Eularee Smith
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Trading Spaces

I am writing this in the early hours before dawn. Unable to sleep, I try to make sense of the nonsense that is my daily life at age 61. Recently celebrating my birthday and the first step into my sixth decade, it seems this time in my life is when I am undeniably an adult. The proof in this, is that I am trading spaces with my 91 year old mother in law who is becoming the child I care for.

Not sure exactly when the transition began, but I was never more fullly aware of it than yesterday.

Her recent fall resulting in a broken arm and a stay in a nursing home for close to a month was the catalyst for finally insisting on an alternative living arrangement. After speaking with social workers, physical therapists, and her doctor, she agreed that moving to a modified independent apartment would be her preference. I have known her for over forty years. I knew better.

Her mood and attitude improved when she came home from the rehab facility. Still not where the doctor wanted her to be, her insurance would no longer pay for the help she was receiving. I moved in to care for her 24/7 for about a week. That is when it all began to devolve. 

She was fine as long as I was there. She would eat healthy meals I prepared. She drank plenty of fluids that I supplied and took her meds (very few in comparison to most) regularly. Everyday there was improvement, until the subject came up about the move. Then suddenly her true nature revealed itself. Heels dug in, she refused to go and threatened to stop taking her meds and eating if we force her. 

When I asked her what would be her perfect solution to the problem at hand, her response was quick and simple. 

"I want to die."

I reminded her this was not one of the choices, but she insisted she would just sit on the couch until it happened. This is almost a week later and everyday is a battle. I do not believe that either of us will be victorious. This is beyond a child who will not eat their veggies or refuses to put on a jacket or go to school. This is a 91 year old woman, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother. Walking a fine line between respect for the wisdom of her age and the knowledge that her short term memory and reasoning skills have diminished greatly seems to be a losing proposition. 

Though I fail constantly at trying to ease her suffering, I must somehow find the courage to face the storm and as an adult, do the right thing. She says she never thought she'd end up like this. I empathize, as I, too, never imagined having to be in this role. As the days pass and the move approaches she becomes more sullern, verbally abusive and relentless in her refusal. The family has rallied around but I know the blame falls squarely on my shoulders.

My Dad used to say that when a parent disciplines a child, it is the parent who suffers most. Although I am not in the role of disciplinarian, I understand that this is true of my situation. I do not expect the hell to end soon as we trade spaces between mother (in law) and child. But this whippersnapper of only 61 years is praying she doesn't get taken down in the process. 

More and more of our generation is facing the decisions of caring for an elder parent. What has been the most challenging situation you have faced in trading spaces? Was it taking the drivers license? Bringing in extra help? Or just starting the conversation? 

Images: Flickr image by a4gpa

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