Caring for Our Parents

… a Sandwich Generationer's perspective

And then it hit me…

Not often do I turn to my favorite TV shows for a source of inspiration.  In fact, I specifically choose my shows to escape my crazy life so there is usually little for me to relate to.  Nevertheless, last week’s Gray’s Anatomy episode raised an incredibly thought provoquing situation which hit home with me.

For those who are not familiar with the show, the hospital’s Chief’s wife (well… he’s actually not Chief any more because he had some issues and this cool military guy with… I digress…) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she is now residing in a home.  The Chief (I honestly can’t remember his name), visits her daily and is completely devoted to staying by her side through this disease even though she rarely remembers who he is.  During one of his daily visits she shares with him that ‘she is in love!’.  Unfortunately, it is with another man.  He even catches them fooling around at one point.  As you can imagine, he is not happy that the facility has allowed this to happen.  After much turmoil and some changes that make his wife really unhappy, he realizes that he is no longer part of her ‘new life’.  He chooses to let his wife go back to this new life and continue her romance with this other man.  He chooses to let her be happy with someone else and ‘get out of the way’.  (He then chooses to hook up with another doctor but that’s out of scope for this discussion…)  =)

I have sometimes thought that things might be easier for our family once my mom is so far gone that my dad will be forced to put her in a home. I thought it might make things easier, especially for my dad and he would be able to go back to living his life. In watching the episode I realized how lonely and displaced the Chief was after making his decision. I was surprised to see how hard it was for him to do it, to let go and put his wife’s happiness ahead of his own ‘duty and obligation’ to be a loving and faithful husband in ‘sickness’.  It hit me then that my dad is not putting his life on hold to take care of my mom.  He is very much living it and that there is nothing for him to ‘go back to’ because he’s never known life without her.  The time will come when he will have to make these tough choices.  I hope he chooses to make her happy as well but I know it will devastating for him to put his ‘duty’ and his ‘ego’ aside.  He’ll also have to balance the guilt of relief with the grief of the loss. I wonder if that time will come before she passes away.

And there it was… hitting me in the pit of my stomach like a ton of bricks.  I grieved a little bit more the gradual loss of my mom.


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4 thoughts on “And then it hit me…

  1. Lisa on said:

    I watch Grey’s Anatomy too, and I thought of our family’s situation and struggled with the drama that was unfolding on the TV medical show. I have long thought it would be best for my mother-in-law to be in a home – to relieve her devoted spouse of the constant repetitive conversations & the mania of her anxiety – but I know it’s easier to say than do. And it’s easier to play armchair quarterback from thousands of miles away.

    In the following episode of Grey’s Anatomy however, it was a welcome relief that Chief (Weber) was able to ‘live’ a little himself as he shacked up with an old colleague. Not that I would want that to happen in our situation, but it was an analogy nonetheless: the Chief was conflicted about kissing, let alone sleeping with his colleague, but ultimately he allowed himself to realize the woman he loved for so many years is not the same person. Chief Weber wanted to take care of his wife at home but ultimately realized that the nursing home was a better place for her. Of course, it’s not an easy decision, and I respect that it’s not something anyone does to their loved one without careful consideration and painstaking research.

    Away from the drama of a TV show, the drama that unfolds in our family holds many emotions. Anger, frustration, fear, sadness…to name just a few. In a perfect world, I would love to see my mother-in-law spend time with others that are afflicted with the same illness, and paint – her lifelong passion that she has given up. Every time I bring it up, there’s a different excuse as to why she doesn’t touch her canvas’ anymore. My mother-in-law isn’t far enough along with her Alzheimer’s to be admitted to a home, but she needs to be cared for, at least part of the day, by someone other than my father-in-law.

    I see my father-in-law deteriorating from the constant care he provides to his wife. Yet I applaud him when he spends a few hours at the gym to exercise his body (and mind). But I fear him leaving his wife alone during this time. She’s already had a few accidents, and God forbid something happens when no one’s around. She refuses to allow anyone to be in the house (nurse, housekeeper, etc), so it’s not a simple solution.

    We find ourselves in the proverbial hamster wheel.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts! I agree it is always easier to say what should be done versus making the tough decisions. It is a hamster wheel indeed. I just hope someday, the wheel can stop, the cage can open, and we can all go free.

  3. thedamari on said:

    This isn’t a comment on this particular post, but I want to let you know I’ve nominated your blog for the Liebster Blogger Award. Thanks for sharing your journey; it helps to know we’re not in it alone. For details on the nomination, you can see what I wrote here:

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