Some great posts here on OS regarding caregiving. I've thought a lot about this, and so am finally going to articulate how I feel.
I'm childfree by choice. Have always hated the term "childless." I guess if one wants children and can't have them for some reason, then "childless" may fit. When I lived in Utah, surrounded by Mormons with large families, the question wasn't "Do you have children" but was "How many children do you have?" A clear expectation. When I would remark that my husband and I didn't have children, the reaction was one of sympathy or pity. "Oh," they would say sadly, "you're childless." It used to really piss me off.
I grew up in family of alcoholism and abuse. My mom suffered from depression most of her life, and she had a horrific chidlhood. She did the best she could but was caught in her own cycle and chose terrible men, including my father. She was a hard worker, proud and independent, and raised four children to be the same. She wasn't the room mother in school, didn't pitch in to carpool, all because she was working. She waited tables, worked in factories, whatever she needed to do to feed us, clothe us, and house us. An honest day's work for an honest paycheck, and no work was beneath her. We learned to get ourselves up for school, cook, do laundry and clean house while we were in elementary school. I became expert at forging mom's signature on school slips for field trips, etc because, of course, we always waited until the morning it was due and mom was already at work by 7:00 am.
Mom wanted more for us than she had, as most parents do. She insisted on good grades, and once when I got a D in high school physics, she grounded me for the entire next grading period -- 6 weeks. I got an A the next time. Message received.
Mom loved us fiercely like a mama bear, but she also believed in captial punishment. We got the belt, got our mouths washed out with soap, and were not allowed to even roll our eyes or sigh audibly when getting yelled at. If we did, hence the belt or soap.
I decided early on, no kids for me. I realized I just wouldn't be a good parent. And I hate it when people say "You'd be a GREAT parent!" No, I wouldn't. Trust me on this. And really, it's too bad more people don't realize that about themselves.
We should not have children solely to be our caretakers when we get old or infirm. Children do not owe their parents that, and parents should not expect that. If it turns out that children want to take care of their parents, that's great. But it's a bonus. Too many parents expect that of their children. Sorry, folks, they don't owe you. They didn't choose to be born. We choose to have children so, yes, we have to take care of them. But it's not the other way around.
Mom's bad habits finally caught up with her. She was always thin and got away with eating crap. She smoked three packs a day, drank cokes all day, ate fried food. In her 50's she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes but chose to not do what she needed to do to manage it. Us kids begged her, cried, cajoled, pleaded. But she told us it was her life, her choice. And so it took it's toll. And those of you familiar with diabetes know that it is an ugly, ugly disease.
Mom ended up obese and in a wheelchair. She did quit smoking but only after permanent damage was done. One sister and I had both moved away right after college, but two siblings, oldest sister and youngest (only) brother, stayed.
Mom was not a grateful person. She just wasn't. She demanded being cared for but she wasn't nice about it. It's hard enough to care for someone who is ill, but when they don't appreciate it and only focus on what you DON'T do for them or what you do isn't good enough, well that's defeating and exhausting. Oldest sister resented me living away and tried to send me on many guilt trips, but she made the choice to stay and chose to take care of Mom. My brother and his wife tried to help, but when my brother's kind wife overheard oldest sister and Mom bashing her, she was done.
All my siblings struggled mightily with Mom not managing her disease. I finally wrote Mom a long letter saying I wanted her to take care of herself, I wanted her around, but that if she chose not to manage her diabetes than I respected that choice. I would not beg or cry or ask her any longer to take care of herself. I told her I loved her and I thanked her for being a good mom. She never acknowledged the letter, and this is okay. She loved me and knew I loved her.
Mom begged us kids to never put her in a nursng home. But it became apparant that it was dangerous for her to live at home. She started leaving the stove burners on. She fell a few times and had to crawl to the phone. We all pitched in and got her one of those alarms to wear but she refused to wear it. Oldest sister refused to press the assisted living issue. Mom wouldn't even consider assisted living as she felt it was really a nursing home in disguise. We had a cleaning person come in weekly and a visiting nurse twice a week. It got to the point where it wasn't enough.
A couple of years ago I moved across the country to be closer so I could help. But I am not a caregiver. I'm just not. I would get so angry and resentful. I liked to tell myself I was angry and resentful because she chose this path and she ended up in this sad state because of that. I would like to think I would've been different if she had taken care of herself, done everything the doctor's told her, and yet still needed help. Or if she was just appreciative. But, honestly, I just don't think I have it in me, and I am ashamed by that.
Last June, 2011, us kids assembled to talk about what we should do. We didn't agree and it got ugly. Oldest sister insisted Mom should stay home and that she would continue to care for her. But oldest sister didn't live with mom and only visited once or twice a day for about 30 minutes. When I would come in and spend a whole week I was stunned at Mom's living conditions. We got a woman to come in and help Mom bathe as she couldn't keep herself clean. Mom was so pissed. I happened to be with her that week and stood up to her and insisted that these were all the things we were trying to do to keep her home. But she didn't see it that way. It was a difficult visit.
She died a month later. In her own bed, at night. A massive heart attack or stroke. Oldest sister found her the next morning and that was horrible. I wouldn't wish that on anyone because it was obvious that Mom didn't go peacefully in her sleep. I don't think many do. I wasn't ready to lose Mom, we never are. But I had been expecting it for some time. I am glad she died at home, where she wanted to be. It's been over a year, and I miss her greatly.
My mother in law is the opposite of my mom. Doesn't want to be a burden. Doesn't expect her two sons and their wives to take care of her when she can't take care of herself. Has already picked out her assisted living place even though she's healthy and independent right now. DH and I have told her and my father in law that we would love for either or both of them to live with us when the time comes. But she is adamant, and I don't see her changing her mind.
And so DH and I know that when we get old or infirm we have to take care of ourselves and each other because no one else owes us that. Not our siblings, not our niece and nephews, not our friends. They might want to help, and that will be wonderful. But we don't expect it and are really okay with it.
I truly admire the wonderful caretakers out there. Many of you are here on OS who sacrifice so much for the ones you love. And how some of you write so honestly and eloquently and, yes, painfully, about it. I hope it helps, the writing. And I hope you all find peace.