Your Parents Are Your Responsibility
A couple of years ago I wrote a post titled Dealing With Adult Parents. At that point, I was just starting to notice that my mother’s habits and memory seemed to be changing a bit. It was scary, but I tried putting a positive spin on it.
Lately that positivity has been missing, and I’ve spent more time being stressed and angered and feeling guilty and confused and like the worst son in the world. Truthfully, it’s not knowing what to do or what’s going on that adds pressure, and being an only child doesn’t make it much easier.
Trying to protect your parent’s dignity and privacy is intriguing because you know there are some things you should do but won’t, and other things you bypass because you don’t really notice them. Maybe other people do, but… well, they’re our parents after all.
Thus, the meeting I had a couple of days ago with the social worker that Visiting Nurses sent to her house was both intriguing and illuminating. It was both because I didn’t know what to expect from it and I got more from it that I was and wasn’t ready for… or was I?
Once we got talking, she asked me what Mom’s income was; I had no idea. She asked me to ask Mom if she knew what her income was, so I did, knowing she wouldn’t know the answer. She not only didn’t know the answer, but she didn’t understand the question. That’s when the social worker decided that she needed to give me a dose of reality… because she’s presently going through it herself.
There are lots of options for eldercare that most people don’t know about until they’re confronted with having to deal with it. I’m definitely in that category. A big part of what I’ve been doing is hiding from knowing the kind of money Mom has because I didn’t think I had the right to know, even though my name is on the checking account. I also have the power of attorney, I’m the health care proxy, the insurance beneficiary… everything, since I’m the only one. Yet the only thing I really know anything about is the health care proxy, as I’m a health care finance consultant, thus I’m really familiar with that document.
Once I mentioned some of this, she said that I need to take charge and be the responsible one. She said that, like her mother and plenty of other older parents in this country, they get to a point where they don’t know what’s going on, don’t really care, and that makes them vulnerable. Also, since there are lots of options, and most of them depend on how much or little money there is in the household, that proper decisions can’t be made without knowing all these things beforehand.
She then told the tale of her mother’s dementia and how it started to manifest. By the time she and her sisters realized what was happening, her mother was overdrawn and had spent all of her money buying things on TV, the same things over and over again without realizing she already had them. They ended up having to declare bankruptcy, and while she took over the banking for her mother, she and her sisters put money together to pay off many of the bills that were included in the bankruptcy filing.
She also ended up putting her mother in assisted living and said her mother fought with them for a couple of weeks and then for a few days after being moved there. Then by the fourth day she started to calm down, and by the end of the week she’d forgotten that she even owned a house; wow!
In essence, she said that I had to make my mother my responsibility, start making all the decisions, and that I couldn’t worry as much anymore about how much it might upset her because she wouldn’t remember it for long. I thought back to last Thanksgiving, when I took the keys to her car so she couldn’t drive anymore. For close to 28 hours she called multiple times, saying all sorts of stuff to me, hanging up, calling again, and, in her way, chewing me out. I’d told her every day for 3 weeks that I didn’t want her driving in the winter and that one of her friends said she’d take her anywhere she wanted to go, and she agreed with me. It was my hope that if she didn’t drive in the winter that she’d get used to it and I could take her car forever.
Finally, two days later, she called and said “I lost my car keys.” I said “You did?” That was it. It had taken 2 days but she forgot that I said I’d taken them, and two weeks after that she said we should go cancel the insurance and see what we could do with her car since she wasn’t going to drive anymore… and I didn’t say a thing; whew!
In my own way I’ve started taking some important papers from the house, knowing that she doesn’t even know they exist anymore. I’m going to start intercepting the bank statements so I can keep track of her accounts, since I know she doesn’t understand them anymore, and lost the ability to write checks last November. Since I took the car, she doesn’t have access to the bank as much as she did before, so she can’t just pop in and withdraw tens of thousands at a time anymore… and she doesn’t seem to miss it. I don’t have to worry about her driving and getting lost, which happened a couple of years ago in the winter.
Still… this is an intriguing prospect to deal with. I’m not a good liar, so the best I can do is agree with her when she says certain things, and stare at her when she says other things that come from left field and have no meaning. I’m still going to maintain a lot of her privacy… at least in public. I haven’t come close to talking about a lot of things that go on; I wouldn’t want anyone putting those things out about me, even if I didn’t know it was out there (or had stopped reading, which Mom has).
I’m going to work through this reluctance to intrude on her privacy because I need to for her safety and long term health. If I don’t do it no one else will. I’m telling myself this is important and I have to be the de facto parent now.
I’m also not alone, no matter if I feel like I am. We’re going to survive and do well. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s necessary.
Anyone else going through this?