I need a moment here: to be relieved, be angry, to grieve and to have moments of self-doubt. I need to do it without myself, my family or my friends defending me and minimizing my feelings.
It’s hard not to have regret when someone dies. For my husband and I, the death of each of our parents has triggered differing degrees of self-examination mixed in with the grief.
And there was a little bit of relief, too. We didn’t lose our parents in our youth. Each of them lived long enough to become our responsibility at a time in our lives when we were balancing careers and grandchildren. We had made the commitment to ourselves that we would let the tail wag the dog and that we would try to let them live out their lives according to their own decisions. So the concerns of their lives superseded those of our own aging.
And nothing lasts forever. When my father died in 2006, his wife became our last living parent.
Because she had loved my father and had become a true mother to me, I have felt a deep responsibility to let her make her own choices and live by her own standards: she wanted to remain in her home, she wanted to keep her animals, especially her cherished dog, and she wanted to live by herself.
I am her step-daughter but her daughter lived a distance away. So although my step-sister didn’t always agree with me on what was best, I was in charge by default. With my added responsibility came the power of influence to give Dad’s wife her way and keep her in familiar surroundings. And I fought the good fight.
But as her memory slipped from her, so did her ability to care for herself. What began with hiring someone to make sure she had regular meals and fresh food in the refrigeration expanded to the necessity of having someone run her household and be with her more often. My husband’s sister (I bless her every day of my life) provided everything that was needed except on Sundays when my husband and I were in charge. Eventually, we enlisted more care and so the story goes…
And now the time has come. It’s time to wave the flag of surrender to the reality that she needs full time care. It’s time to relinquish the decisions to her daughter.
But not without a little bit of self-bashing. Did I do enough? Am I secretly happy to be finished with the responsibility? Should I have insisted that she live with us? Could I have afforded to support her in her own home? Should I have tried to employ and supervise good full-time care?
Her first response to the news of her move is etched in my memory, “How can you do this to me?”
She’s gone. It’s done. It is what it is. I can visit her but her care is out of my hands. I can no longer usurp the position of her daughter. Although I can’t agree with all of the decisions and lament some of them, I have agreed to be supportive. And I have compassion for what her daughter is trying to do.
And I am profoundly sad. My greatest regret now and when she dies will be that I couldn’t fulfill her wishes. And no matter how unreasonable my Dad’s expectations in the situation, I will always know that I let him down, too.
I hope I did my best.