Who will I become as I age?

Regine,  Age 68
When my mother was in her mid-seventies she became very demanding and complained a lot – about the things she could no longer do (she had arthritis), about my father’s faults, things others didn’t do right. I couldn’t see why she didn’t focus on what she could do or find ways to adjust and still do things she wanted to do. In retrospect, I realize she was having difficulties with aging. Mostly I said nothing, put up with it, sometimes challenged her or even lashed out. When I talked to her about how my father might feel when she complained about him when we were all in the car together, she said, “Oh, he can’t hear.” He did have a hearing aid.
I spent less time with my parents, though I still drove them to medical appointments. My mother would often say, “Don’t get old.” A friend who was an occupational therapist told me her clients often said this kind of thing. Once I snapped and said to my mother, “So I’m supposed to die young?” She didn’t repeat this for some time after that. I have two brothers, but I live the closest to my parents, though still a two-hour drive. My mother would phone me and complain, sometimes say hurtful things. She rarely expressed thanks for anything I did for them. When my Dad was in hospital for a week and then went into temporary respite, I went out and spent more time with my mother, but it wasn’t any easier. My Dad had anxiety attacks sometimes. I thought my mother’s behaviour may have triggered them.
This kind of thing went on for years. My parents had home care and meals on wheels, but that didn’t seem to change my mother’s behaviour. I did talk to friends who had experienced difficulties with aging parents and that helped. I read what I could, but there didn’t seem to be much that was helpful. I got very tired emotionally, particularly as it became obvious my mother had trouble handling some things. I kept thinking if she wasn’t my mother I’d never be spending time with her. It all came to a head over financial issues that my mother initially said she didn’t want to deal with any more. I was the executor of their wills and had power of attorney, so I said I’d take care of things. Then she changed her mind, and even though it was obvious from remarks she made that my mother didn’t understand what to do, she said she didn’t want me to come out. I told my parents and my brothers I no longer wanted to be executor or have power of attorney. (I didn’t want to deal with whatever mess she might make of their finances.) I didn’t communicate with my parents for about three months.
I worried and wondered what I would be like when I became older. Why did some people go gracefully into old age and others become horrible? I could find no satisfactory answers.
Eventually I did make contact again when my mother had a medical appointment. I met her at the bus depot because I worried that she’d have trouble negotiating getting to the appointment, etc. We resumed much of the old relationship ways, though at least I no longer had to worry about the financial end of things as one of my brothers had taken that on.
Finally we got both my parents into long term care, a few weeks before my mother’s 90th birthday. This move wasn’t easy either. My mother said nasty, untrue things about me during the process. I thought seriously about severing all contact with her in the near future.
Then, while cleaning out their house after the move, I found a wonderful short letter that my mother had written to me when I was seven and in hospital with appendicitis. I saw that I had once had a loving, nurturing mother. It made me cry, but it also brought me to a better place in our relationship.
Thankfully, my parents seem to have settled in fairly well into long term care – it is a very special place where they are. My mother has recognized at times that, “her brain makes her say things” she doesn’t mean.
In the latter part of all this I had gone to see a couple of counsellors, the best thing I did for myself. The first was OK, but didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. The second was wonderful. She reminded me of the drama triangle, which illuminated further the relationship I’d had with my mother (and other people). I often became the rescuer until I felt victimized and then I might become the persecutor. My mother often acted the victim or the persecutor, though she could be a rescuer, too. I’m practising not being drawn into this drama. The counsellor helped in additional ways, too, and she is there if I need her.
I realized, as I wrote in my blog in March, that I had come through a heart of darkness to a new green country. I think that my mother had been showing signs of some kind of dementia for some time, though it hasn’t been really severe. I’m able to distance myself somewhat, though I still feel the stress at times.
There have been good days as well as additional challenges, and there will be more ahead. I still worry about what I will be like if I get to be my parents’ age. I’ve talked to my son about this, asking forgiveness in advance! Still, I have found a kind of peace and I have more options to cope as the journey continues.
Regine in Canada

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