Yesterday I went to the wake of a friend’s father, who died of pneumonia in a nursing home where he had stayed the past 7 years. He was 80. I was relieved that she and her family were taking it well. At our age, the 50 plus, the truth is, we are attending more funerals. There was a time when we were attending each other’s 21st birthdays. Then it was weddings, followed by baby’s first month celebrations. Those days are long gone. We started to attend funerals of friends’ aging grandparents, but these days, we are attending funerals of friends’ aging parents. Every once in a while, we attend the funeral of our peers. So sad.
Most of my friends have moms still around; dads usually pass on first. I have a surviving mom. Dad died when I was 14. Taking care of aging parents is tiring and difficult at times. They become like kids and you sometimes have to talk to them and treat them like one. It is a difficult adjustment, especially since you have grown up listening to your parents’ advice and doing their biddings. Now, you need to be the grown-up in the relationship. It can be quite depressing. I really prefer to be the child.
It is difficult enough to care for aging parents who are relatively healthy. With my mom, it is twice as hard. A friend’s mom is 80 plus but is OK to be alone in the house when she goes to work. She said her mom has problems with her legs, but she sometimes still walks downstairs to chat with neighbours who gather to gossip. On a good day, she would even walk to the nearby market for grocery. On a bad day, my friend would work from home to keep an eye on her mom. She said her mom was hospitalized twice for heart palpitations but after all the tests, given a clean bill of health. She said these days her mom has started to hide things away and forget about them, thinking they have been stolen. She also gets startled easily by noises.
Another friend who is a home-maker is caring for her mom who lives with her. This friend is amazing – she cared for her mother-in-law until she passed on and during the time when she herself was undergoing chemotherapy. She hired a live-in maid then to help with the household chores. Now that her cancer is in remission, she has got rid of the maid and is now caring for her own mother who had a fall and hip replacement surgery recently. Her siblings take turns to bring their mom for her doctors’ appointments, but she is the primary care giver.
Honestly, it is tough seeing your parents grow old. My mom has never been in good health even when she was young. She had a tough life. As a child, she had to help take care of younger brothers and sisters and do housework. Because of improper health care as a child living in one of the islands off Singapore, she developed rhematic heart disease which had her undergone 3 major heart surgeries to date, replacement of 2 heart valves, and living with an enlarged heart after years of stress. She is now on medication for life to thin her blood (warfarin) so that the valves will not clog up and to regulate her heartbeats. This means her blood doesn’t clot very easily, so we need to watch out for cuts and internal bleeding. Any procedure that could lead to bleeding requires a hospital stay, where we need to take her off the warfarin, make sure the blood is thick enough to clot properly, quickly do the procedure and then put her back on warfarin and in the correct dose for the blood INR to be within the acceptable range. After years of worrying, exacerbated by years of warfarin, we found that she had stomach ulcers. These ulcers erupted a few years back and she had internal bleeding which saw her blood count plummeted and we had to admit her for blood transfusion. This incident happened a couple more times despite being on medication for life to treat the ulcers and line the stomach walls. We were told this was one of the side effects of the warfarin.
Mom used to be more independent. When we were at work, she would be home alone puttering around the house cleaning this and that. At night, we made sure one of us is always with her. Once, when my sis was away on a short business trip and she was alone, she had heart palpitations and called me. It was the longest 15minutes drive I ever had from my place to her house, calling the ambulance as I drove. Since then, we never left mom alone at night. But gone are the days when she could stay at home alone, go for morning walks on her own, walk to the nearby market to pick up light groceries to cook her own simple lunches, or even make her own way to English classes nearby. These days, she cannot even be in the house alone. 2017 was her worse year.
In early Feb, she suffered from ear imbalance, vertigo, which gave her severe dizziness that we had to call the ambulance to bring her to Gleneagles. Her cardiologist referred us to a neurologist who gave the diagnosis and medication. After that, she had lung infection which required 2 rounds of antibiotics to clear up. Luckily, it was not TB as initially suspected. Then she had her cataract surgery on her left eye and recovery was really tedious for her as she couldn’t adjust to the unbalanced vision until we could get a stable reading for her glasses. Because she was scared of falling, she stopped all her activities like morning walks, going for English class, etc. and stayed at home, which started the whole spiral downwards. Then she broke her tooth and getting her dentures fixed took a few trips which further took its toll on her. She then came down with shingles. By Nov, she was in a bad shape – worried and depressed. She has ailments from piles, constipation, wind, headaches, giddiness, palpitations, indigestion, and chronic insomnia. The list continues to grow. We have been trying to fix one thing after another, going from one specialist to another.
Mom gets panic attacks over the slightest things – constipation, wind in the stomach, fighting scenes on TV, getting ready to go out, unable to sleep, etc. Because of her insomnia, she doesn’t have energy nor interest to do anything. I have been trying to get her to go for walks, offering to drive her to East Coast and push her around on the wheelchair so that she gets out of the house. So far, I have not been successful. She has good days and bad days. On bad days, she looks very frail and in great discomfort and pain, thinking that she is dying and even asking me to keep her funeral simple. On good days, she will have conversations with me and putter around the kitchen cleaning things and cutting fruits. She is frustrated she cannot do more, like hand-washing her clothes, cook and be on her own like she used to. She hates that she is scared to be alone. She is frustrated that she cannot clean the house anymore, and she is most unhappy about not being able to sleep at night. I really don’t know how to help her except be by her side to assure and reassure.
I miss not having a life. But between my sister and me, one of us have to stay home to look after mom. It would be me since I don’t have a job. I know having a maid comes with its own problem but at least she would be able to help with the chores and be home with mom so that she is not alone and I can then go back to part-time work. I am of two minds – perhaps it has to be an option when our part-time helper stops in April. I really hope we get to celebrate her 80th birthday in July and my sister and her children living in the US will be present. I am not ready to say goodbye to mom yet. Don’t think any child ever is.