In most ways, my Dad has mellowed as he’s gotten older. I’ve read that, when it comes to anger, older people – especially women — are less likely to let things make them mad. They have better control of their emotions internally and externally.
Very old people, however, are less likely to “edit” when a thought crosses their mind that would be inappropriate or uncomfortable for those around them.
This can lead to awkward but hilarious situations, especially when the very old person in question has hearing problems and speaks a little louder than the average person. Six or seven years ago, our house was on the market and we left to give the REALTOR a chance to show it to a couple who was interested. They arrived in front as we left in back. I couldn’t close the window fast enough to mute my Dad’s comment, “She certainly knows how to fill a pair of pants.” And he didn’t mean that in a good way. We did not get an offer from that couple.
Or there was the time my Dad commented while still within ear shot, “That must have been quite a hat… before she sat on it.” Or, “She has a face like a pudding.”
I am a slow learner when it comes to asking if my Dad likes the dinner I’ve prepared. Occasionally I get a thumbs up, but I am equally likely to get the “so-so” fluttering hand signal. And once he offered this little gem, “It looks like the dog’s breakfast.”
I shouldn’t be surprised that my Dad complains when he has to return to his assisted living community. He hates it there. It’s a good enough place, and he probably would like it if it wasn’t compared on a weekly basis to life at my house.
My house is, well, a house. With a family that he’s part of. With lots of room to move around, and people who bring you coffee and wine, serve up three square meals a day and talk to you. His experience at his assisted living community simply can’t compete with that.
So why is it so painful to me when he complains that returning to the “hacienda” (as he calls it) is like going to prison? Or that he’s in a drought when he’s there for a few days? Or that he can’t get the temperature right at night and it’s like an oven (although he was wearing a wool sweater when I picked him up)?
He can no longer filter his comments, and his short term memory loss means that he will keep feeling and commenting on the same anxiety about returning to his apartment, over and over. It’s the perfect recipe for my guilt.
It isn’t that different than when I had to drop my son or daughter off at day care, and they didn’t want to be there. They might cling or cry, but I reassured myself that they would get caught up with activities once I left the scene. I go through a similar exercise when it’s time for Dad to return to his apartment. He doesn’t cling or cry, but he can’t help repeating his distress about returning.
At least I knew my children would move on to a new developmental phase. With Dad, I have to comfort myself. He won’t outgrow it.