Charlie had just come up the elevator after taking some things down for the ladies, who were busy outside planting. He could hear the phone ringing behind his door. “The thing never seems to stop ringing these days,” he thought to himself as he opened the door and set the keys down on the credenza.
“Hello?” Charlie answered half out of breath. “Oh, hi Charlie, it’s Clarke, Bea’s son. Is Hazel there?” Clarke was hurried in his tone and completely ignored the fact Charlie sounded busy. “She’s outside right now, can I have her call you back?” Charlie sensed Clarke’s agitation. Something was up. “I need to talk to her…or you…it’s about mom.” Charlie was worried now. “Is everything okay with Bea?” “Not really,” Clarke admitted hesitantly. “You see, she’s been talking with Hazel and has all these… ideas…now. She’s talking about moving out and needing better care…and well…I want to know why Hazel thinks I can’t look after my own mother. She’s been here for years.”
“Well, I’m not the type to talk out of church Clarke, but I doubt very much that Hazel has been critical of you. You know Hazel adores you and always has,” Charlie said, trying to smooth things over. Clarke was very upset and Charlie knew he needed to get the whole story. “So, your mom wants to move? Why?” Clarke went on to explain how Bea’s pain had been getting worse and how hard it was for her to get around most days. He was very defensive though, noting that he made sure she would get to all her doctors appointments, and was taking her medications on time. “I’ve taken a lot of time, even days off work to make sure mom is alright. I spend two nights a week doing meal prep for her so that she has healthy meals throughout the week, which she doesn’t even touch. I take her out at night, I help her in and out of the tub, I make sure she has clean clothes and bedding…I’ve got everything under control here. But obviously, what I do for her isn’t enough. She’s saying she NEEDS to move out. It feels like a slap in the face,” he said despondently.
Charlie took a deep sigh. “I’m sure Bea doesn’t want to move because you aren’t doing enough for her. Knowing Bea, she’s moving because you do TOO MUCH for her. Bea’s a retired nurse and she’s used to looking after people Clarke. She probably feels guilty that she can’t help you out more. She’s likely worried about being a burden,” Charlie tried to explain.
“But she’s not a burden,” Clarke interjected, “She knows that! I’m simply doing what kids should do for their parents as they get older.”
“That’s mighty noble of you Clarke, honestly. If the younger generation did more for their parents, life would be very different indeed. But let’s face it son, you’ve just spent the better part of this conversation explaining to me everything you do for your mom…and it’s a lot. I hear the air of duty in your voice, but you also sound exhausted,” Charlie said gently.
“I am exhausted. And now she’s got me looking up all this information for her. I had everything under control, and now I’m spinning trying to calm her down and get her the information she’s asking for. Moving would be a nightmare right now. I can’t take any more things on. Work’s breathing down my neck! They’ve got me doing this new project where I have to put in time in the evenings. I can’t do this Charlie!” Clarke was nearly in tears.
“Imagine having to move her in a state of crisis though. Look at what happened to Hazel. She took an unexpected fall, was in the hospital for weeks on end, and nearly placed into a care facility. We had just signed the contract for this place. That was a nightmare!” Charlie chuckled a bit to get his point across. “Clarke, you have a great opportunity to sit down with Bea and find out what she actually wants, and you have some time to make decisions. You’ve been so invested with your mom…your sister has too…for nearly a decade. You are more like Bea’s caregivers than you are her children. You are doing absolutely everything for her. And I know she is more than grateful for it, and you are more than happy to do so. But you deserve to have your relationship with your MOM back…and you can have that while she is still alive and kicking.”
Clarke grew very quiet. “That makes some sense Charlie. I never thought of it like that.”
“When was the last time you had a night to yourself Clarke?,” Charlie asked carefully. Clarke was taken aback a bit, but let out a laugh. “I can’t even remember. I haven’t been to a restaurant in ages. Friends at work talk about movies that I’ve never seen. And you know I don’t date Charlie.” Charlie grinned a bit over the phone. “That’s not at all what I asked Clarke and you know it. But yes, that is kind of what I am getting at. You are an amazing son. And you and your sister have done a great deal for your mom. But if Bea is ready to move and leave the caregiving to the professionals, why don’t you let her make that decision? She will do so much better around people her own age, get out of the isolation of her bedroom, and will get more of the help that she needs. She’ll find the old Bea again. And maybe, just maybe, you can start living your life a bit too. Maybe you can go to work and finally talk about a movie…and a person you decide to take with you.” The two men both laughed. Charlie always had a way of cutting straight to the heart of things with Clarke. It’s what Clarke loved most about him.
Clarke was much calmer now. “Thanks a lot Charlie. I’m sorry to have caused a big fuss.” Charlie smiled over the phone. “No problem at all kiddo! Catherine, John and James likely went through the same things when we decided to move. It is a bit of work, but it is worth it. Trust me. And we’re all here to lend an ear if either of you kids need one.”
“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of questions over the next little while. I really appreciate your help. Tell Hazel I said hello.”
It is hard not to take it personally when a parent decides to leave the care of their adult children. Much time, resources and sacrifices go into providing for the needs of an aging parent, even if they do not reside with their children. Parents may fear that they are becoming “burdensome” and children may feel obligated to carry some extra responsibilities. This dynamic is healthy and positive, but when it becomes too much for either party, it may be time to look at alternatives to improve the quality for life for everyone concerned.
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