Jacques said it best in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with the final lines of his “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy: “Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion.”

The more accidents that occur, the more the caregiving child becomes the parent and the parent reverts to “second childishness.” This was especially difficult for my father. After all, he never imagined that his daughter would be dressing his wounds from a fall or helping him don an adult diaper. Yet, we both learned that it is not what happens but how it is handled.

My mother’s situation was somewhat different. Her dementia protected her from many realities of her declining life.

I have no nursing skills. Changing the diapers of my two babies never appealed to me. The sight of blood has always made me queasy. But as my parents aged, I had to adapt to a different world that demanded behaviors and strengths I did not know I possessed. I could not prepare for the accident, but I could teach myself to approach it with composure and, more importantly, with the respect my parents so richly deserved.

Accidents that challenge the parent/child relationship interrupt the routine and structure that I embrace. Yet, they are a part of life—whether they result from a fall off a tricycle or pressing the gas pedal instead of the brake. When they alter the parent/child roles, they become even more threatening.

I cringed—with worry and sometimes resentment—when the nursing facility would call me, saying Ma was again on her way to the ER due to a fall from her bed. Or, Dad slipped in the shower, cut his foot on the drain, and needed an ambulance to take him to the ER since his blood thinner was making it impossible to stop the blood flowing from his foot.

I had no control over my parents’ accidents. But, it was my choice, not an accident, that led me to be their caregiver and support during the final years of their lives.

Ronna L. Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Comments

4 thoughts on “It Was My Choice, Not an Accident”

  1. I also spent the last 14 years of my parents’ lives overseeing their care. They had moved to a continuing care retirement community, but when they needed increasing levels of care, I don’t know what they would have done without my sisters and me to assist. Certainly their quality of life would have been minimal, especially if they had moved to assisted living or skilled nursing, which wasn’t an option given their different deficits and pace of decline. We spent a fortune on private caregivers so they could stay together in their apartment as long as possible. It was stressful and infuriating to deal with at times, but keeping them in their apartment allowed us to maintain some semblance of family life. They died at ages 99 and 101 within two months of each other. Their last years were not easy, but I am grateful to have had that time with them. As you said, it is so hard to witness a loved one’s decline, and to be in uncharted territory with no good answers. I hope you are comforted by knowing you did the best you could.

    1. Ronna Edelstein

      Thank you for your beautiful and moving comment. I can only say to you what you said to me: “I hope you are comforted by knowing you did the best you could.” You and your sister were there for your parents when they needed you; you gave them an at-home quality of life that enabled them to rest in peace. Always remember that.

  2. I’ve always been grateful that my parents were relatively healthy and clear headed until the illness that killed each of them hit three months before their death…lung cancer and heart failure. My husband wasn’t as lucky. Alzheimer’s with his mother, dementia with his father. Multiple falls. It was really hard.

    1. Ronna Edelstein

      Thank you for reading my essay and responding to it. Watching loved ones suffer is hard. I am sad that my mom’s suffering lasted years; my dad, like your parents, was relatively okay until the last three months of his life. The Golden Years are often tarnished ones, aren’t they.

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