October 24, 2009

Dream a little dream of me...

Over at Dementia Nights, one of my high school friends has been chronicling the experience of his father's Alzheimer's disease. Today, he is transporting his father to a nursing home. It is the hardest thing Alan, an only child, has ever had to face: being the father to his father.

I am dreading the day that I will live that experience first-hand: that day when I will be that parent to my own mother. Regardless of my having a sibling, chances are good I will be called upon the mother to my mother, and that my brother won't.

In our society, when baby boomers have aging parents who need care, unless one is an only son, it is still the daughters who do the heavy lifting. Or perhaps it is the child deemed "the responsible one" vs. "the fuck up" at an early age. We do live up to and down to parental expectations, alas.

My brother may have the best intentions in the world, but when it comes down to who's in charge of mom, that is going to be me. With bells on. Already have power of attorney. Ditto her health care proxy.

Given that both of my mom's parents went gaga, I have to think the genetic odds are unfortunately good that my mom will end up the same way. The Alzheimer's diagnosis wasn't on the radar when Grandpa Abe lost his marbles. Thirty years ago, he was just plain senile.

I have a vague inkling of what Alan is going through -- but from the distance of packing up and transporting my maternal grandmother. I don't think she ever knew what hit her during the senility send-off we gave her.

(Cue up the Mamas and the Papas, "dream a little dream of me," which went through my head while packing up my grandmother's things in 1989 and which seems to be my brain's link to that situation. Don't ask for a logical explanation for that.)

The day we parked my grandmother at what is generically the Jewish Home for the Aged, we discovered Little Haiti, the part of Miami where Granny Lee lived out her last days -- years of them. We know Haiti, the island, intimately.

We also figured that Little Haiti was not exactly in an upscale part of town. Then again, in the seven or more years Granny Lee lived at the Jewish Home, it's hard to say if she ever left the premises for more than some minor grocery shopping -- or dinner, with my brother and me.

She was happy to go to Denny's -- probably would have gone to Taco Bell, if that had been our decision. Over dinner, she informed us that there was too much sex on TV and in the magazines. That was, we think, the only time she ever uttered the word "sex," although she had, when I was a child, made reference to Grandpa Abe "getting amorous."

Grandpa Abe went gaga first. The last time we had dinner as a family, he didn't recognize my mom, his only child. He said, "I used to take my daughter fishing." I doubt he was talking to the waiter. My mom ran into the bathroom and I followed her: did that mark the beginning of my care-taking career?

Or had I always been the care-taker-in-training? I don't know, and it is way too late in the day to figure out how I got that gig. I just know I have my hat and my checklist when, 20 years from now, my mom's inability to provide nouns in her speech will render her incomprehensible. I am not looking forward to it.

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