I am the youngest of four children in our family and have become the only one who lives in the same state as my parents, who are 83 and 85 years old. I have one brother who moved to California over 20 years ago. My oldest brother is serving 90 months in federal prison for white collar crime. My only sister decided to take an early retirement and moved to North Carolina 3 years ago. So, that leaves me as the only child in New Jersey with our parents. My husband left the marriage three years ago after 28 years. I am also the only child who happens to be disabled from a stroke 19 years ago.
Fortunately, my parents have been in reasonably good health until last fall when my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer at age 83. 85 year old dad is in good health with the usual aches and pains associated with advancing age. He was able to be the primary caregiver for my mom while she underwent 6 months of chemotherapy. He’s still a great driver. Like many men his age, he avoided housekeeping chores for most of his life as well as administrative duties associated with running a home. He was suddenly thrust into a new routine and did a good job.
My mom tolerated the chemo fairly well. The worst side effect was fatigue. Normally sharp minded, she became a bit lethargic when it came to keeping up with the things she normally did. It was hard for her to even talk on the phone so I became her spokesperson as far as keeping friends and family informed about her condition.
They live an hour away. When they needed help with technology in their home, either I traveled by myself to address it, or sometimes my young adult wiz kid sons would come, too.
Cancer is definitely an overwhelming diagnosis. It was helpful for me to attend doctor appointments with them to be another set of clear eyes and ears and help with decision making, when necessary.
My sister put on a show of being so sad to be so far away and felt powerless to help. She also had her share of personal problems during this time including an epileptic dog who finally was laid to rest this spring. She came for a visit in April feeling unsure of how mom would come through this illness. She is usually full of great advice for me as far as what I should be doing for our parents from 900 miles away. I don’t find it helpful. I resent it, in fact.
I never hesitate to do anything in my power to help my parents. I certainly have excuses to not do so, but I’m not built that way.
My mother usually complains that I am doing too much because she doesn’t want to be a burden. I don’t see it that way. Once I asked my parents if they had ever done anything for me when I was sick as they were telling me I didn’t need to drive all that way to help pay their bills. It was very funny. We all knew they had sacrificed about 5 of their retirement years to step up to do anything possible to help when I was hospitalized for three months as a result of having a stroke during pregnancy. Recovery was slow and incomplete. The support from my parents is simply immeasurable. The least I could do was update the software on my mom’s iphone or pay her bills online.
The chemotherapy was effective at eliminating the cancer. The doctors recommended a hysterectomy to minimize the chance of recurrence. This is as major as surgery gets, especially for an 83 year old woman with extensive scar tissue throughout her abdomen from a lifetime of major abdominal surgeries.
Once again, my sister had the best ideas for how I should help. She was distraught that she was so far away. I’m pretty sure that when she decided to move out of state she didn’t anticipate how it would feel when our parents got sick. It was obvious that they weren’t going to get younger and healthier. My mother tells us to live our lives and not worry about them. I don’t know how to do that.
They call us the sandwich generation for being in between raising our own children and dealing with our parents becoming more like children who need our care.