Friday, March 13, 2009

Looking After Mom

The Proper Bostonian hasn't run out of things to say, she's been busy.

The PB's 80-year-old mother-in-law, a retired professor, fell asleep at the wheel and smashed into a tree last Friday night when she was on her way home from the opera. We got the dreaded midnight phone call from the local police and raced to the ER. 

Her car was totaled, both airbags inflated, and she broke some ribs and bruised her lungs. She (and we) spent several days in Beth Israel's trauma unit. Tiny old ladies usually get serious facial and upper-chest injuries from airbags, but she was lucky. She's very strong, agile, and active for her age. (And she probably had her chin on her chest, sleeping, so the airbag hit the top of her head, not her nose.) The accident hardly upset her. She raved about the glories of the Cavalleria Rusticana production and wondered about the price of new cars while she was still on the stretcher in the ER.

She did say she might rethink driving home late at night, which was a remarkable admission for her. This isn't the first time she's dozed off at the wheel, we suspect, given all the dings and dents on her car. We believe it's time she gave up her driver's license entirely. It would be a life-changing situation and persuading her won't be easy.

We know we're hardly the only people dealing with sad situations surrounding elderly parents. As we make calls and seek help, everyone over 40 has a similar story:  parents who can't take care of themselves, aren't safe because their homes are dangerously cluttered, are ill but won't accept nursing care, can't handle their finances, or shouldn't be driving. It's reached epidemic proportions in my mother-in-law's classy suburb, which has a large aging population. This is fortunate for us because there are teams of experts at the Board of Health and the Council on Aging, along with exceptionally sensitive police and fireman. All these people have loads of experience with proud, stubborn, fragile, elderly people. But they can only do such much according to the law. There usually has to be a life-threatening crisis before anyone can legally intervene — people have a right to live almost any way they choose as long as they aren't endangering others. With the driving, though, they believe they'll be able to help us. I hope so.

Even 25 years ago, it never occurred to that dealing with aging parents would turn out to be even more fraught than raising children — I don't have any, but that's what others say. They don't warn you about you this stuff when you're young. I'll keep you posted.

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