She was Harsh and Cruel, Now She is Dependent
My parents were harsh, controlling, and often violently cruel when I lived in their home. I worked very hard to get away from them, finally escaping when I was 16. My three siblings stayed behind and tried to please our parents-- an impossible task. I put myself through university, graduate school and law school, had a professional career, married in my mid-30s and had children as I approached 40.
I was very happy in middle age. My husband and I lived overseas for 20 years, on the other side of the world from my family. I carefully re-established a sort of epistolary relationship with my parents, who remained hostile, verbally abusive, and just plain rude to me on the rare occasions that I saw them in person.
Now my husband and I have retired to a very small house in an isolated mountain community. Our children are grown, we are old, and my health is quite poor.
My father died a year and a half ago and my mother immediately sold her house and its contents and moved in with one of her adult grandsons and his wife and child. This arrangement lasted four months until the man's wife could no longer stand my mother's criticism.
Then, my married brother stepped in and opened his house to my mother. My younger sister and I both tried to interest my brother in checking out assisted living options, but he refused because Mother announced she would "rather die" than move into assisted living, although at that time she had never seen a facility.
After six months of living with her, my brother and his wife shipped my 86-year-old mother across the
country to my younger sister's house, where she visited for 4 weeks. Now she is at my house, where she has been for a month, with two more months to go. I tried to refuse to take her in; I do not even like her, much less love her. But my younger siblings announced that it is now "my turn" to care for our mother, and my husband, a very kindly man, said she would be no trouble.
She is lots of trouble, and I have been forced into a kind of physical intimacy I find horrifying. She can't bathe without help and I hate-- absolutely hate-- seeing her naked or touching her. Her occasional bowel and urinary incontinence disgusts me. She clings to me or my husband to walk from bed to chair, disdaining her cane or walker. She is obviously in the early stages of some kind of dementia, endlessly asking the same question or making the same observation over and over again. The greed, selfishness, dishonesty, and sheer egoism that were her hallmarks as a younger woman are still outstanding facets of her character.
I told my brother that I am not going to repeat this visit next summer and he became enraged, informing me that my selfishness was "unacceptable." I have done quite a bit of reading on the subject of caring for elders, and all seem predicated on the idea that one has a moral obligation to care for one's parents, although perhaps not to deliver this care personally. I can understand such an obligation when one's parents were kind, supportive, self-sacrificing. But what does one owe to people who were actively cruel, abusive, etc. etc.?