Every adult child of an adored elderly parent knows the grief-stricken, gut-wrenching anguish of witnessing an injury or illness invade the beloved parent.
Momentarily, we adult children are transported back to a time when we were bedridden with the mumps, or chicken-pox or a fever and how our then-young, vibrant parent tirelessly administered 24/7 remedies, meds, and love.
Suddenly we adult children are now standing next to the sick parent’s bed. All the seemly sentimental clichés don’t seem so sentimental: in the blink of an eye, where did the time go, wasn’t it 1960 just yesterday?
The doctor calls mom’s injury a compression fracture of the spine and recommends a vertebroplasty procedure in which a radiologist injects cement (yes, cement!) into the vertebra to stabilize the fracture and prevent further collapse. Mom all but laughed at the doctor’s advice.
I agreed and thought, “Any leftover cement from the procedure could be used to fill the crack on our front step.” Mom chose home care that included a visiting nurse, a visiting physical therapist and visits from many kind-hearted clergy and religious.
We adult children handle the sick parent’s situation in various ways: with guilt – “I could do more;” with religion – “I’ll trust in God;” with reality – “I am lucky to have Mom this long;” with empathy for others – “I feel so sorry for all families with sick loved ones.”
This journey is unique yet traveled by every single one of us. And to fall back on yet another cliché: “It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters most.” I chose to journey, not in regret or guilt, but in history.
My Mom Julia was born in 1929. Doesn’t that sound so long ago? Julia’s mom and dad, Margaret O Meara and Michael Fitzpatrick, emigrated from Ireland to America for a better life. They met here, married, settled in West Philadelphia, had seven children, suffered through the Great Depression, World War II and its rationing, and lived a deeply Irish-Catholic lifestyle.
Julia graduated high school, married, raised two children, worked 26 years at PNC Bank, retired, attended a local community college at the age of 70 to study computer science, and until two weeks ago, drove to morning Mass, volunteered as a care-giver during the week at a local nursing home and volunteered as a banker one Sunday a month at a local Catholic Church, at the age of 86.
Julia, like her mom and dad, lives a deeply Irish-Catholic life.
Where are we now on this adult-child/sick parent journey? I am watching Mom practice her scapular retraction exercises from physical therapy. Mom’s prognosis? In two to three months, a full recovery and return to unrestricted activities … just in time for spring.
Maryanne J. Kane received her doctorate in music education from Temple University, continues to teach music on the elementary school level and is a volunteer violinist at St. Dorothy Parish, Drexel Hill.