Carol Ann Hamilton
Surviving the Eldercare Marathon
On April 17, 2010 my 89-year-old mother passed away. She departed this dimension at home following a protracted series of complex mounting ailments. Hers was a merciful release from a largely tragic lifetime.
On August 26, 2012, my 89-year-old father passed away. Following five declining weeks in hospital, I felt relieved he was spared further upset. Regrettably, he transitioned in precisely the setting he most feared.
Now, before you express society’s requisite sympathy in your mind’s eye, I need to state my bold truth. At the time, I would have absolutely self-described as the only child of excruciating parents whom I hated. Did I just speak the unspeakable? You’re not “supposed” to say that about those who brought you into this world! How could you go so objectionably far?
If I were to starkly ask you to picture a desolate teenage girl averting suicide attempts from an “absent” paranoia-schizophrenic mother while bravely sustaining an A average, might that image aid your understanding? If I were to vulnerably request you to conjure up a father regularly vomiting due to severe alcoholism that eventually saw him reclined on an ambulance stretcher at death’s doorstep, might your illumination increase?
If you remain reluctant, I surely understand. Countless people around the world encounter exponentially-worse during their formative and total years. By itself, parental alcoholism and mental illness may not constitute enough horror for some.
Still, I might offer to burgeoning global Sandwich Generation members contending with equally unimaginable parents while balancing multiple competing priorities, it’s crucial to claim plus avow your authenticity. We’re not talking docile elders here. For anyone with cooperative folks willing to entertain the next chapter of life sans argument, count your lucky stars. In this instance, we’re dealing with the recalcitrant aged who will cantankerously fight you every step of the way. Hence why I sighed in bitter weariness as my parents’ various issues compounded with advancing years… Formed for decades by my disenfranchised identity, my unwelcome realization was that I’d inevitably be called upon to re-enter a grievous household fray I’d hoped to escape forever through marriage.
Yes, I was angry and resentful enough to frame their care like a prisoner’s second 25-year life sentence. It mattered none if this was the “right” thing to do. Then I moved from slavish servitude to adult service.
By no means was this an overnight affair. Rather, it took two to three years of intense inner work to shift from loathing to greater compassion. I stay unconvinced I will ever consider it an “honor” to be up to my elbows in extreme-cleaning grime (no exaggeration). Yet, I’m proud to have seen through my folks’ passages with diligence. The death of a parent is unrepeatable.
As a consequence, I experience zero regrets today. Bottom-line, my victory is to have gone from disgust to aplomb. It’s no small feat. My journey was one of desperation to inspiration to hope.
This brings me to my personal parting messages – delivered with earnest heart and soul: I now accept more than ever that we select the two parents most capable of advancing our lessons as human Beings. I’ve since healed a significant part of my past – and it’s OK if this turns into a life-long learning adventure. I’ve emerged considerably stronger from wrestling my inner Gremlins to the ground through facing a personal “Hell”. I opened to surprising hidden gifts embedded within back-breaking hardships.
It’s now clear my father used his waning months to impart lasting legacies. To this day, the unknown photos and stories salvaged before my arrival on July 6, 1958 count amongst my most prized possessions.
For you currently navigating your grueling eldercare marathon: You can see through your nerve-wracking parents’ transitions with compassion so the best for all concerned is attained. Just when you think you can’t take another step, you will find the strength. You’re not alone. You have my unbridled energetic support as someone who has “been there, done it”. If I can prevail against all odds, you can too.