A recent health situation has put me into the possibility of having sinus surgery in Denver. I won’t know for a few weeks, but it has caused an upheaval that I thought I wouldn’t have to experience for many years.
My kids live up there and would have to care for me for a week or so after the procedure. This has brought up so much angst. I had always planned that if I had Alzheimer’s or was incapable of caring for myself, I’d end it all. I’ve worked hard on the death with dignity bill coming up in the Colorado Legislature later this year again.
So here I am, the “being-cared-for-by-my-kids” card has been dealt to me. Uncharted territory! The questions I ask: Is it a child’s responsibility to care for a parent? Does the daughter-in-law sign on to caring for her mother-in-law when she marries? I think not, but here we are.
Why is it so difficult for some of us to be cared for? I’ve brought food and done errands for many friends when they’ve needed help. Airport pickups, support groups for friends with cancer and flying to California to help my son’s family out at times are some of the ways I’ve cared for others. It’s easy to give, but so much harder to accept.
Many of us live alone and have had to be independent for some time. What I can’t do myself, my friends help me with. Somehow, it’s different with friends, more give and take, more balance. When a child must care for a parent, the tables turn and it feels so pitiful.
Dependence is a big challenge for most people, especially given the values of our society. It makes us feel diminished because we appreciate self-sufficiency and independence so highly. We value taking care of others, but shun the notion of being taken care of ourselves. It’s sort of like the “terrible 2’s’ – when our ego takes over and refuses all help from a parent.
In my reading, I learn that in allowing ourselves to reveal our need, we allow those around us the opportunity to help, which is a fundamental need we all share. Being open and communicative about dependence can help others to become free of their own fear of dependence.
Spiritual leader Ram Dass says, “It’s a sacred exchange of love and care ... we can see our new circumstance as an opportunity for greater intimacy.”
Opening ourselves to the needs of others, and allowing ourselves to be honest about our own changing needs as we age, requires response to each moment as it arises without prejudice or expectations. We need to lose having so many opinions and ideas of how things should be and what we ought to be doing.
I’m trying to get honest and find some truth here. The vulnerability I feel – the exposure, uncertainty and emotional risk – is huge. Perhaps it will move into courage, engagement and a deeper clarity of relationships. Can’t we be both tough and tender, brave and afraid, strong and struggling? Embracing wholeness leads to authenticity.
Happy New Year to all, and may we be loved and supported through this ever-changing landscape we’re all moving through.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.