|By JENNIFER CONLIN|
A friend of mine, Sarah, recently put her mother, who has early-stage dementia, into a nursing home in the town where she lives. Moving her mother out of the family home after 40 years was anything but easy, but neither was driving an hour each way to check on her well-being several times a week.
The last six months have been fraught for my friend, and not just because Sarah’s mother, a widow, did not understand why she had to leave her town, friends, country club and the home where she and her husband had raised their four children. It was also trying because all of the responsibility fell on Sarah’s shoulders: the clearing and selling of the house, the search for a free spot in a nursing home, and the heart-rending transition of moving her mother into a strange environment.
But then, on one of Sarah’s near-daily visits to see her mother at her new assisted-living apartment, a nurse stopped Sarah in the hallway.
“Are you an only child or do you have O.S.S.s?” she asked, having witnessed all that Sarah had been doing for her mother’s relocation. And then, sensing Sarah was not familiar with the acronym, added, “I’m talking about ‘out of state siblings,’ the brothers and sisters who don’t help very much.”
In fact, Sarah has two O.S.S.s, but she also had one brother living nearby. But busy with work and his own family, her sibling had been offering little to no assistance with their mother.
“There is one child in every family,” the nurse said, patting Sarah on the back. “We see that here,” she added. “It is often out of sight, out of mind for the others,” she murmured, slipping away.
Before I moved back to the Midwest four years ago and into my parents’ home with my own family, I was not just the “out of state sibling,” but the “out of country” sibling, having lived overseas for 20 years. While I was running around
During that time, both of my parents experienced their first serious health issues. Though I flew back each time, it was just to hold a hand before and after the surgery and help with a bit of cooking and cleaning before I flew off again.
It was a relief to me, with our two brothers living out of state, that Liz was here full time. My husband, Daniel, and I saw a future in which my unmarried, childless sister would take care of my parents, allowing us to live out our working days all around the globe.
But then, our life changed in a matter of weeks. When we needed to leave our most recent posting in
And then suddenly, I became that child.
Our living together was, at first, primarily a financial decision. As journalists, Daniel and I were forced to go from being seasoned international correspondents to being local media outsiders. At the same time, my father, a real estate developer, was watching his business suffer through the recession. And then there was my older brother, Greg, who had just been let go from his job in
We took up residence in the short term because it was cheaper in the long run as all of us scrambled to make ends meet. But a year later, when the worst was over and we had to re-evaluate our living arrangement, it still made sense to us — it was truly far more economical in these difficult times for all of us to share costs than to divide them.
The only problem with buying my parents’ home with them still in it was that it felt as if I was signing up to be that child/caregiver forever. While my older sister stops by to visit now and then, she is understandably less involved in my parents’ lives than she was previously. She knows I am here to check on them daily, both mentally and physically. And while my older brother lives here, too, his nurturing skills as a long-term bachelor are limited to watching sports with my son, taking out the trash and fixing cracks in the ceiling.
And then there is my younger brother who lives out of state. I can hardly blame him for having a job and family far away; he needs to make a living, of course. But the result is he is of little practical help to us.
For the moment, my mom, 80, and my dad, 83, are in good health, but there is a lot that goes into keeping them that way. The biggest part of that equation is having them reside for as long as possible in the house they love, surrounded by the people they love, and in high spirits as their aches and pains increase and their number of friends decrease. But it can also be exhausting mentally to be the constant cheerleader who keeps the team from giving up on the field.
But what tires me the most is thinking about the future. When things go from bad to worse for my parents, I don’t know if I will want to be “that child” anymore. But, I fear, I may not have a choice — and not because my siblings won’t help, but because it is ingrained in my nature.
I now realize I picked myself for this long-term job the moment we moved back in. And somewhere along the line, my friend Sarah did, too.
|Copyright:||Copyright 2014 The New York Times Company|
|Source:||New York Times Digital|