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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Words - August 2011

Role reversal
Submitted by Cathy McMacken Dunlap, Canton

Who's the parent? Who's the child? This has been the joke, or not, for several years between my mother and me. My mother is 87 years old and I am 60. Now, this is a predicament since we are made out of the same mold. We are both very bullheaded. "Time to quit driving, Mom." NOT!

We never had much growing up, but we had a tight-knit family. We ate our meals together and we talked about everything. If I got in trouble in school, I got punished at home as well. We made wonderful memories on very little money. Mom has always been the strong one, the mentor, the caregiver, the one that always has given her family unconditional love.

We recently moved Mom into an independent living facility. Due to health issues and all the fun stuff that comes with aging - memory loss, inability to function as she once did, loss of close friends and family, and no longer having the ability to keep up with her home of 41 years - this difficult decision was made. The subject had arisen several times the past couple of years and my mother was dead set against leaving her home. "It may be fine for others but not for me," she would say. However, after deep soul searching, she realized that she just was not up to the task of maintaining her home any longer. Once her decision was made, we went into action. She's a trooper.

I have found myself calling the shots of late. What should she take with her? What should she sell? What memorabilia should she be allowed to hold on to? I have suddenly become the mom and she, the child. I find myself sifting through so many years of accumulation, thinking how easy it would be to just pack it all up and send it to Goodwill. It is so overwhelming. We are still preparing her house for sale. I just want to be done with it.

However, Mom is from the Depression era. Our generation can learn a lot about waste and want. It is very difficult for her to throw anything away. We have laughed over the years about her re-use of plastic plates, the ones that are meant to be trashed after use. Nope. Not Mom. We sat down to a picnic at her house only to find duct tape on a cracked disposable plate. It just represents the respect that her generation has for their belongings, whether it is a beautiful antique or a cracked plastic plate. How dare I determine what should be important to someone's lifetime of memories? Who am I to make the decision about what should be important to my Mom?

I am not what you would call the most patient person in the world, and when I am on a mission, stay out of my way. While I was busily packing boxes and deciding what should be included in the move, my mom was looking through old pictures and reminiscing. She would smile and tell me stories that I never heard before. I found myself immersed in wonderful stories about my dad, my sisters, myself and Mom's childhood. It was like watching a wonderful Hallmark movie. There was nothing more important that day than sitting with my mother and putting together the pieces of fabric that formed our family life. How blessed I have been.

Yes, sometimes I want to cry when I have to remind my mom of things she once would never forget. I want to cry when she loses friends that are near and dear to her. And I want to cry when I watch her health deteriorate. But one thing I can be happy about now is the fact that she is still able to live independently where she has help if she needs it, and that we have had these special moments of her telling of the past. I will cherish those moments forever.

Mom is making new friends and becoming social again. She is happy and content and she and I both know deep down who's the parent and who's the child. I love you, Mom!

Story submitted for the Ohio Department of Aging's Family Caregiving Story Project.

For caregiver assistance, please call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678.

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