The Crisis

Posted: 11 years ago | By: Christine Somers | In: Family & Relationships | Read Time: 5 minutes, 26 seconds

When we first started Footsteps our vision was to be an information portal for managing the issues surrounding aging and how to think creatively about aging. But as we started to evolve we highlighted individuals who live a creative life at every age. Our goal was and continues to be to present positive people and concepts at Footsteps. Our mission is to give a forum to those with real world solutions to living a creative life.

This past 5 months my family has been going through an aging evolution of sorts. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series called “Walk the Walk” about how our family has handled and is handling a major health crisis that affected us all. It is personal and I will be walking a fine line between sharing relevant and beneficial knowledge and disclosing private information. What I have found as I have talked to others around the country, is, they too have a parent, grandparent or neighbor whose health is declining and nobody seems to know an elegant way to help them transition from their current living situation to another more fitting living arrangement.  Our hope is that as each of us travels this journey that we can share what worked and didn’t work with our fellow travelers to make the trek a little easier. And in those cases where it doesn’t get any easier we will find understanding and support.

It always starts with a crisis and then the realization that the situation was not as one believed it to be. I had a friend whose father died suddenly and the family quickly came to the realization that their mother was suffering from dementia. Their father had effectively covered up their mothers failing memory for years. It was a double loss for my friend and his family as they grieved the death of their father and the loss of their mother’s essence. 

In our family, the triggering crisis was our brother’s quadruple bypass. Ed is a long haul truck driver and had gone in for his annual physical. He failed his stress test and went for what was believed to be a routine angioplasty. It turned life threatening quickly so family members gathered at the “family home” to share memories and make peace where needed.  After Ed's surgery, an impromptu routine was implemented as family members took turns sitting by my brother’s bedside in ICU as his medical team kept him sedated during the worst of the pain. 

But the hardest and loneliest struggle was being played out at my mother’s home.  After my brother’s divorce 12 years earlier, he had moved in with my father and mother. What was supposed to be a temporary situation turned into a convenient way of life for everyone.  My brother spent all week on the road only coming home for 24 to 48 hours before heading out on the road again. After my father died, we were all relieved to have my brother with mom never questioning their relationship dynamic. It became easy to believe that Ed was taking a major role in decisions that were being made by mom. We never talked directly to Ed about our assumptions.

Now my mother was quickly declining with each day that my brother was in the hospital.  She was fearful, disoriented and physically failing. Over the previous year, she had become frail and during weekly phone calls with my sister, Julia or me, she would seem confused as to the day of the week. We dismissed it with a joke, saying that we too get confused at times. Still we took steps to bring in someone to spend time with her, taking on such duties as driving, grocery shopping and cooking. Mom jokingly said, “We had hired her a friend”.  Denise also reassured us that Mom’s memory lapses where tied to her blood sugar spikes; Denise maintained that eating well and routine insulin use would take care of her failing memory.  

As mom said many times,  “Denise is good to me” and it was easy to allow Denise, a RN and paid caregiver, along with Ed to take leadership on mom’s care. But now, Ed was in the hospital and we could all see that more was going on with mom than we realized. 

As days turned into weeks we took up residence in Mom’s home instead of staying in town for only a couple of days at a local hotel. Julia and I quickly came to understand that things weren’t running as smoothly as we once believed. We learned that home maintenance was being deferred; Mom was not taking proactive action on her own health issues and both her short term and long-term memory were failing. As diligently as Julia and I had worked to monitor our mother’s aging process long distance, we had failed to see what now appeared to be obvious signs of decline. 

We all see a situation from our own vantage point. Julia and I live out of town and until we actually stayed in our mother’s home, we had believed that her living situation was more controlled than it was. My brother who came home for only brief time periods believed that mom’s refusal to carry out routine home maintenance was tied to her depression era mentality and not a symptom of a bigger medical issue. And Denise whose training is in the care of the physical body not the mind, worked diligently on getting her to eat properly, take her medications on schedule and exercise. But it was a crisis that shifted our “world view”. 

I was aware that most stories about a family being forced to take action with an aging parent began with a crisis. For many families, it involved their parent giving up driving. With mom we bit the bullet and had the hard conversations about her no longer driving while developing an alternative that was as painless as possible. But now we were in the middle of a crisis that necessitated everyone’s full attention and energy.  By the very nature of the word crisis, it is unplanned, inconvenient and coupled with other stresses of living.  We were now in the middle of two crises and for all our planning, we were “making it up” day by day.  

NEXT: THE ROLE OF THE FAMILY