Audrey N. Glickman
Audrey N. Glickman

Packing our parents in wool

Some people pack the elderly in wool, presumably to lengthen life.  Yet it may curtail living.  Image created with permission by Audrey N. Glickman, used here with permission.
Some people pack the elderly in wool, presumably to lengthen life. Yet it may curtail living. Image created with permission by Audrey N. Glickman, used here with permission.

We packed our parents in wool today,
The recommended path
With aides attending all day and night,
Despite our parents’ wrath.

We packed our mom in wool today,
They took away her paints,
Her sewing and her sculpturing,
Despite her vague complaints.

We packed our aunt in wool today,
She didn’t want to go.
She says she doesn’t want to live
Where everyone goes so slow.

We packed our dad in wool today,
His “girlfriend” we forbade,
We know what’s best for longevity
Is not bragging he’s getting laid.

We packed our old folks in wool today,
To safely preserve their years.
They keep crying something about misery
But it’s best we ignore their tears.

My friend Joy mentioned packing people in wool to keep them alive longer, though it may prevent them from living at all. It’s a perfect description of what so many older children of elderly parents do.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best when a person’s abilities are in any way mitigated, we presume the person can do everything as usual until it is clear that the person needs help. At that point, we should offer what is needed.

When Mom is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we don’t have to immediately build a fortress around her, hire 24-hour guards, and conspire to lock her away before she’s ready. Every person’s dementia progresses differently, and everyone’s life circumstances are different. Changing their life situation can accelerate the progression.

In fact, changing life situations can be stressful and detrimental to anyone at any time. Yet, after we become adults and before we become elderly, generally we make these decisions ourselves, in communication with our significant others. It seems mostly the children, the elderly, and perhaps criminals who have changes imposed upon them.

There’s a commercial on television (possibly local to where I live) in which a woman says, “We have to talk about Dad.” Throughout the commercial, the siblings say that they must get together and choose a place for Dad to live. Not once do they mention getting Dad into the conversation. They are talking about a nice “retirement” facility with golf and the ability to take one’s dog, apparently the only criteria they think matter to Dad.

There are plenty of stories about this. I’m certain you know of many elders whose living situations have been decided by their children. Yes, it is still a good thing to grant your children conditional power of attorney over your affairs and your healthcare. But make certain that your wishes are completely understood from the very beginning, because once one is diagnosed with dementia, the decisions are frozen in time.

Of course there are many seniors who live only for the children and grandchildren — who make no life for themselves other than what might benefit their next-generation family members. Again, that should be their decision, not the family members,’ unless the elders are imposing themselves on the children and camping in the living room. (In fact, my grandfather lived in our living room for a while when I was a kid. He slept on a cot. Soon enough he moved to the basement gameroom and continued living with us. He had, however, put in a bid to be one of the first residents in a new senior high-rise. When it was completed, he moved in. I do not know whose decision that was, though the fact that my mother bought him no more solid a bed than our old cot may be an indication of her feelings about the matter.)

Yes, folks whose capabilities are declining may be a danger to themselves. My mother eventually reached the point at which she was making herself noodle sandwiches, and often burning the noodles. And she absolutely forbade anyone going into her house to assist her. Then she began wandering. Essentially she’d made her own bed and had to lie in it. She found a happy life in the care facility, though she never forgave me not returning her to her house after rehab from her broken hip.

All I’m saying to my children who may be reading this is that when your parents reach the stage at which you are questioning our ability to live in our current situation — and this is especially true if you live in another city, state, or country — please talk with the people in our lives. The friends have spent much more time with your folks than you have in recent years.

Medical diagnosis is not all there is to living. You don’t have to like your parents’ friends, they’re not your choice to make. Talk with them anyway, and get a handle on your parents’ current life before you swoop in to change it.

We should not pack our parents in wool, only to destroy their ability to live.

Over the years I’ve watched helplessly as caregivers (hired by the children) accelerated the demise of their patients by poor treatment, neglect, or outright malice. Siblings have fought over this. I’ve seen children make the decision that the parent should move across the country to live “near” them in a nursing home, thus taking the parents away from their community – from their neighbors, friends, congregation, local streets, coffee shops, grocers, exercise spots, familiar surroundings, from everything. I’ve seen them separate happy couples who had been keeping each other young. I’ve seen them snoop on their parents’ communications – phone, text, email, etc. – and tattle on them to their siblings behind their parents’ backs. I’ve seen them make horrible decisions for their parents based upon nothing, when a simple question or two might have clarified everything – a question of the parents’ friends and neighbors, not of the doctors.

These decisions generally seem to age the parents faster overall. At least from my perspective.

It’s almost as if the children are saying “die already.” Nothing they’re doing “for” their parents will help them, except maybe to give them a few days or weeks to live, taking away the risks that the parents were willing and eager to take. Taking the life out of living.

Yet I’ve also seen a few grown children move across the country to care for their declining parents in or near their home, moving their work and temporarily living apart from their own spouse, so that that parent would not be uprooted from the only home they have known.

You know, I once heard a worldly, accomplished 95-year-old advise his 90-year-old friend not to have only one “lady friend,” for several reasons he mentioned. “Get the most out of life,” he said. He set a good example of that, apparently in harmony with his family.

Life is life. We should live it until we no longer can. And it should be our choice whether to have the children take over and run things for us, especially in a manner we might not have selected for ourselves.

I hope my children are listening. Wool makes me itch.

About the Author
Author of POCKETS: The Problem with Society Is in Women's Clothing (www.AudreyGlickman.com), Audrey N. Glickman is a rabbi’s assistant, with prior experience in nonprofits, government, advertising, and as a legal secretary. A native Pittsburgher, Audrey has served on many boards, organizations, and committees, advocating for many causes, including equal rights, secure recountable voting, preserving the earth, good government, improving institutions, and understanding and tending to our fellow human beings.
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