I’ve been off social media for a season – stagnate. Somehow, I fell into a binary mindset with parental care as though I couldn’t maintain a parallel world. Attentiveness to an aging parent cleared up muddied waters and my perspective. In turn, I regained a creative flow for my own work.
Covid hit my ninety-year-old mother in late February 2023. After a two-day hospitalization, a doctor recommended a nursing home for rehab. “If you put me there, I’ll die,” my mom argued. My brother and I began research for in-home care.
The hunt, calls, interviews, and costs consumed our days. Meanwhile mom came home with me for two weeks. One week she couldn’t even remember because she was quite ill. The sickest of her days gave me perspective about empathy. I gained the utmost respect for health care workers from Assisted Living facilities.
Fast forward four months. And I cancelled my mom’s in home care provider. Oh, you might think she can now function alone. No, but my brothers and I tired from the arguments:
You’re treating me like a child. I can make my own decisions. You’re taking everything away from me. I can still cook. I can wash my own clothes. I have a housekeeper. I can, I can.
The claims were true. But some days paralleled the same needs post Covid’s hospitalization
What is true? Her children’s overprotection rose as the litmus test for choice. “In our own lives, we insist on the right to make our own choices, even bad ones -what is sometimes called the right to folly.”
Ageism pushed my brothers and me to folly for certain. We overprotected as though mom knew nothing. We maintained that younger wisdom to reason superseded hers.
As a worker since her teens, my mom managed. She managed a household of three children. She managed a fifty-four-year marriage before dad passed. She managed household finances. She managed to live after losing her own child in his thirties. And I can’t count the socio-emotional traumas she managed as a child. My mom became her own decision maker early in life through now. She demanded her own pathway as a Queen of sorts.
She modeled obstinance for making choices. That benefited me later in life. Years of folly opened my eyes. That seems odd, right? My story of transformation models actionable choices at any stage in life. Shadows of Transformation, Healing & Purpose is my book. Stages of development situated a plan for me to become my own Queen.
“Ageism, warns a 2016 paper in American Psychologist, ‘exacerbates the tendency to overprotect older adults.’ In the end, this can mean that older people are held to a higher standard than everyone else; they are not allowed to choose poorly.”
Oh boy! I wondered about the workplace too. Does this happen there? Do we expect more of older, seasoned workers? How do we assess older workers compared to younger ones?
I’m not a doctor to speak about markers for ageism with my mom. Nor do I know the indicators for decline in adults. But I can see the “then-self” and “now-self.”
A New York Times magazine sparked this blog. A Story of Dementia: A Mother Who Changed chronicles pages from Diane Norelius’ second half of life. She transformed into another person that her adult girls no longer knew. They journey to ask an arguable question that may affect you one day as it did me:
“When cognitive decline changes people, should we respect their new desires?”
What fascinated me about the read is the humanity demanded about ageism. I felt its pull to act for my story.
Sadly, there is a cut-off point in society when ageism is a thing. A certain adult age (whatever the number is) takes a back seat for capacity to understand. To appreciate. To reason. To express a choice.
Who pushed you behind the redline or into a back seat? Who or what forced you there? Ask me. I have had experiences.
I was the ten-year public-school Vice Principal. A group of people predetermined this to be my sole capacity. I applied for one principalship after another. Not this interview. Or that one. Or, Or.
Is the red line determined by looks? By Race? By Mobility? By Hair? By Gender? By Weight? By Youthful Skin? By Title? By Degrees? By Organizational Position? By Character? These are the stories you write.
During Covid, I embraced the grays I had once obsessed with dye monthly ad nauseum. Once that gray ¼ inch lined my scalp, I dyed. Taking my beauty treatment away for Covid months shattered my ego. Yet my eyes opened to reveal a real self back then.
A younger man who I had seen off and on reconnected with me post shutdowns. He asked me to send him a picture of my new “gray-hair.” Sure, I thought – it’s fabulous.
I never heard from him again once it landed! He reminded me of a person who asks to see a newborn for the first time. No ohhh. Ahhh. Sweet. Beautiful. Cute. Just a look, and a turn to walk away answered his question. Knowing this person, I realized the lack of response spoke of perspective.
Society’s attitudes about aging muddle humanity’s grandeur for any stage in life.
At what age did I shift my own perspective about ageism? When I asked myself, why give a %#$@ for others’ opinions about your looks? Did I ascribe ageism to that magic number? 60, 70, 80, 90? 50?
Becoming a grandparent? I’m still waiting for that indescribable title, the love that grandparents talk about! Indescribable is how I live each day though.
Am I attentive to my then / now self? It’s there. At 66 yrs. young, I still run/walk. But please don’t feed me too much of this or that. Aging isn’t a dualist template to project onto others.
Philosophers, physicians, psychiatrists learned the “framework for assessing capacity” with aging adults. “Understand, Appreciate, Reason, Express a Choice.”
To Express a choice resonated. After I read the Times article, I called mom. My daily phone calls had tired me out. They turned into a back-and-forth about the in-home care provider. The stress put on my brothers and me caused her more anger than her aging.
The liberating phone call went like this:
“Mom, I’m cancelling the in-home care. I know you are an adult; I never want you to think I’m treating you like a child. We (her children) only wanted to help make your daily life less complicated. We wanted to help with appointments, care, and in home support. You can let us know when you need help and if you want it. You make your own choices.”
My brothers and I have not dismissed her now-self. We track often and still do some personal things for her. After a recent six day stay with me, the then/now mom is obvious.
My mom copes with walkers and bars in the home. Even with back issues, she can stand to cook a little.
If you ask, why isn’t your mom living with you? Well, I have questions for you too!
A slew of cultural expectations comingles with who I am. I choose not to resign myself to the back seat of anything. This all flows back to attentiveness. Diligence to understand a perspective about ageism granted me the empathy to do what’s right for my mom’s case.
Each aging parent in need of care differs. Each story provides a perspective as a case study. To know what to do demands your own attentiveness first. Without prudence, folly supplants guidance. It thwarts the empathy to lead anything or anyone anywhere.
What’s your story of attentiveness for ageism? Personal? In an organization? The spectrum varies yet demands proven acts of humanity.