Balancing Independence When Aging

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf – Albert Lea Tribune October 2014Helping Hand

My mother was a very independent soul. She very seldom asked for help. I don’t think I inherited that part of her personality. I don’t have a problem asking for help. If I need it, I ask.

My daughter pointed out to me many years ago that by asking, I give others the chance to give too. I don’t know if my friends might feel that way about my asking. I feel I ask too much but I still ask. People can say no.

My friend Donna just spent two days helping me wallpaper my bathroom wall. She has a hard time saying no. That might be a problem if you have someone that constantly asks for help, and someone who constantly can’t say no. There is a fine line in the balance of give and take.

I suspect my mother didn’t ask for help because her life was spent helping her mother, who was most of the time bedridden or in a wheel chair, helping her brother who didn’t know how to cook and had health problems, and taking care of others who needed it. She became very adamant that she did not want to become a burden and did not want someone to have to take care of her as much as she had to take care of her mother. She didn’t want someone else to give up their dreams. She wanted to spare me that responsibility and was very stubborn about it.

What she didn’t realize was that her stubbornness made life much more difficult for those around her when it was clear she wasn’t managing her life very well, and couldn’t take care of herself, such as the time she broke her arm and didn’t tell anyone so we could take her to the doctor for help. Or the time she refused to go to the doctor when she had pneumonia.

We were happy to lend a hand with the cooking, cleaning, clothes washing and doctor visits, but because of her stubbornness it made life difficult not only for her but for us. It also led to outcomes that were detrimental for her and had more long term effects. It led to her being sicker and more injured than she had to be.

Had she let us help her, she could have stayed in her home. Had she let us help her, she wouldn’t have gotten so sick. As a daughter it was very hard and anguishing to deal with, because you love your parents and you want the best for them, the same as they wanted the best for you when you were growing up and in your adult years.

I see the scene happen time and time again. Older people do not accept their children’s help. They don’t want to burden them. They keep illness a secret so they don’t worry their kids, but their kids are worried none the same by their parents withdrawal and insistence they are OK, when clearly it is evident they aren’t.

The tug of war between them ensues, adult children trying to get their parents help and their parents resisting because they want to be independent.

The consequences of that stubbornness and fight to stay independent occasionally becomes worse for the parent and they end up sicker, unable to stay in their homes and in anguish because of the situation, when a little communication with their children could have had better results. Early intervention in whatever is happening in their life would have kept them more independent.

Having had to deal with some of this recently is what prompted this column. There is that part of us that wants to make our own decisions. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do. We want to be in control. We know what is best for our own lives. And…..we’re not going to let others control what we do. There is that fear of letting go and trusting others, even our own children.

I will tell you that when I was ill and I was in a depression, I could not make good decisions for my life. Had I not let others in and let them help me, the consequences of my life would have been much worse.

My age is increasing. Some days, it feels like it is increasing at a rapid rate. My mind is still good although the readers of my books might question that. And maybe, I lean too much to the wanting help when I am older because I do not want to make my children’s lives more difficult. Perhaps I lean too much in the other direction. I don’t know if I have that balance and if I don’t have the mental capacity later on to keep that balance that is what scares me.

We have made some preparation in case we become that stubborn independent older citizen. We have discussed the situation with our children. They know our finances. They know our wishes. Our children do not live in the same community or even 15 minutes away. We hope to move closer to our children so when we need more help, we won’t disrupt their lives so much, and hopefully we can put things in place so that our final years can be a blessing together for all of us.

I see the difficulty my friends have had lately trying hard to find a solution and a resolution with elderly parents who fight them at every turn, causing so much heartache for all involved. I don’t want my last years to have to be that.

We can’t predict the future. Maybe in spite of all my plans I will do the same thing to my kids. I want to be able to balance that fine line between independence and reliance. How about you?

“We’re taught to expect unconditional love from our parents, but I think it is more the gift our children give us. It’s they who love us helplessly, no matter what or who we are.”

— Kathryn Harrison, “The Kiss”

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