"You need to learn to ask for help, Mom. We can help, but I have to be honest, it would be better if you lived closer to one of us."
"We did ask for help," she said. "I couldn't get your dad back into bed. We called Jim."
Jim is a neighbor of theirs, but my parents live in a neighborhood whose residents are predominantly on the older side. "He's as old as you are," I reminded her.
"No, he's only 66."
I sighed. Sixty-six and seventy aren't all that far apart, are they? My mother takes everything so literally. Her ability to grasp the abstract concept no longer exists. My parents' ability to understand that they need help might never have existed. And they don't want to admit what is right in front of their faces: it's time to move, to possibly enlist some extra help. Before a real accident happens.
I understand their hesitation. Who wants to admit they are getting older? I understand that change is tough and the unknown is scary. I know that my parents live their lives in the comfort zone and would prefer to stay there. (We all do at times.) I can appreciate wanting to stick with the status quo. But if Dad falls, Mom said herself that she can't help him. And if she would fall, Dad doesn't have the strength and flexibility to help her. (By the way, I explained that fact to her yesterday. "I don't fall," she said, as if falling would never be an option, despite the fact that her age is advancing. I've slipped down the stairs Mom, and I was only 33 years old.) Furthermore, my parents live in a tri-level home, with no bathroom on the main floor. Should Dad be taking that many steps on a daily basis? They're choosing to live within a death trap, not a comfort zone.
The bottom line is that my parents need to move to another house, as I suggested to Mom on the phone. And what better thing to move toward than one of your daughters, right? Or, they could add on a master bedroom suite with bathroom and laundry on the first floor and possibly have someone come in once a week to help. But parents (mine in particular) can be stubborn. Mom says she has no plans to move. That she's happy in a place she's always told me she's hated.
She's happy all right. Happy in her denial. I know I might get this way, years down the road…
After I got off the phone with Mom, I yelled out to my children--not at them, for I wasn't mad at them--that they had to try their best to not let me do the same thing. I told them to do anything and everything to my future self to make me see reason. I told them I'd keep writing about this experience with my folks and that I had written anecdotes down already. "If I keep writing," I said to four wide-eyed children, "then maybe 35 years from now you'll pull up my pages and force me to read what I wrote today." Maybe I'll be pushed to realize that what I might be doing to my kids is exactly what my parents did to me. Or maybe I'll tell them that I don't remember writing the words, and so therefore, what they say can't be true. (I feel this way when I speak to my mom. "I don't remember saying that," she says, and trails off, giving me the impression that because she doesn't remember what I told her, it didn't happen. But that's like saying because I don't remember being born, it couldn't possibly have happened.)
So how do I feel and what do I want? I feel angry, frustrated, and most of all sad. I feel like my parents are being selfish and can't see our side of the story. I feel like they are walking down a dead-end road that only has one ending: a dismal one. And I'm not trying to be negative or pessimistic, although that's a character trait that lives in my genes. My parents have given us evidence to be worried, and I'd like for them to look at that evidence and believe in us. I'd like for them to meet us half-way, compromise, so to speak. I'll drop everything for them, in a heartbeat, but if they'd get themselves to safer ground, everyone's lives will be much better off.