Caring for an elderly parent: life’s grand irony

Mom holding my up for the camera, 1961, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mom holding me up for the camera, 1961, Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the spring of 2013, I was wheeling my mother Catherine to a doctor’s appointment. As we entered the waiting room, a dutiful daughter around my age pushed her mother’s wheelchair out.

The two silver setters glanced at each other knowingly, and Mom offered up the following assessment: “We used to push them around in their baby carriages, and now look at us, helpless like they were!” The other lady smiled in reply: “Isn’t that the truth?”

This week, Mom turns 89. The milestone had me thinking about what it takes to care for an elderly parent, especially one whose children do the heavy lifting.

Don’t get me wrong, Mom is hanging tough – for now. Her family history has a lot to do with it. I explain these reasons, and why she isn’t in a nursing home, in my weekly Portland Sun column: “Bookends of life: mother and son.”

Twelve years ago, my mother began splitting her time between my home here and my sister’s in Va., following several major surgeries and an untimely stroke. She realized then that staying totally independent wasn’t prudent, and tradeoffs had to be made in the name of safety and health.

But even if someone is a trained health care professional – which I’m not – taking an older, declining parent in one’s home isn’t for the faint of heart.

To be fair, and as noted in my column, there are benefits to such arrangements, especially when grandchildren are around. And after so many years apart, I’m thrilled to have this relationship, even while accepting the odds of how short lived it might be.

Still, not many of us give it much thought as we grow up, and those of us who decide to take a parent in really have no idea what we’re in for.

Setting aside the inevitability of any day-to-day friction and frustration involved in being under the same roof as Mom, I’ve concluded that it’s a labor of love.

Yes, my mother did push me in a carriage a half-century ago. Now, in what might be life’s great irony, I get to return the favor.

The difference, however, is visceral.

Mom could look ahead into the future and dream of her progeny, and how she could make a difference in their lives. As years passed, she got her chance at that, and then some.

I can’t do that. With every moment, move, and utterance, I’m reminded that it may be my mother’s last. The consolation left therein is one of hoping that Mom’s final days will be filled with nothing but comfort and love.

It’s all any child has left to give an aging parent, and can never be enough.



Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.