Pat Blythe – Just Thoughts……

I open (it’s a long open) with a topic that has been written and talked about ad infinitum. Taking care of mom and/or dad, sometimes called “elder care”. It’s a subject, that for some reason also keeps getting buried. Something that isn’t discussed much….that happens in the background of our busy lives. It has once again sprung to the surface of my consciousness because a friend, actually someone I have yet to meet but we seem to have bonded via FB through our love of music and photography, is in this precarious situation.

Friends taking care of aging parents, parents who can no longer fully take care of themselves. One friend must drive back-and-forth from one city to another many times during the week to ensure their parent is eating properly. Then there are the doctor and physio appointments, shopping, visiting, medication….the list goes on. Another who moved five hours away from home, family and business, to take care of an ailing parent…..a parent who consistently lashed out physically and verbally. Yet another who visits their parent daily, even though there is no recognition…..and another who’s moved out of the country, back home to care for an elderly mother……and then there’s my FB friend who is keeping vigil by the hospital bedside. This is but a microcosm of thousands of untold stories.

Taking care of ourselves in today’s tumultuous world is challenging enough. Taking care of aging parents is like discovering the final frontier, literally and metaphorically, and it’s not always a smooth ride. It truly is unknown territory and brings with it a new awareness of the fragility of life and a boatload of emotions you never knew even existed. Each situation is unique and with the longevity of life we are currently experiencing (and will for some time), we now have to deal with our own aging and mortality along with that of our parents. It’s a double cohort.

When I’m 64 – The Beatles

So, let’s be honest…..it’s a tough row to hoe. Difficult, challenging and frustrating. As much as we love our parent(s), devoting what could be many years of our own lives to taking care of them can bring out a mixed bag of emotions and feelings, many we never thought we’d have and would really rather not experience. Anger, irritation, resentment, bitterness, frustration, remorse, guilt, anxiety, shame (for feeling any of these)…… It can create discord within families and among siblings. For those who are an only child, the load can be almost unbearable.

The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell

There is also sorrow, pain, heartache, sadness and anguish for the present; mourning, regret, a sense of loss, a wistfulness and deep yearning for the past. ….and most importantly, love. We still see our parents through the eyes of a child. We want back what we once had…how we remember them. We depended on them, now they depend on us. With a longer life comes failing bodies and the frightening rise in Alzheimer’s and dementia. Personalities change. The parent we once knew isn’t there anymore. They don’t even know us. Many lash out at those trying to help. Some completely withdraw, swimming a foreign sea in their own diminished world. We are left twisting around in a whirlwind, trying to keep our sanity, our sense of self and our balance. It can be a long road and it’s becoming a road more frequently traveled. The parent has now become the child but, believe it or not, they’re still teaching us if we care to pay attention.

Drop and run….

I call us the “drop and run” generation because when shit happens and you get the call, you gotta drop whatever you’re doing and run.

Teach Your Children – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

The skill of juggling comes to mind. Juggling your life, your parent’s lives, your kid’s lives and quite possibly your grandchildren’s lives and so it goes…… It’s not a new phenomenon but an expanding one. Our parents lives are now extending into their 80’s and 90’s and we, the Baby Boomers even longer. Some of us still have kids at home and many are taking care of grandchildren. We are pushed and pulled in many directions. Caught in the middle, we are often referred to as the sandwich generation. Sure, we have nursing homes, homes for the aged, retirement communities, hospitals for those who require it, etc. But in reality, when it comes right down to it, it’s up to us, we the children. I know, I know. You’ve carved out a life for yourself and now you’re being yanked back, drawn into a situation you never contemplated. You have people to see, places to go, bosses to report to, spouses, kids and clients who demand your time, work to be done, retirement to plan for (or enjoy), mortgages to pay……but wait…..so did our parents……when they were raising us.

Stuck in The Middle With You – Stealers Wheel

(love the beer bottle slide on this one)

I am incredibly fortunate that my mom, at the tender age of (almost) 88, is still in her own home, attends her church every Sunday, plays bridge, sings in two choirs and heads to the Boys and Girls Club three times a week for swimming and exercises. But she still needs help and she doesn’t drive anymore. I am also extremely lucky my sisters live in the same city as mom (I’m two hours away), drive her to appointments, take her shopping and generally keep an eye on her. Me, I visit for extended stays as often as I can and phone her at least three times a week (as long as it’s not during Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune). Her programs…..not mine.

Mom and my two sons, Aarron (l) and Thom (r) at my niece’s wedding

There is no one in the world who knows me better than my mom and for that matter, there is no one in the world who knows you better than your parent(s). From the moment you were born, they watched you grow, learn, screw up, embarrass them, embarrass yourself, pulled you out of trouble, supported you, nurtured you, protected you and loved you….. unconditionally. No one ever expected the tables to be turned 50 or 60 years later. Not like this. But, there is still no one in the world who knows you better and come hell or high water, they still love you….unconditionally.

Good Mother – Jann Arden

I can’t imagine a world without my mom. I love her from the bottom of my heart. Yes, I’ll admit, sometimes I’m impatient, sometimes she moves too slow for my fast pace, I wish she would make lists, she forgets, I get frustrated. Makes me wonder how my sons see me? Then I stop and remember all the shit I put her through and her patient, unwavering support and love. She was always right behind me, this special person who always (and still does) have my back. She taught me well, gave me a solid base from which to forge my life, has never not been there for me (or my sisters), still corrects my grammar and she loves all three of her daughters….. unconditionally. So when I’m with my mom, I am happy to do what I can for her. She’s a reminder I need to slow down and she teaches me patience. I appreciate the time spent just hanging around the kitchen table with her, even when she’s working on her Sudoku and I on the computer, it’s a companionable silence that I wouldn’t trade for anything. When I blow into town we do “stuff”. I bring her coffee from MacDonald’s, take her to rock concerts, we throw her diet out the window by dining out or snacking on all the wrong foods, we take our time cruising store aisles, we talk (or rather I talk and she listens) and I play her favourite song (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) through my portable speaker…..over and over and over again. If she needs me for anything, I will, without hesitation, drop and run. Because I know, one of these days I’ll sit at that kitchen table, and she won’t be there….

Mom with my two wonderful sisters Chrissie (l) and Carrie (r)

The three sisters….L-R – Carrie (2), Chrissie (4) and me (6)….at around 6am on New Year’s Day, standing at the foot of our parent’s bed….not sure who had the camera but I’m surprised we’re still alive to tell the tale…..

I learned, when Chris was ill and we both knew it was terminal, that living in a world of raw emotion, good bad or indifferent, was okay. Attending caregiver sessions at Gilda’s Club Great Toronto gave me, and hundreds of others before and after me, a place to go, to talk, to vent, without judgement, and to listen. The rollercoaster of emotions you feel as a caregiver are sometimes overwhelming. It’s part of the grieving process and it makes no difference who you’re caring for. I thank Gilda’s Club for that every day and try to “pay it forward” to those who need a place to go and an ear to bend.

Mad World – Tears For Fears

We don’t live in a perfect world (she says dripping with sarcasm) and we cannot simply rely on governments to fix everything (although they do need to ante up more). We all need to STOP. Slow down. Breathe. Listen. See. Turn this around. We need to support and take care of each other….do what we can to help. As Blanche DuBois once said, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Reach out, volunteer, form your own support group (I did with the Merry Widows), offer a lending hand (or vehicle), a reprieve or safe haven if only for a few hours, visit, show you care. Most importantly, we also need to learn ask for help, recognize that we are all fallible and simply cannot always go it alone, whether we are the “cared for” or the “caregiver”. As our worlds becomes more dislocated, fragmented and torn apart, in personal relationships and across borders, we must become a united front to fight for our parents rights and their dignity, give them a voice when they have none….demand decent care and respect because in reality, we are fighting not just for their lives….but ours as well. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

….and now I close.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to care for the elderly and support each other.

Cheers!

P.S. So now I’m really behind on clubs and events but I’ll get there. This was one issue I felt compelled to write about. It’s close to home and getting closer. As I watch more and more friends care for aging parents, it makes me realize how much we have to be grateful for and how much more we need to do….for them and for ourselves. If we glom together we can make everyone’s life just that little bit sweeter.

All photographs copyright A Girl With a Camera “The Picture Taker” unless otherwise noted.

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

4 Responses to “Pat Blythe – Just Thoughts……”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Thanks for another great column that really resonated with me.

  2. Marlene Schuler Says:

    Yes great read and certainly touched home!

  3. Roger March Says:

    Been there…done that. Wish it could be easier for all of us.
    Thanks, Bob

  4. Thank you! A great column from an understanding girl whom I love. Mom

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