A friend who recently moved his father to a care facility near him told me that he’s feeling better about making the role switch from child to parent. His father, who has dementia, was no longer safe living with his mother. When his mother objected to staying in a hotel room overnight while he made arrangements, he said he had no compunction telling her she had no choice. He had to do what was necessary to get his father safely settled. Now he jollies his father along to get him to get his hair cut, and humors him when his father tells rambling stories that can’t possibly be true.
For himself, he hopes to go like his wife’s great aunt, who took a sudden turn during a recent hospitalization, drifted to sleep, and died. “I’ve told my kids,” he said, “if I get like my Dad, just take me up into the mountains, point me in one direction and you go the other way.”
It doesn’t work like that, I told him. The truth is that when we get to that age, or our cognitive abilities are compromised, those who love us will step in and do what they think is best. We can take care of ourselves physically, state our wishes, and get our house in order before we get to that point. But we still won’t control how we age.
The child-adult role reversal won’t be any easier on us than it is for our parents.