Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parenting Your Parents

Once I hit 47 years old, I realized many of my contemporaries were losing either their mom or their dad. As each year passed, it seemed like it was becoming a growing epidemic. Sometimes the death of a parent is expected due to terminal illness. Other times it's sudden like a stroke or an accident precipitated by failing health or aging. When my dad died last year, it occurred to me that very few of my friends were lucky enough to have both parents alive.

When the loss of a parent is a long time coming, there is usually a series of hospital visits, followed by hard decisions about extended care before mom or dad slowly shuffles into the darkness of death. For others, like myself, the loss of a parent is preceded by a roller coaster of harrowing events. My dad couldn't find his way back to my house one night when he drove down the hill to buy cigarettes. Then he escaped to New York City another time when luckily a woman observed him mumbling to himself in Grand Central Station about whether he should take a train to Minnesota or Florida. This kind lady notified the police then safely ushered him on to a Metro North train into the safety of my brother's keeping.

Then on St. Patrick's Day 2010, dad went to take the garbage out and my mom found him 30 minutes later laying dead in the garage. Yes, it was a shock, but we feel he couldn't have gone in a better way. So with many of us left with just one parent, all the dynamics change. Suddenly you realize that it's time to saddle up and take more responsibility for the only parent you have left.

When my mother came up here to Connecticut for a month, I was gung-ho. I took her to New York City to see a jewelry exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt. I spontaneously booked a weekend trip to Maine. And that's when I realized that for all mom's perkiness at 77 years old, the harbinger of old age was insidiously creeping in.

When we got to Maine, mom started rifling through her jewelry satchel and proclaimed that one of her rings was missing. She was thoroughly convinced that she had left the ring on the bedside side table and put the hotel staff into a tizzy moving furniture to find it. Then she accused the hotel maid of stealing the ring. When the staff refused to bring the cleaning lady before her in handcuffs for an interrogation, she called the police.

That's when I started to get pissed. The hotel staff called to inform me the police arrived and to please come down. I walked outside to find flashing red lights, parents grabbing their children and pretty much every one on the grounds scattering like ants towards their hotel rooms.

And there was my mom, with red neon lights shadowing her face, calling out accusations into the dusk: "I've been robbed!"I walked down to the scene and was informed my mother was filing a report. I said mater-of-factly: "Officer, this isn't the first time this has happened and it certainly won't be the last. I will bet money that ring is sitting on a table in my guest bedroom in Connecticut."

Mom didn't like that comment and started yelling at me for not supporting her since she was clearly a victim. The officer told us to break it up. Long story short, when we got back to Connecticut, there was the ring sitting in a dish in my guest bedroom. Mom started to cry. I just called the hotel staff and apologized. I followed up with an email and commented somewhat jokingly that if we came back to Maine, I hope they wouldn't refuse our reservation.

Then it occurred to me this is only going to get worse as the years go by. So what do I do? Create a checklist before mom and I go on a trip? At 54 years old the scales have finally tipped the other way. Mom's not getting any younger, and I need to be the responsible one. The time has come for me be the parent to my mom.

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