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Elderly parents bring challenges

Darling Husband and I recently heard that a friend, a man who lived alone, had vanished. His family moved him into an assisted living facility near where they live back in the Midwest. His friends are all here in Arizona. The last time we saw him was at the funeral of another mutual friend. We noted that he had trouble getting around.

It happens all the time. I've been on the other end of that equation, when my brothers and I were enormously worried about our mother, who lived alone. It's terrible to think of one's beloved parent, alone, falling or having some kind of life-threatening attack or illness. How could we forgive ourselves for not having cared for her and protected her?

It is so important to remain independent and live one's own life.

A woman from St. Petersburg who was my pen pal for many years was ultimately talked into moving in with a daughter about 60 miles away in Dade City. It's not that it was far away, and it's not that they were mean to her; they weren't. Her daughter loved her and wanted to make her comfortable, to make her life easier. But my pen pal's letters made it clear that the loss of her own place, her friends and neighbors and the knowledge that this would be the "last stop" depressed her.

I get that. It's not that she was ungrateful, but it's sort of the last indignity. As we raised our own families, we got awfully used to being the adults. That status grants us decisionmaking power. None of us enjoys having those decisions taken out of our hands.

We used to have families who all lived, if not in the same neighborhood, at least in the same town. Both my grandmothers were ready and willing to step in if my parents had to be elsewhere. I saw them often because they were nearby. I could drop in after school to beg a cookie or two. No holiday passed without grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even great-grandparents at the table.

And then one set of grandparents moved to Florida with a number of their friends. When retirement came around, my parents moved to Arizona. My brothers and I had already scattered to schools far away. We met and married people from other places who also had parents far away.

We never anticipated the problems many of us now face. Travel is expensive, so visits are infrequent. There is no way either of us could move to Minnesota, Montana or New Jersey where our children live.

It's important to us that we are able to care for ourselves and each other. But we know the longer we live, the harder that gets. Various social services keep an eye on us. So far so good. When one of us has to go to the hospital, the other one must shoulder the responsibilities and tasks that we would ordinarily face together.

No one enjoys facing the "what if" scenarios, but questions linger. On the other hand, my life has never been what I expected. Plans are fine and often comforting, but my experience tells me it ain't gonna happen that way. When I was a young, potential Broadway star, or so I thought, I certainly never imagined I would marry a Swiss scientist in my later years. Planning is important, but there are no guarantees.

It's a good thing I love surprises. Well, usually.

Sheila Stoll is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her at PMB No. 309, 7904 E Chaparral Road, No. 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85250.

Elderly parents bring challenges 04/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 4:30am]
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