Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

November 11, 2012

caring for an elderly mom

For twelve years up until her mother’s death at the age of 80, Chloe -- by then a single working mom -- had been the old woman’s primary caregiver. The burden this placed on her already stressful life nearly killed her too.

"The early years of caregiving weren't too bad," confides Chloe. "My mother lived in her own home and all I had to do was visit twice a week and help her with various chores. At that stage, my caregiving duties were definitely a labor of love made possible by a relatively easy life."

And then, as Chloe’s life changed, so did her relationship with her mother. Divorce, becoming a single working mother and talking on all of the responsibilities of running a home and juggling a high-pressure job took their toll on Chloe.

"The twice weekly visits to help my mother had increased to daily visits before and after work," sighs Chloe, "and I ended up in a terrible mess. I just wasn't in tune with my life. I was juggling too many responsibilities and it was easier for me to become a typical female martyr rather than stop and assess my life."

Chloe's mother was ailing fast, becoming disorientated, being extremely difficult, angry and accusatorial, and generally draining Chloe of any warm feelings towards her.

"She would call me at work expecting me to drop everything to listen to whatever it was she wanted to talk about," explains Chloe, "and she stressed me so much that it reached the stage where I feared she would end up giving me a nervous breakdown or cancer. I felt she was putting me into an early grave, and didn't care. All she cared about was herself. She had no interest in life besides making my life miserable."

Finally, Chloe had the good sense to talk her brother about her circumstances and he stepped in and put the old woman in a nursing home. Within a year she was dead.

"I visited my mother every weekend at the nursing home," says Chloe, "and it was heartbreaking because it wasn't long before she didn't even recognize me. From a angry old woman pestering me to death she had turned into a vegetable."

Chloe understands how difficult it is caring for an elderly person and is full of admiration for the people who work at nursing homes.

"I know they probably didn't have time to feed my mother properly," confides Chloe, "but I don't blame them for her death. The death certificate said natural causes but from her emaciated state I think she died of starvation, probably hastened by whatever sedatives they were giving her."

At weekends Chloe took her mother soft fruits, yoghurts and other easily digested foods but getting her mother to eat was a painful exercise.

"I'd spoon feed her like a baby," explains Chloe, "but most of the food would dribble down her chin. I think the nursing home had a policy that if the patients couldn't feed themselves then they would be left to die of natural causes. There's nothing natural about starvation, but I can see their point about the futility of keeping someone alive who is little more than a vegetable."

Twelve years of care-giving had left Chloe feeling drained. Her mother's death was a relief, and yet when it happened there was still a ‘crunch’ - a flood of feeling - not so much for her mother’s demise but for the knowledge that she is next in line, that time is marching on, that life is a steady process of decay and death.

"God help me when my time is due," confides Chloe. "I want to die with dignity, not like a vegetable in a nursing home. Euthanasia isn't legal where I live so I will arrange to end my days where it is legal. The only trouble is that we never know exactly when our time is due, do we?"

"From my mother's experience, though," adds Chloe, "I guess we should accept that our time is due when we have nothing useful to do with our lives and have become a burden on others."

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