The first piece of advice a friend gave me about my blog was, “be careful not to sound mean.” I took his words to heart, but a month later I wonder which is worse — alienating readers or self-censorship? I’ve come to the conclusion it’s definitely the latter.
I started this blog as an alternative to all the bland caregiver sites I found full of sterilized advice for helping family members in their advanced years. I could barely read a hundred words on most without glazing over. If you didn’t know better you’d think everyone ages nicely and neatly, and acting in Mom’s best interest is as easy as deciding what to have for dinner.
The truth is for some people, aging is an ugly process, and even if you love the old person there’s a good chance they drive you up the wall most of the time. From that perspective, tying them to a chair and abandoning them on a dirt road would be mean. Writing about the day-to-day experience with a heavy dose of sarcasm and irony is not.
I have a good idea where my friend’s “speak of aging in the gentlest possible terms” comes from. I worked for a few years at an ad agency that specializes in marketing senior communities. Words like “old age” and “retirement” were verboten. Copy was infused with glowing descriptions “of memory loss care” and “active, robust adults.” I knew it was bs then, and I doubly know it now. My friend works there today, and he’s drinking a bottomless cup of the marketing-to-modem-seniors Kool-Aid: Seventy is the new fifty. The golden years are a time to be active and engaged! Who wants to be young and uncertain when you can be old and know in advance exactly what every day holds — unless your bridge partners unexpectedly leaves in a body bag. Nevermind — we still have enough warm bodies for bingo!
Maybe this illusion is reality for the wealthy. But for everyone else it’s a struggle ranging from juggling between doctors appointments and holding down a job to looking forward to Meals on Wheels deliveries for at least one decent meal a day. Every old folks home — I mean aging community — I’ve visited was full of people wandering the halls and slumping in wheelchairs staring off into space. And those are the lucky ones. Nobody is active or vibrant — they’re just hoping someone from their family visits and they get their favorite pudding for dessert.
For seven years I’ve been trying to keep Grandma out of these places. She’s had hospital stays followed by rehab stints, but for the most part she’s been at home with her cat, her genealogy research and an endless supply of cookies and applesauce. I’ve kept her healthy, if not particularly happy, but I had no idea how hard it would be. And I know I’m not the only caregiver who reads obits looking for the age then does an unscientific calculation in their head about the odds of their loved one living that long. But I’d never say that out loud. Except I guess I just did.
Damn the self-censorship. This week I wrote a post about lifestyle clauses and how I thought anybody who lives together, such as caregivers and seniors, should write one up. I liked the idea and got some positive feedback, but that night I reread it and my friend’s warning ran through my head. “This sounds too mean,” I thought. I deleted the post and crossed my fingers that another friend I referred to my blog wouldn’t see it and think I was a horrible person. I mulled over how to be nicer next time.
The reality is there’s plenty of nicey-nice stuff about seniors on the Internet. But there’s a whole new generation of caregivers being thrown into their roles, and I have to believe some of them aren’t happy about it either. Maybe like me they’re just shooing their last little baby bird out of the nest and Bam! Here’s Grandma with her bad hearing, failing eyesight, incontinence, mild dementia and two — make that one — furry f$*king cat that has turned the basement into one big hairball. Will I take care of her to the bitter end? You bet. But I never promised to do it with a good attitude.
So I undeleted my post. And next blog, it’s back to regularly scheduled programming. If you laugh, great. If you can relate, take heart you’re not alone. And if you think I’m mean, go stay with an old person for a few weeks and take care of all their needs. You might just come back and subscribe. 🙂
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