Chat@Caregiving: Taking It On the Chin

What’s your biggest hurdle in dealing with your aging parents?  Financial?  Medical?    Time constraints?  Mental?

I know how lucky I am in all those areas.  My parents are in good shape financially.  Sure, they’ve got medical challenges.  Mobility, blood pressure and loss of hearing, for instance – but no leukemia or multiple myeloma like some of my friends’ parents face.  Time is a challenge for all of us, but God’s worked out my life so that I can put family first, without worrying about a job outside the home.  And I don’t even have kids or grandkids to worry about.  We face a little short term memory loss and their concentration isn’t what it used to be, but that’s such a small thing in the big scheme of things.

So I really do know how lucky I am that the inconveniences of old age are my primary concern when it comes to my parents – but there is one other little thing that is making me crazy.  Why is their default position in any situation that I must have made a mistake?

I first noticed this tendency with the security alarm.  My parents had already moved to Whiterock Court and we were re-furbishing their house to go on the rental market.  Each of the contractors had their own security code and the alarm company was supposed to call me when the alarm went off, but that’s not how things worked out.  The “1” key on the keypad in the kitchen stuck from time to time, but the system was so old that we’d have had to make a significant investment to upgrade it, something we didn’t see a need for.  In fact, we wanted to just cancel the service, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t hear of it.  Remember, the house is empty at this point.

So we told the workmen they should use the other keypad, but they frequently failed to.  I spent a lot of time talking to the alarm company, but I took all the forgetful workmen and the faulty keypad into consideration when I got a call.  However, every once and a while the alarm company would call Mom and Dad instead.

Even though Mom and Dad were well aware of everything that was going on, whenever the alarm company called them by mistake, my parents went on high alert.  On those mornings my phone would ring and I would hear, “The alarm went off.”

“Did you tell the alarm company to ignore it?”

“NO!  We didn’t know whether anyone was supposed to be at the house this morning or not.”

“Well, the painter gets there about 9:30 every morning.  I’m sure it’s him.”

Then we’d go through all the usual questions.  Was I sure it was the painter?  Did he have a code?  Had I told him to use the other key pad?  If I had, why didn’t he?  And why had the alarm company called them instead of me?  Hadn’t I told them to call me?  Eventually, I would settle them down by promising to talk to the alarm company and the contractor – “but Mom, if they call you by mistake at about 9:30 any morning, it’s just the painter.”

When the contractors were through, the house went on the market and we had the exact same problem with real estate agents, in spite of detailed instructions on the MLS.  I can’t tell you how excited I was when the house was rented out.  The first thing we did was cancel the alarm.  But, the security alarm company wasn’t through with us yet.  They insisted we pay for an extra month and then they billed us for another month anyway, but these were minor problems.  They even called my parents one afternoon about six weeks after everything had been turned off and we weren’t paying them anymore.  I just took it on the chin when Mom called me frantically about each of these screw-ups.

Transferring the utilities into the tenant’s name and stopping auto-pay debits felt very much like dealing with the alarm company, but I was so certain all of my mother’s concerns were about to end that I just took it on the chin whenever I got her frantic phone calls.  Unlike the alarm company, the utilities were not calling mother, she was calling them and undoing everything I’d worked out, but it was OK, I told myself.  Eventually, those issues resolved themselves, too.

But I was completely unprepared for a call on a recent Saturday.  After months of negotiating, I’d convinced Mom to let a home health care service come bathe Dad.  She wasn’t happy about it, but she finally agreed on a Thursday.  I made an initial inquiry about the service on Friday and later in the day they sent me a consent form.

I assumed that if the service had not received a consent form, they wouldn’t be going out to give a bath – but I was wrong.  About two o’clock on Saturday afternoon I got a call from Mom.  I distinctly remember a momentary feeling of joy when I saw her name on the caller ID, because I ran through a mental checklist and assured myself that she couldn’t be calling with a problem, but I was mistaken.

I call Mom “the fear of god on two legs.”  I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that, but it seems to convey the idea of something fearsome and awful.  And that’s exactly what she was that day.  She raked me over the coals in no uncertain terms.  How could I have dared to send these people without letting her know?  Didn’t I realize that she had to lay out Dad’s clothes and organize the bathing items?  The indignation went on for a while before I could get a word in edgewise.  I got her settled down, but my blood pressure was through the roof.  It didn’t matter that the home health care service had jumped the gun and gone out to see them without authorization, somehow mother’s anxiety was all my fault.  Certainly there was something I could have said or done that would have changed things.  And for good measure, Mother repeated all of her accusations at least twice.

My precious husband was livid.  He’d heard me on the phone and had gotten the general gist of the conversation.  He was ready to call her right back and give her a piece of his mind, but I persuaded him not to.   I just took it on the chin.


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