Category Archives: Mother dying

Only Child and Senior Loneliness

Only Child's Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Only Child’s Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

When my father died from brain cancer at 66, life turned all downhill for my mother. She had lost her husband of many years and had to go it alone. This was the mid-1960s so changes for women were just getting started. And although my mother had me, I was a teenager and really not much help for mom’s loneliness and her health, which after Dad’s death went from good to worse than bad.

First, it was her arthritis in her hands and feet, which landed her in the hospital for tests, disfigured her hands (rheumatoid arthritis) and damaged her feet to the point of what resembled wounds. I remember coming home from business school and finding her sitting in the living-room, one foot bandaged and propped up on a footstool. Her two visitors were not friends, but the managers at the insurance company where she had started to work when Dad died. They were not there to offer her support, but to try and convince her to quit her job which she was having difficulty doing. She had gone from typist to proof reader because of her fingers.

Fortunately I was able to get a job as a secretary later that year and help Mom with expenses, including doing the actual grocery shopping. But Mom’s health continued to deteriorate. She also had scleroderma, which gave her puffy cheeks and changed her voice to almost a squeak. She died at age 63. Official cause was a brain aneurysm but really the arthritis killed her. Because of the arthritis she fell off her vanity bench which gave her a never-ending headache. She figured she needed her eyes tested and had booked an appointment for an eye test but never made it as she went into a coma and died in hospital.

I have passed both my parents’ ages of death and have mixed feelings about it.  Although I may have escaped some of the medical conditions of my parents (although I do have arthritis – in my neck and bunions and the like on my feet), I still feel very wary going through the rest of my life. Yes, I have had my own medical issues to deal with, but I’m learning that there are two factors that make life very hard to deal with for a senior – living alone and being poor.

I have covered the being poor before, but living alone to my mind, is not the best scenario for a senior and happiness. Apparently, some studies are showing otherwise. See Loneliness among the elderly  where  surprisingly the majority of lonely seniors are married or living with a partner.  But my many years living alone have proven otherwise. Living alone means not having someone there to help you, to support you, provide companionship, and help you deal with all the crap life shoves at you. I realize that not all duos are good – some are abusive; some provide no support.

However, when I observe my friends who have partners of some sort, I see a plus. Sure, they have problems, health, maybe financial, etc. But they seem more positive, have that support (and some even say that) and are happier – the latter just radiates from them. My take here is if you have a good partner, you can deal with life better.

Partners can mean many things from the traditional marriage, to living common-law, to not living together all the time (i.e., maintaining separate homes for whatever reason – often financial – pension laws you know).

One friend who used to live in my neighbourhood had a long-term relationship with a fellow. Their relationship and its setup worked worked very well for them. Both lived in separate houses – in fact he lived just outside Toronto. But they spent weekends together at her place and travelled together. Sure they argued and had differences of opinions – most couples do. But they were supportive of each other, not only with health issues but house issues. And boy, my friend had a doozie when her mean next door neighbour shovelled snow from his driveway onto her gas meter and the entrance for the gas into her house – the latter was blocked and she got gas fumes in her house. She phoned both her partner and me. Both came over here. He got on the phone to the gas company and organized everything there. I insisted she stay overnight with me, but in the meantime she went back home (outside) to supervise the gas company arriving. Her partner and I had another thing to do for her – get some important legal papers off to Fed Ex before they closed to meet a deadline for her.

True, yours truly had some part in this. But consider the scenario without her partner. And remember I don’t drive.

My friend’s situation does not have a happy ending. Her partner was diagnosed with brain cancer and died shortly afterwards. Yes, she was there with him, but has been alone since then.

I have to deal with the crap in my life alone. My son does help where he can but he has his own life. I also have no brothers or sisters.

So, some statistics be damned, I still say a senior living alone is not the happiest and healthiest. Read 10 Dangers of Seniors Living Alone. And I have only covered the tip of that iceberg.

What do you think? I’d like to hear from seniors living alone and seniors with partners. I won’t bite, whatever you say.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

 

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Filed under Aloneness, Happiness, Health Seniors, Life demands, Living alone, Mom and Dad, Mother dying, Older Women living alone and health, Only child, Seniors and Happiness

Only Child looks at gratitude

Only Child is grateful for her family – with son Martin and his partner Alison

As we Canadians just celebrated our Thanksgiving it is time to look at gratitude – especially its relation to happiness. In the past 10 years a number of studies have linked the two. I’m not impressed with the results.

Look at the title of one study Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness by 25%. That doesn’t even make the halfway mark. This article at http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/practicing-gratitude-can-increase.php refers to a study carried out by Dr. Robert A. Emmons in 2003 which is published in his book Thanks. While Dr. Emmons covers all sides of the fence in his studies (gratitude, hassles and everyday occurrences), the bottom line is only 25% upped their happiness scale for expressing gratitude.

In another later study by Dr. Emmons, subjects did a daily practice of writing down what they were grateful for and the gratitude-happiness ratio increased. Another study focused on adults with congenital disorders and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders. The ones that wrote down their gratitude every day slept better, woke up more refreshed, and felt more optimistic. More studies are outlined in this excellent article by Ocean Robbins in The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/having-gratitude-_b_1073105.html.

I have no quarrel with the studies, the articles or the books. My point is nobody’s life is perfect and burying the bad while expressing gratitude for the good in your life doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s because of my late Mom’s weird sense of honesty. Maybe it’s my grade six teacher always harping on “I’ll give credit where credit is due” and my silent addition (“and discredit where discredit is due”).

Or maybe it’s because my parents died young – Dad at 66 after almost seven years of cancer off and on and Mom at 63 of a brain aneurysm five months after its cause hit her (she had arthritis and it caused a nasty fall onto the hardwood floor in our apartment). I was 16 when Dad died and 22 when Mom died.

Add in my own long list of ailments (which I won’t bore you with but they number almost as many fingers, including thumbs on my hands). I certainly don’t feel grateful for these health issues, especially as they are all permanent and some interfere with my life. I try to make the best of my situation but that doesn’t make me grateful.

Except for one health problem – migraines –for two reasons I am grateful for migraines – Migraines started me writing in the healthcare field, but my migraines are long gone. That makes a big difference.

I’m not advocating that we skip giving gratitude. I’m just saying we should also acknowledge what we are not grateful for. Doing so gives me motivation to improve my situation where I can but also to acknowledge others suffering which may be worse and perhaps lending a helping hand. For example, if I see someone struggle to get on a bus and they have a cane I will move so they can have a seat close to the door. Or if I see someone with feet or leg problems struggling down the stairs or taking their time, I give them their space and am thankful I can still walk with ease – most days. When my legs or feet “act up,” it’s a different story.

Some people can be grateful for having cancer and I am not slamming them. I think gratitude and well, non-gratitude, are subjective. I also believe in balancing the gratitude/non-gratitude equation. Fair is fair – something else I learned when growing up.

It really doesn’t do to be all Pollyanna. There can lie the route to denial.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Death and Dying, Gratitude, Happiness, Health, Mom and Dad, Mother dying, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, startling statistics

Only Child on elderly parents

Only Child's Mom and Dad

If my parents were still alive they would celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary November 25. Sadly they died when in their 60s (that’s age, not anniversary years). Dad was 66 when he died in 1965 and Mom was 63 when she died in 1971. Contrast that with my friend Carol’s dad who died earlier this month at age 88. Carol and her husband looked after her dad for six and a half years following his head injury from a traffic accident. They even moved in with him across the street from me and also managed to maintain their out-of-town home. I don’t know how they did it and I have only admiration for them both. I also don’t know how or even if I could have done it if by some miracle Mom, at least, would have survived her brain aneurysm. Dad with his cancer spanning almost seven years (including two remissions), is another story.

I was a very immature 22 when my Mom died and I remember thinking just after my then fiance and I rushed her to the hospital via ambulance that I didn’t want Mom to be a vegetable. Despite surgery, she never came out of her coma and died five days after the aneurysm.

Carol and her husband are a few decades older than my 22. But their situation and mine raises questions. Which is the better life scenario?

In my case I missed the stress, time, etc. of having to care for an ill or disabled parent. I didn’t have to go through the “put mom in a nursing home or care for her at home” question. (I’m ruminating on that question  for me – for in the future – way ahead in the future, I hope.) The downside here is I missed having my mother around living to an old age. Sixty-three isn’t old. I have to say that as I’m getting there myself. And I miss her still. Sometimes I think her spirit is around and she is trying to guide me. I say “trying” because I don’t always listen too well. And Dad? I still miss him too. Every time I go to Toronto’s Union Station or ride trains I especially think of him. As some of you may have read in previous posts, my dad worked for the CN (CNR as it was then known when it had passenger service) and Mom, Dad and I used to ride the rails for our summer holidays to visit family and friends in southern Ontario and Michigan, plus touristy trips to Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. In my memoir I write

“Board here for Guelph,” he [train official] says and checks our passes dangling from Dad’s hand.  “Uh huh,” he says and grabs the suitcase and duffel bag from Dad, lifting them up onto the narrow wedge between train coaches. “Watch your step, little girl,” and he takes my hand until I’m standing on the square footstool at the bottom of the stairs.

Dad is already ahead of me and he reaches down for my hand. The metal stairs sound like tin beneath my feet and I am thankful I don’t have to kneel on them. We need an usher because Dad now prances up and down the aisles, checking out the seats. I can’t see any difference in them. They’re all the same pale powdery green with a plastic bib draped over the top of their backsides.

“This one will do,” Dad says, pointing to one on the right, a few rows in from the corridor. He flips the back and now two sets of seats face each other.

I sit next to the window and place Darlene on my lap. Mother plunks herself down beside me and straightens the hem of her dress. After Dad places the big suitcase on the seat across from Mom and lifts the duffel bag onto the overhead rack, he sits down across from me.

“You’re going to ride backwards, Daddy?” I ask. 

“Yes,” he says, but he seems distracted and keeps looking up at the overhead rack. Then he stands up and gives the duffel bag a shove, but it’s already up against the wall.

“These racks are too small,” he says.

(Excerpted from “Riding the Rails with Dad” Chapter 7 from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

But that was back in the 50s and early 60s. Now, with both parents dead and seeing my friends and others caring for their elderly parents, I understand the paradox of our situations. There are good and bad points for each. Probably the best way to deal with either is to accept it. If your parents are elderly and living (even with dementia) be grateful they are still living. If they died younger, be  grateful they may have missed the difficulties of living old. I say “may” because my dad suffered through cancer before he got old.

Count your blessings because there is a lot of elder abuse going on today. Next week’s post will go into this aspect of aging.

Cheers.

Only Child

Sharon Crawford

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Filed under Canadian National Railway, Death and Dying, Eldercare, Elderly parents, Mother dying, Only child memoir, Railways, Uncategorized

Only Child Remembers Mom

Only Child's Mother

My mom’s birthday is November 9. If she was still alive she would be 104. But she died at 63. Too young to die. Of course, I’m going to say that because I’m heading into that age territory later this year, so…

But the age and the date have got me thinking more about Mom. A psychic friend once told me she could sense her spirit’s presence in my house. And I have felt it, not inside the house I grew up in when I re-visited it, but afterwards at the nearby park where my friends and I used to play. I remember Mom’s weird  sense of honesty. In my memoir I have a chapter called “Mom’s Ten Rules of Honesty.” The chapter begins with

“Eat your dessert or the police will come and get you,” Mom says. She points to the front door and nods her head like I better do it or else the Black Maria will roll up the driveway and scoop me up into its dark interior.

I stare down at my bowl. Stewed huckleberries and apples. Black smashed berries and their dark juice seep through the apples. Yuck. Smothering the stew in vanilla ice cream can’t hide the taste of huckleberries, a taste that sits in the middle between sweet and bitter. But Mom insists on growing these strange berries in her garden.

“Sharon, did you hear me?” Mom gets up from the kitchen table, scurries into the living room and stares out the front window. “Oh, I can see a police car coming up the street; it’s turning into the driveway.”

I start to shovel the mixture down my throat. Then I jump up and take my turn at the living room window. Down the street, Mare’s father cuts his front lawn; Mrs. Armstrong sits on her front veranda, with her collie dog at her feet, and a couple of finned cars cruise up the road towards the dead-end street. Our driveway at 139 lolls in its usual empty state. When I finally get the nerve to look straight down at the veranda outside the window, all I see are the two Muskoka chairs – vacant.

Such was my mother’s twist of the truth. My legacy is rich with the fallout from my mother’s Rules of Honesty. She had a skewed sense of right and wrong. According to Mom, I had to tell it all as it actually happened, but she could tailor her honesty according to what she thought suitable for little ears to hear or what she wanted little people to do. Or she could stretch the truth by throwing in a little imagination. I compare it to a ruler, each inch (or centimetre, depending on your generation) from one to 10 being the equivalent of one of Mom’s Rules of Honesty to live life. The higher the rule or ruler number doesn’t necessarily mean the more significant the rule.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

To this day a strong sense of honesty, integrity and even justice stays with me. It is important that everyone is treated fairly and that covers the good and bad of each person. I’ve been taken to task for going after someone who has treated me wrongly or unfairly but I believe that if someone messes up they need to be held responsible. Often this means I confront the person – and that’s what I get the flak for. However, I also do the flip side of the coin and try to show my gratitude for someone who has helped me or is doing something good. An example of the latter is one of the members of my East End Writers’ Group who decided to help me with the publicity for our 10th anniversary celebration and did. Now, she is having a book launch for her memoir and I am doing my part to promote it and work it out so I can get to it (and the other book launch a few hours earlier the same day).

In case you are interested her name is Susan Siddeley and her book Home First: a memoir in voices is being launched Sunday, November 13, 4.30 p.m. at at The Flying Beaver Pubaret, 488 Parliament Street,  (just north of Carlton St. and south of Aberdeen). in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. For more information on Susan and the wonderful writers’ retreats she holds in Chile check out her blog at http://losparronales.blogspot.com/.

Do I follow my ethical criteria all of the time? No. Was my mother perfect? No. But as I write near the end of this same chapter in my memoir…

Mother’s honesty didn’t just encompass telling the truth; it covered people’s basic integrity and how they dealt with the screw-ups, bad times and bad luck that always pop up in life. Nothing is certain except taxes and death, but the trick is to wind yourself through the days, months and years until you die – without falling into the muddy waters.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Book launch, Death and Dying, East End Writers' Group, Home first memoir, Honesty, Integrity, Life learning, Mother dying, Only child, Only child memoir, Responsibility, Sharon Crawford, Susan Siddeley

Only child disatisfied with being alone

Only child "holding up the house" alone.

This being alone, the only person, in your daily life sucks sometimes. I’m fed up with having to do and organize everything myself. Then there’s the financial aspect – think what you want about women making big bucks on their own; some of us scrape by. Time is also a problem.

Just take this week’s list – get/organize house/property repairs (more keep popping up and there is the weather factor for outside repairs. Don’t get me started again on the picnic table scenario), client work and preparation for a course and workshop I’m doing, some writing promo and volunteering – all this within the next two weeks and of course everything and everyone isn’t co-operating. I know, we all have a life, or should. And don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my house, garden, and the work I do, which I love. But, I am also ungrateful for an overload of problems.

When Dad was still alive, he and Mom had each other. After he died, Mom fell apart and her health went from good to bad to …well, she died too young (63) form a brain aneurysm.

Now statistics support that we women living on our own (and men, too) get a hard deal in life. Richard Niolin, PhD. reviews the book  The Case for Marriage Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher. The book  has some startling statistics (well, not to me. I’m living proof of many of those statistics). The authors state that white married women with no kids earn 4% more and black married women earn 10% more than single women (Waite, 1995). And if you think a kick in the pocketbook is the only downside of living single, life spans also don’t fair as well. Mortality rates of single women area 50% higher than those for married women (Ross et al., 1990). And a spouse can help lower your risk to die from cancer and even help keep you alive 10 years longer. Here’s another scary statistic. If you’re a single person in the hospital, prepare for a longer stay than your married peers. Add in surgery and a single person has a higher risk of dying afterwards (Goodwin et al., 1987). It gets worse. Factoring in life expectancies, only eight  of  10 single women reach age 65  (Cohen et al., 1997). My mother is dead proof.

Thank somebody or other I recently updated my will, although I’ve warned my beneficiary he’ll inherit debt.

You can check out Mr. Niolin’s excellent review at http://www.psychpage.com/family/library/brwaitgalligher.html. Although the book factors in only married people, even having a significant other in your life can make a big difference. If nothing else, you can get companionship, support (including financial) for the problems that arise. I’m not saying having a life partner means the life partner will do all the house/property repairs, but the partner can share in organizing getting all this stuff done.

Being alone definitely sucks. Maybe I’ll find some positive aspects of it. Not this week. I’m “hiding” in my book reading (mystery novels), the garden, walking, and watching the new TV season, but apparently not in sleep as I’m waking up a few times a night in fear and getting up in fear. As for my dreams – they certainly depict my situation and feelings about it as only dreams can. Maybe they’ll present some solutions – if I can remember them. Even my work helps. So, please excuse me; I have to get back to work now.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Aloneness, Anxiety, cancer, Death and Dying, finances, linda j waite, lower your risk, maggie gallagherl, Mother dying, Only child, Problems, Reading escapism, startling statistics