No one told Ann about bed sores. No one told Janelle that her mother would expect to be babied. No one told Jill that she'd be doing all the work to care for her parents but that they would give her brothers and sisters all the praise.
Taking care of aging parents is an emotional job. It can be thankless and discouraging.On the other hand, no one told Penny and Elaine that their mother would keep her sense of humor to the end. Or that their brothers would send them to Hawaii as a way of saying "thank you," for the care they gave her.
Each story is different. But, Marilyn Richardson decided, each story needs to be told. We can learn from each other, she figured.
So she interviewed 11 different caregivers, transcribed their stories into a book and published it herself.
Even though she cared for four years for her own mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer's disease, Richardson doesn't claim to have any answers. However, she did learn the value of asking questions.
She spoke in a telephone interview from her home in South Dakota. "We don't deal very realistically with aging and with the inevitability of death."
When a parent begins to decline, Richardson says, "the adult child overreacts and immediately wants to jump in and do something more drastic than what is called for."
A better approach is to ask the parent, "What do you want and what should we do?"
Richardson and her husband Jay are both college professors. A few years ago they took a sabbatical to Utah (where Jay Richardson studied at the Gerontology Center at the University of Utah), "so, as a result, a good number of the interviewees are our friends and neighbors."
You won't recognize them by name, because Richardson changed all the names. But you will recognize the situations in the book.
Richardson shows that as people look back on their parents' last days, they feel guilt and frustration. But there is also something affirming about the struggles these adult children went through - out of a sense of duty, and longing, and out of love.