I know I’m not alone in caring for an aging parent, in my case my almost 82-year-old Dad, a former engineer who was married 54 years to my mother and only now lives on his own.
Turns out, increasing numbers of us are finding ourselves in the role of parent to our own parents. Some of use have nearly raised our own children, while others have never had them but find themselves caring for an aging parent, family member or friend. Surveys put the number at 70% of working adults who are caring for one, or more, aging family member.
Like all of them, I never in a million years thought this was how it would be. My parents were strong and capable people, vibrantly alive and engaged in adding something to this world. My whole life they have been a source of support and (at times unwanted) advice. When sickness came they were able to fight it off with gusto for years before disease got firm hold.
As you get older you learn things, hard things that you don’t want to believe. Things you wish you did not know. Things you always thought could not be true. Until it’s hard, cold reality. Injustice. Illness. Loss.
Good thing too, younger people are not ready to face some of the really hard lessons of life. I wasn’t. It’s easy to see why harsh lessons learned early leave such terrible scars. Why people never recover. Now that I have some hint of the truth, I’m glad I didn’t know. Bad enough I know now.
What I know now is about what happens when medicine fails you. Cuts ties and walks away. No call or goodbye, even in the best, closest, most longstanding relationships. When the end comes physicians head for the hills.
It’s the time of year when colors change, and not just on the leaves and landscapes around us. Everyone’s sporting an identifiable shade of pink these days, in an effort to build awareness and show support for cancer patients, particularly breast cancer. Let me begin by assuring you all I hate this disease as much as anyone on the planet. I don’t need a sea of pink or a month of the year to think about what cancer has taken from me. I live it every stinking day.
The cynic in me finds the pinkwashing just a tad too convenient. The family member who lost someone to cancer (but not the “right” kind) finds this month-long ode to cancer hating terribly offensive. Breast cancer is but one form of this disease, and not the worst of the lot, by far. There are hundreds of types of cancer, many different causes (chemicals, viruses, etc) and those awful cells remain (even today) unpredictable and mysterious.
If you think I’m being too hard on well-intentioned people, you need to visit the Facebook page — Pinkwashing Hall of Shame, and let me know how you feel afterward. You can chew on this little nugget to get you started — the month-long awareness comes thanks to corporations, not grass-roots efforts. It dates to 1985.
It’s no surprise that the willingly distracted, complexity intolerant public has latched onto breast cancer in such a public way. It feels like doing something, wearing that pink. And then anything that affects breasts, the sole preoccupation of our entire society, is bound to get people up in arms. I’ll choose to believe this is because this form of cancer happens to a part of the body so visible to anyone (keeping my snarky speculation to myself). It’s just a shame people don’t feel the same angst and desperation to do something (anything!) for the person who just found out she has pancreatic cancer.
When I saw this making the rounds on the book of face recently I was amazed. For so much of my life mental struggles such as anxiety and depression were not mentioned, much less proudly boasted to everyone you know. Nobody used the term panic attack, and these horrible, hateful episodes were certainly not something people recognized or understood.
Times have changed.
Now we can say it. Show it. Talk about it.
It is said that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, yet science is only just beginning to understand how very essential sleep is to our mental functioning and overall well-being. We recognize sleep disorders as “real” and sleep is can be studied in any number of clinics across the country. I don’t have to tell you how great a good night’s sleep feels, or how awful it is to try to get through a day on little or no sleep.
One part of sleep that I want to focus on here today is dreams.
Did you ever wake in the morning feeling like you were a part of something very important as you slept?
Have you ever had a dream that felt “real” in a way you recognize on a gut level but cannot validate?
Have you experienced a repeating theme or recalled having the same dream over and over?
Do you always know the people in your dreams, or are they sometimes strangers? Are you in places during dreams that you’ve never been in your waking life?
I can answer “Yes” to most of these and I bet I’m not alone. The feeling from a dream can sometime be fleeting and other times stick with you through a whole day, a sort of constant, hard to dismiss or explain.
It’s amazing (and terrible) what your mind can do. Some minds create beauty. Others harbor blackness and ill intent. Some are simple, others astonishingly brilliant. Creative. Quirky. Just plain average. No matter what kind you have, the mind is a source of so much of what you are.
Astonishing really that 3 pounds of physical matter has such power.
When your mind turns against you it is a terrible, ruinous thing. The suffering is immeasurable. The pain as intense as any wound or illness of the body. Treatment, if you get it, can be life changing. Going without, debilitating.
It’s just as hard (vital) to treat, to acknowledge and address what happens when our minds are not well. To keep from making sickness of the mind something that brings shame, is hidden, shunned. To put an end to the silent suffering. If we accept physical illness why can we not have some understanding, patience and compassion for problems of the mind?
For the unwilling, inescapable suffering of another human being, if nothing else?
My mom, an infection control nurse for 23 years, used to say that fear would kill more people during a disease outbreak than the illness itself. She was right on the money with Ebola — people are (over) reacting, firing household help, taking passengers off planes and panicking like the planet killing asteroid has been spotted in the sky. Certainly not our finest hour… too many of us aren’t even using the reasoning that’s supposed to make us so superior.
You CANNOT catch Ebola from casual contact. The organism does not transmit that way.
It’s only when you look back that you can see how very far you’ve come.
Just about 22 years ago my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, as a chilling a sentence then as it is today. Through good medicine, exceptional strength and constant support she’s made it further than anyone might have expected when we first got the news.
We are so much luckier than most. I never forget that, am grateful for every one of the days in the last 22 years that we’ve had with her.
I’ve been following the work of DeBie Hive for a while now. Just recently I saw this image in one of her excellent posts on PTSD and the media.
It made me think about my own struggles with anxiety and panic attacks — the voices in my own head. I’ve had times when I was sure I was losing my mind, having a heart attack or a stroke… at the utter mercy of the urge to run, far and fast. I was sure I was dying.
I wasted far too many good years struggling on my own with panic attacks before getting help. Some of it comes with age, but the rest can be helped. It starts with recognizing that so many people struggle with so many different mental health issues. Underneath. Inside where you can’t see.
I wasn’t crazy. You aren’t crazy. I wasn’t helpless. You aren’t helpless. I wasn’t alone. You’re not alone.
Anxiety isn’t a life and death struggle to be sure, but it’s no picnic… ruining all good things, eating away at your confidence, shaking your foundations, keeping you wakeful and restless as others sleep. It nags at you day and night, sometimes rearing its awful head when you least expect it. (more…)
Sadly, very often the answer to this question is YES.
Yes you can live too long if you have the misfortune to outlive the people you love best, to be no more use to anyone, to be yourself tired of living. To wish for death and be thwarted for no reason you can see. When life loses its joy, its magic, its sense of all things being possible. Then you have lived too long.
The thing is, with an aging population, and the ever more impressive feats of medical science, longevity issues are going to be mainstream, whether we like it or not. Life expectancies have increased by almost 5 years since 1935 when Social Security was implemented. Most people aren’t ready, financially or otherwise, to deal with longer lifespans. Not to mention what will happen to individual families and society as a whole with more and more elderly, retired and healthy people around.
Hint: less optimism, more looking back to the “good old days”, more generation bashing.