The Oscar winning movie “Still Alice” is disturbing on many fronts but what haunts me most is the possibility that Alice, a woman in in her early 50’s struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s, could steal her daughter’s youth.

Out of love and compassion, Alice’s younger daughter moves to New York from the west coast to look after her ailing mom, while the other members of the family move on with their lives, including Alice’s husband who decides to pursue his career in another city.

I had the same concern  after reading “They Left Us Everything”, a memoir by Plum Johnson about dismantling the family home after her mother’s death and through the process, coming to terms with her relationship with her mother.   Johnson looked after her parents from her early forties to her early sixties and she chronicles her growing resentment and anger during this period until her mother died at 93. Her mother, a cantankerous and self centered old soul, stole Johnson’s middle age.

What starts out as an act of love can turn into a test of endurance and I pray my children will be spared that fate.

Alice felt the same way and the intellectually competent Alice left a video recorded  message to the future demented Alice to take a pill overdose, but the demented Alice was too incompetent to complete the act.

Plum Johnson’s mom was not so kind or concerned about her children. Her strong personality demanded an unfair amount of time and energy from Johnson. One time Johnson’s mother pleaded with her to stay longer after Johnson had spent eight hours catering to her mother’s needs. Johnson said that although she dated many men, the thought of a serious relationship and blending another family into hers was just too exhausting to contemplate.

They Left Us EverythingJohnson acknowledges that she allowed her mother to control her and that she failed to fully separate from her until after she died. Unfortunately, Johnson did not have the courage to put stronger boundaries around her relationship with her mother.  As Johnson’s friend explains, her mother was just too powerful. If Johnson had been more vigilant in ensuring that her own needs were met, her brothers might have taken more responsibility for their mother and Johnson’s mother probably would have found new friends and thrived.

Parents stealing children’s lives is a common theme in literature and film. It can happen deliberately and knowingly as with Plum Johnson’s real life mother or unintentionally and unwillingly as might happen with the fictional Alice.  As much as I want to keep my children close, I want more that they live the lives they want.

I was extraordinarily lucky with my parents, who on their own accord, moved into a senior citizens home at age 83 a few years after my father had a stroke. The home had two levels of care and each of my parents moved into advanced care for the last year of their lives. This decision was taken by them in consultation with the nursing staff.  Both my parents were consistently optimistic and thankful that they had the financial resources for this care.

Until they moved into the senior citizens home, my parents remained socially active and healthy. They had their own interests and my concerns were not that they demanded too much of me but that I wasn’t doing enough for them.

I visited more and more the older they got and in the final year of my mother’s life I made the six hour trek to and from Peterborough almost every weekend.  That was an act of love.  Every time I visited, my mother thanked me and told me she had the three best children in the world.  In her very old age, she was a model mom and I hope I can treat my children the way she treated me.

What is your experience with your parents?  What do you want from your adult children as you age?  I would love to hear your thoughts so please put them in the Reply Box below.  

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Book Reviews, In the News, Lessons Learned
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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. So true! I often think of airplane oxygen masks – you have to look after yourself before you can usefully help anyone else. I dreaded most visits to Mum in the last years of her alzheimers, but while I was there trying to focus on being in the moment with her, we shared some of our closest times together. It was not always easy to find a balance between wanting to give her love and support while ensuring I didn’t resent the time and patience required to do so – which would sour the effort. It helped to remember that my parents never wanted to be a burden. With my own adult children I try to live by their example – no demands, just joy, thanks and positive reinforcement when they choose to visit! Hope we can sustain that over time and declining health.

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  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is hard to know with aging parents when to push yourself to give more and when to back off and give yourself a rest.

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