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.