Two Drivers, Two Hip Fractures, One Perplexed Jan (+Writer Unboxed Redirect)


I tried, Zesties, I did. I went to a nearby filling station, purchased me an extra-large decaf, and while sipping it from the comfort of my car, I did my level best to prove a writing truism–that if you will have the eyes to see, you can find writing inspiration most anywhere.

I was certainly motivated. Each week I’ve walked through the streets of this blog, where it’s been so quiet that I freaked myself out when my foot inadvertently struck a tin can. I’ve stared at the boarded windows, at the brick walls where graffiti and Virginia creeper vie for dominance. I’ve ached for human contact, almost rang a few door bells in hopes of hearing more than the chimes echoing back at me.

What’s prevented me from actually posting? The search for a topic which was not all me-me-me. Hence my efforts at the filling station, which generated not one, not two, but three blog post ideas:

  • Men in overalls–sexy fashion statement or redneck irritant?
  • Car roof racks–the merits thereof
  • Demise of the public payphone as told in interpretive dance

Yeah. In my defense, I was drinking decaf coffee and likely sniffing subliminal gas fumes.

Given the lousy ideas and the persisting, unfulfilled yearning, it seems I have no choice but to go the authentic route. That means we’re talking sandwich generations today, and I don’t mean the turkey-on-rye variety, but the caregiver-caught-between-two-generations type.

Since my last post, the three elders in my immediate family have experienced a few challenges, chief among them, two hip fractures. As a result, we’ve had conversations and made practical arrangements concerning things like meal preparation, safe residency, and end-of-life decisions, like whether to resuscitate.

These issues can be emotionally challenging in and of themselves, but if you’ve been through this, you might understand the complexities involved when dealing with a large extended family. Especially if you’re a person who aims to build consensus. Especially if various parties are dealing with grief, the stages of denial and anger being the hardest to work with. Especially if the elders in question have provided zero or limited eldercare to their own parents, making their expectations a tad unrealistic because they are uninformed by personal experience.

To add to this, we are still launching the two O’Hara offspring–a circumstance which adds degrees of irony and difficulty to the situation.

For example, when it comes to driving adults, my default position can’t be For God’s sake, take the car and go.  Nope. All of a sudden, I have to think about whether to encourage behaviors traditionally associates with adult independence, like banking, or driving. Worse, I have to think about whether it’s my responsibility to alter them or have them cease altogether.

Needless to say, as a person who does best with stability and order, my wig has been routinely askew these past months. Just when I think we’ve achieved a new-normal–I might be writing an intriguing and informative blog post on scissors, say–things shift again. I’m no longer feeling creative or lighthearted but become obsessed with questions such as these:

  • Where do you draw the line between helping versus enabling?
  • What are my responsibilities to society? To the affected individual? To my spouse? To self?
  • How long do you let people struggle before you decide they’re not building resiliency and meaning in a new stage of life, but are suffering unnecessary despair?

Now, I hope this isn’t coming across as (completely) self-indulgent complaining. I’d like to emphasize that while we’ve been challenged through the process, by virtue of life circumstances–largely unearned–we are part of an extended family blessed with abundant resources.  Though we might quarrel about the practicalities, we have a uniform desire to do right by our parents. We’ve done a decent job to date and see the journey as one of great privilege and meaning.

That said, it is a time- and energy-consuming process, which is why I want to say two things to you.

First, if you’ve been through this thorny thicket and come out the other side, maintaining grace and dignity for all affected family members, my hat is off to you. Seriously. You’ve done important work. It might be unpaid and often unrecognized, but work it remains.

Secondly, while you’re going through this, if you’ve maintained good self-care and work productivity, I am in awe. Seriously, what do you consume for breakfast and where can I get me that?

Now over to you, Zesties. If you’ve been involved in eldercare or simply witnessed a family which handles it brilliantly, what tips can you share?

PS: I don’t want to forget to draw your attention to three Writer Unboxed articles I have yet to mention on this blog:






15 thoughts on “Two Drivers, Two Hip Fractures, One Perplexed Jan (+Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  1. I hear you on civic responsibility. I have accidentally discovered something which has me in negotiations with a big corporation, not for myself, but because others may be affected.

    My sisters call this ‘chosen by the gods,’ but it sure chews up time – and energy.

    I keep reminding husband of our obligation to MAKE decisions regarding our own care while we are relatively young and healthy and ABLE to make them. It is not fair, in this age where kids may not live anywhere near their parents, to leave the major decisions to others, as our parents have done to us. Up until last year, my kids had four grandparents 90+ – now they have two. It has made us all do a lot of thinking.

    There’s nothing wrong with writing me-me-me.

    1. I’m intrigued by your “chosen” position, Alicia. At some point I’d love to hear the details.

      I’ve had to champion several social justice causes before and it’s true how time- and energy-consuming they can be. And I know those things are in limited supply for you, so I’m wishing you well on your quest.

      Yes, I agree 100% about the fact it’s a generous and necessary step to decide, contractualize, and educate our loved-ones about our end-of-life expectations before said process is necessary. When bad things happen, it’s often too late and creates an unnecessary burden. Fortunately, in my case, the majority of Aged Ps have set things up fairly well. I’m grateful.

      As for the self-obsession, thank you. Someday I’ll maybe write about this further, but I have expectations around blogging which might be unrealistic and unnecessarily restrictive. (At which point my kids would chime in and say, “Ya think?” 😉 )

  2. Nice job pulling a rabbit from your blogging sleeve, Boss. I don’t envy you the issues that fueled what came out of the hat, though. I suppose we navigated it because of one particular superstar. And it wasn’t me. My sister, God bless her, lived a mile and a half from the house I grew up in, and went there twice a day, every day, to make sure my mom took her meds, had groceries, had properly paid her bills, had put out the trash bin, had paid the neighbor for mowing and snow removal…. You see where this is going, right?

    Since my mom’s passing, I’m doing everything in my power to see that my sis is rewarded for her superstardom. She sacrificed a lot over the past 5+ years. I lobby my other sibs to make sure she’s taken care of. I think she appreciates it, but not nearly as much as I appreciate her.

    Nice to see you, Boss. Wishing you and yours peace and love, and appreciation of one another through the generational challenges and changes. I advise anyone who hasn’t to click through to Jan’s links to the WU posts. All are wonderful, but I particularly loved the second one listed.

      1. Your sister sounds like a candidate for sainthood, V. Five+ years? We’ve handled 5+ months as a team, and I’ve had moments of exhaustion. Yet for all that, it is satisfying and person-building work. Family-building, too, if one is lucky enough.

        Thank you for the kind wishes and thoughts. It means a lot.

  3. Truly a hard time! My five siblings and I struggled during our mother’s last couple of years, facturing to the point where I feared we would never be a family again. However, after she passed and issues got sorted, we were able to find our way back to being together in a good way. At least all of our children were fairly well launched by then. As my therapist reminded me, it’s not about the money/possessions; it’s about love . . . or perceived lack of love.

    1. Barbara, that’s heartening news about your family. Even the tightest of teams can be challenged with challenges that last that long. And you’re so right that it’s often about the perception of insufficient love rather than its absolute absence.

      Have you heard of Byron Katie? There’s a quote of hers I adore which goes something like this: “No two people have ever met one another.” I love it because it mirrors my experience; we’re so often in our heads we don’t see or hear another person’s truth, even when it’s generous and loving and kind.

  4. Jan, I don’t know your extended family or whether siblings are involved and who lives where…but I’m sure there are very few no’s in your responses. It seems to me everyone would rely on you because, well, you’re so reliable. But there is that added doctor element. With aging family members, there would be a sense that you would know what to do in an arena where others feel unprepared. You’ve mentioned self-care and of course that’s the crux of the issue. We all say self-care is not selfish, but do we really practice it? I’m really trying. I don’t spend my life in elder care, because for better or worse I don’t live near them, but I have found myself spending every waking moment at the computer trying to go above and beyond for clients. If I’m honest, it’s so that they’ll always be happy with me and feel that I’m giving them fantastic value. To the point where I never say no, and I’m the one who is devaluing my work.

    I like this quote from an author, Eleanor Brownn (who happens to also be a behavior gerontologist), “you cannot serve from an empty vessel”. This is the essence of self care. You didn’t really ask for advice for your own situation, so excuse my presumption, but would it help at all to educate other family members on simple medical signs and the required action, so that you are not always the default position? And of course drawing reasonable boundaries by reminding yourself that time for yourself refills your vessel. It’s not weakness or selfishness to do so.

    However, I have a selfish reason for wanting you to have more time to yourself. I want to see a Jan O’Hara book out in the world in my lifetime. 🙂

    1. Ah, Deborah, you are always a kind and gentle prompter of healthful behavior. How could I possibly resent any advice you’d offer?

      Yes, my background means I’m the go-to person for certain care-giving tasks. The good news, though, is that most of the involved descendants are similarly diligent, caring, and willing to provide time and effort. “Goings-on” have very much been a group effort. In many respects, I’ve been the slacker. 😉 It’s more that the constellation of little tasks and their timing are disruptive and require a good amount of reflection on my part. It’s that echo effect, you know? Where what you learn in taking care of one generation impacts how you need to treat the other, and your own personal affairs.

      But you’ll be pleased to know I continue to work on self-care. I’m certainly handling this better than when we went through this with my grandmother, when I was working with two small children!

      I’m still working on my manuscript, too. Haven’t given up! (How long were you planning to live?)

      I know you’re a self-reflective person with high standards. I hope you stop the self-devaluation. I find it hard to believe you’d ever have a disappointed client.

  5. I was the primary caregiver in my mom’s declining years. She stayed positive right up to the end, which made everything easier for everybody. She’d charm the doctors and nurses during ER visits. I was a bit worried they’d want to keep her and send me home with some grumpy old guy. She’s been gone for two years but last September my old dog missed her so much she quit eating.

    You encounter a range of attitudes. Some people want you to ‘stick her in a home’ because they don’t value the person. (Some families have to do that, and when the reasons are right I’m not saying it’s wrong.) Several other seniors were obviously jealous because they know they won’t have anyone. I ended up with the situation because there were no other options, except for cruel ones.

    It was worth it to see she was happy and cared for. I’m in a recovery mode because of the physical toll it took but this is temporary. I’m regaining more of my flexibility every day.

    You never feel you’ve done enough but if you’ve done all you can you have to ignore that feeling. When it’s over, be at peace.

  6. Phyllis, your mom sounds like a lovely person who raised an equally lovely daughter. I’m glad you have no regrets about your choice to care for her, though your health suffered.

    It’s sad how neglected some seniors are. I used to make nursing home visits and see how their isolation made them crazy-lonely. Obviously that’s not a good set-up for ongoing health.

    Anyway, here’s hoping your pooch recovered and your health continues to improve!

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