Listen to her:
She is really saying that she is afraid. She is afraid that her independence will be taken away…that decisions will be made for her. I can remember when it first hit me that she was a person with likes and dislikes that nobody knew about. I was planning a birthday party for her and someone asked me about her favorite meal. I could not answer. I did not know. Who knew that my mother had a favorite meal? She never voiced it. She was always deferring to someone else. Her person-hood confronted me at that moment and I felt bad…guilty that I had never fully given complete person-hood to her. I looked at her with new respect. She is not here for her children alone. She has dreams, desires, preferences, and dislikes. The important thing is she still has all those things and now she is afraid of losing them because her children think they know what is best.
I have tasted a bit of that from my own children and it scared me, so I know how she feels. Everyone can be forgetful, but if it is in an older person, it is attributed to old age and dementia. Even if it is old age or dementia, do we have a right to take away their dignity by taking over their affairs, talking down to them, or making a decision without giving them the ultimate say? I am sure there comes a time when taking over is appropriate. Great wisdom and gentleness is needed to discern that moment. A patronizing tone is always inappropriate.
It is hard not to assume that we know best for our children and for our parents. In the case of our children, we see the trend of their behavior leading them in the wrong direction and toward negative outcomes. In the case of our parents, our fears for them grow way out of proportion because we do not want to lose them. In both cases, tend to magnify their weaknesses and rob them of choice. In the process, we hinder communication and destroy their trust in us.
I have observed that one of the biggest mistakes that doctors and nurses make is to not listen to the patient, but instead assume we know what they are going to say or that we know what they need. The patient becomes frustrated and shuts down, leaving the problem unsolved or misdiagnosed.
Since my mother is hard of hearing, there are greater difficulties she confronts. People tend to talk over her or talk around her without talking loudly so she can be a part of the conversation. Sometimes she just decides not to say anything when Dad’s doctor acts like she is not in the room and instead discusses Dad’s health with my sister. I have sensed her hurt in the car when she cannot hear what we are saying and we forget that she cannot hear. I know she loves conversation and would love to be a part of whatever is going on.
The older I get the more convinced I am that listening is one of the most valuable virtues. People want to be heard. Their defensiveness, rebellion, quietness or stubbornness may give us a clue to that.
One of the most painful events for an older man is when he is to give up his driver’s license. What a blow to his manhood and his independence! I have seen the pain in his face. And something inside of them dies when an older couple must sell everything they have and enter a facility. It must be excruciating to part with a lifetime of accumulated memories and valuables that mean so much to them, but parting with independence would be even worse.
My mother was a little girl who had dreams like all other little girls. She was one of many siblings, but wanted to be loved for who she was. She made mistakes and was not always wise, but who is? And who doesn’t make mistakes? Children are so very hard on their parents. I have watched her work hard all of her life to provide for her children and to do what she thought God wanted her to do. I watched her give up things so her children could have. I have listened to her pray in her room often. I watched her suffer with migraines sometimes on a daily basis. I have seen her kill a snake and gut a chicken. She was the best cook ever! She made clothes for us. I watched her sing in church many times. How she loved that! She taught us all to harmonize and love singing. She loved people and she could talk to them so easy. I admired that. She had so many heartaches in her life and still does and yet she still loves God and hopes in Him. She was a great Sunday School teacher to the ladies. I miss her energy. She was the hub of our home and the creator of our happy environment. She could talk for hours and hours even into the early morning when her sisters would come to visit, or with her friends. She was full of life and love and still is.
She still puts her needs on the back shelf. She doesn’t insist that she goes to the doctor to get her meds adjusted or her teeth fixed. She knows it is a hardship to take her to get better shoes or fix her hearing aids. She lets Dad’s needs take the spotlight and worries about his health, his fluid intake and his medications.
I know the hurt she has endured. Her dreams probably did not turn out the way she thought, but I know that given the choice, she would not have given any of us up. She would have chosen to love us and to teach us about God.
She has faults. That is what makes her human. She is also loved by God and her family. If there is a way we can honor her, we should do so. If we can still let her choose, we should do so. If she needs to struggle on her own, to prove she has some independence and dignity left, we should let her. And when she needs us, we will be there to help her and love her as we respect her desires, her dignity and her life.