Susan E.B. Schwartz - Reader Blog 11


A Depressing Blog About My Mom, In Case You Wondered

I’m not climbing much this spring. The reason isn’t even due to having young children, as I wrote in the article for the January issue, Confessions of a Climbing Mom.

This time it comes from the other side of the family equation. My elderly and sick mom. I have officially joined the sandwich generation.

It’s not fun although part of the great cycle of life and I suppose better than the alternative, which would mean that your parents are dead. If you’re lucky, you have a sibling who takes on eldercare responsibilities. Leaving you time for your own children, your own life, and maybe even time occasionally to get out to the cliffs and climb.

If you have a sibling who is your eldercare point person, as we’re often called, be very, very good to him or her. You have no idea how lucky you are. May you never know.

It’s getting better. I’ve cleaned out my mother’s house, gone through papers dating back to the 1970s looking for tax receipts from 2008, shredded contents of boxes and boxes crammed with financial papers dating from Reagan’s presidency (invariably marked “IMPORTANT! SAVE!”).

I’ve set up automatic payments where I can and a cash flow for other bills where I can’t. I’m getting the knack of the circuitous and often illogical nature of Medicare bills and insurance form submissions.

Throughout my life, my mother and I have had a complex, uneasy relationship. I’ll leave it at that for now. Right now, in her nursing home, she’s sweet, docile and even loving. She blows the children and me kisses when we arrive and leave, tells us she loves us, and how grateful she is for us.

Maybe it’s the usual grandmotherly behavior most people expect, but this is new for her. Even Grace, my 9 year old , says to me, “Mama, Grandma Lily is much nicer now.”

I suspect it’s the anti-depressant drugs that the doctor gives her, with my blessing. When the doctor recently called to ask if she could increase the dosage, my response was, “Absolutely! Go for it!” At 88, my mother doesn’t need to worry about long term side effects.

So why I am writing this depressing blog about my mother’s eldercare for Climbing Magazine?

When Matt Samet asked me to blog for Climbing, he assured me that I had carte blanche to blog about anything, as long as there was a tenuous climbing connection. I decided to take him at his word.

Dealing with my mother and eldercare provides perspective on climbing. Or maybe it’s climbing that provides perspective on aging.

Eldercare is about duty to others. Fulfilling obligations that are grim and wrenching, no matter how much we loved the parent, but which link us across generations and is important in the chain of life.

Climbing is about duty to ourselves. Fulfilling obligations to take responsibility for our own life, which help us create our own moments of happiness.

At different points in our lives, the balance of obligations tips more toward one side than the other. Sometimes steeply. Sometimes for a long period of time, like when we’re parents and raising young children. But it’s good to remember that obligations to others and obligations to ourselves eventually balance out in a rich, fulfilling life.

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Read some of Susan E.B. Schwartz's earlier posts: