No Good Deed goes unpunished – Day 29

Oh, brother.

Did I do a Good Deed or a Bad Deed today?

This is an all-too familiar story – the question of how to begin caring for an older relative.

My aunt is my Dad’s sister, the youngest of six, kids of Irish immigrants. She married at 40, living at home with her remaining unmarried sister until then. She worked as my father’s secretary for four decades; she adored him. Towards the end of both my parents’ lives, this aunt and her husband were there, helping to find home care, going to the pharmacy, checking in, making doctor’s appointments. I am an only child who lives quite far away: without their help, I would have had to give up my career and return home. I owe her my life, in some ways. But she is difficult.

Auntie is now an 87-year-old widow, lonely, depressed, and angry that no one is around to pay her the scads of attention she’s always gotten. And, she has started to hear music. Not like an earworm: actual tunes, full force. It’s sort of funny, in a black humorish way: they’re all songs she loves  — “Good Night, Ladies,” “There’s Whisky in the Jug,” and, of course, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” It’s quite an extensive playlist, really, but it has, on occasion, caused real problems. It has  kept her awake, compounded her already anxious disposition, and made her run outside in the middle of the night, thinking it would stop if she were only a little farther away. She even called the police.

There are four nieces and nephews – my aunt and uncle had no children – two of us in town and the others hours away.  There’s lots of phoning and e-mailing about what’s to be done next. We got her to the doctor, and he put her on some meds to quell the music (which didn’t entirely work), and he told her she couldn’t drive. Now, she’s been a bad and nervous driver for a while, so we were thrilled, though it meant a lot of calling on us, as she wouldn’t pay for and doesn’t want a companion. But now, she is off the meds – none of us were at the doctor’s visit and we think she probably lied to him about still hearing the music – and she wants to drive again. Never mind driving: she is beginning to need care, but she will not hear of it.

In the time she’s been ill, she has begun to worry about her mortality, it seems, and is far more anxious than ever before. My aunt was fun-loving, that’s for sure: now you can’t even get a smile out of her. But she is determined to drive the old convertible she loves, insisting that she doesn’t go far, only to the supermarket and such. So today, I took her to a long, quiet, beach road, and let her get behind the wheel again. Still, I’m constantly trying to scare her out of wanting to drive anymore, spinning tales of busy-roads terror. I know she hates me for it.

This one comes under Awful Life Choices. I understand: we’re talking about taking away her freedom. But if my aunt hits someone in the grocery store parking lot because we didn’t put our foot down, I might as well have hit that person myself. How would I live with that?

I’m hardly the first to say it: No good deed goes unpunished. One way or another, this will end up in tears.

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8 Responses to No Good Deed goes unpunished – Day 29

  1. Michele says:


    Your aunt’s trouble with hearing music is not uncommon — it happens to a lot of people when they get older. Oliver Sacks wrote a book called “Musicophilia” that has many examples of it. While auditory hallucinations like this are not likely to go away or get better, understanding why this is happening may help your aunt deal with it.


    • Exactly, Michele, and of course she doesn’t hear the music when she has company or is busy. My father suffered visual hallucinations from the meds he took for Parkinson’s, and I find a lot of similaities: part of their psyche knows that these hallucinations are not real — yet it doesn’t stop the fear or the actual experience.

      As they say, growing old is not for the faint of heart.

  2. Howard says:

    a similar thing happened with my grandfather a few years before he died. he insisted on driving, even though no one thought he should (his doctor indulged him, and said it was ok for him to drive). after my grandfather got into a minor traffic accident, there was no question about it any more. it wasn’t easy for my parents, but there was no question that they were making the right decision.

  3. Tricia Munson says:

    Oh, Erin, I cannot tell you how I sympathize with you. I wanted to read this when you posted it on Twitter this morning. I had to wait because I was taking my 93 year old mother to the eye doctor.
    My mother drove far too long. I could not get a doctor to tell her she should not drive. She was already blind in one eye at this point.
    I, too, am an only child. My husband and I have been dealing with the elder issues for 5 years now. My mother is the only one left. Yesterday, I moved all of her belongings to my garage as I am moving her to assisted living. 16 months ago, I forcibly moved her out of her home and into a senior independent living with minimal assistance. She had become legal blind and was still driving. At this point the doctor FINALLY said that she could not drive and was not safe in her home.
    She, too, is difficult (and Irish). She is now angry and depressed and has been for some time. I am convinced that by moving her from her home 16 months ago, I gave her a better life. Better nutrition, more people to talk to, more activities. It worked – for awhile.
    Lately, she has become more anxious than ever. It is because her dementia is making it more difficult for her to function capably and she is falling a lot. She is in rehab because of a very bad fall and her next place will be an assisted living situation.
    She does not like it. She will be safer and live better there despite what she thinks.

    What you did for your aunt was a kind gesture. It gave her happiness. It did not risk anyone’s welfare because you gave her a safe place to be. Good for you. it will also build more trust between you and your aunt and allow you to help her make the changes that are necessary for her welfare.

    Good luck.


    • Thanks so much, Tricia. Sooner or later, almost everybody experiences a version of this story. Yours is familiar, and very sad. Auntie wanted to go out again in the Real World, and I had to tell her I didn’t feel safe driving with her. No telling what will happen next, of course. There never is.

      Thanks for adding your story here. I’m sure others sympathize as well.

  4. Jennifer says:

    isn’t life complicated? SOoooo hard to watch people we love lose their quality of life. I am betting that she enjoyed the time spent with you whether it ended up being a good deed or a bad one. I find motherhood full of good deeds for others and it’s exhausting. Now I am going to tell my kiddies about this and hope that I am the recipient of some good deeds coming my way! Thanks for sharing and I am loving knowing “a blogger”!

    • Very hard, Jennifer. And though I’m not a mother, I’m sure you’re right — it’s a lifetime of doing for others. Whether they’re good deeds remains to be seen — like Auntie!

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