Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Untold Story: Hollywood Gets It Wrong

It's 80 degrees in the house and I'm drenched in sweat. Every time my mother sees me she urges me to sit down and rest. She's afraid I'll hurt myself and she has a point. I weigh in excess of 350 pounds and am severely out of shape but I do not stop. Up and down the stairs I go, over and over. This is not part of a plan to get in shape and lose weight. It's about protecting my parents.

Middle aged men who still live with their parents are losers. Middle aged men who are close to their parents and take care of them, particularly their mothers, are spineless milquetoasts. When they're not psychopathic killers that is. Children who place their parents in nursing homes are cold, callous, and uncaring. Their only desire is to be rid of the burden of caring for those who raised them and showered them with love their entire lives. These are the views presented in countless movies and television shows by people who clearly have no experience with the things they are writing about.

Turn the hands of the clock back a few months. I'm reading a forum attached to a slice-of-life semi-autobiographical web comic that I like to read. Another poster is lamenting that his romantic prospects are null because he's a loser who still lives with his parents. Questioning reveals that his parents lost their house so he took them into his home and now supports them. This makes him a loser. It shows what a corrosive effect the entertainment industry has. He owns his own home. Financially he's doing well enough to support a family. He cares enough about his family to take them in even though he clearly feels doing so comes at significant cost to himself. And he's convinced this makes him someone no woman would want to date because that's the message he's heard over and over in movies and on television. Loser.

My own path to living with my parents wasn't quite so noble. Like many people I was laid off and haven't been able to find steady work since. I tried my hand at being self-employed but frankly, while I'm good enough at what I do, I don't have much of a head for business. Eventually having gone through my non-retirement savings and finding myself at the end of my apartment lease I decided to move back in with my parents. Loser. Of course before my parents retired they were homebuilders and one of the last houses they built is the one they live in right now. It's a nice little 5 bedroom/4.5 bath house and I'm living in the master bedroom because they've never used it, except for guests, and my old bedroom is filled with papers and other assorted junk so no basement for me. Did I mention the 60+" widescreen HD television?

Still I wasn't happy moving back in with my parents. It was the ultimate symbol of what a failure at life I am. I knew this because Hollywood told me so. Over and over and over again. But I was to discover that Hollywood was wrong. With the passage of time I've come to realize that I'm where I need to be. As a religious man I've come to see the hand of the Divine in my moving back in with my parents. Living with them I've come to discover they've reached a point in their lives where they can no longer take care of themselves. They took care of me, now it's my turn. If I hadn't lost my job and been forced to move back here, I might never have seen the warning signs until it was too late.

The first anniversary of my moving back in is approaching. Ironically it is my birthday. In the year that I've been back I've had to learn how to help an elderly person get back on their feet after falling down because they've both fallen multiple times. Mom has been laid up a couple of times, first due to illness and then because she hurt herself in a fall. Dad's mental state has rapidly deteriorated. I've had to take over the grocery shopping, the laundry, the housecleaning, and the cooking because they're not capable of doing it themselves anymore. I take them to church and the bank and out to eat.

Today was spent hauling newspapers out of Dad's room and taking them to recycling. It's a daunting task because he's been accumulating papers almost from the day they moved into this house almost 30 years ago. You see, my parents are hoarders. They believe in letting nothing go to waste. Dad was a workaholic. He often had no time to read the paper but he wasn't about to throw out a paper that he'd paid for without reading it and so he piled them up in his room until there was just a path from the door to his bed, the little attic office that he worked in, and the bathroom. Recently he's fallen twice in his bedroom. The first time I discovered him lying on the floor next to his bed. The second time Mom woke me up at 2 AM to tell me that Dad had fallen again. I ran upstairs to discover that he had managed to get himself wedged between a couple of stacks of old newspapers and a card table on which more papers were piled. He actually wasn't in an uncomfortable position, he just couldn't get up. So I had to dig him out and it wasn't as simple as just taking away the relevant newspaper stacks as I had to make sure that other stacks weren't going to fall over on him when I pulled the confining stacks out. Plus I discovered broken glass on the carpet, covered with paper, that I had to clean up so that I didn't get broken up further and ground into the carpet where someone might step on it. The whole process took about an hour during which he kept yelling about how the situation was hopeless. I kept trying to explain to him what I was doing and reassure him but with his current mental state I don't think he could really understand me. All I could do was keep working on it and as soon as I reached a point where I could finally start removing the stacks that were penning him in he calmed down and shortly afterwards I was able to get him back into bed.

So today I worked on his newspaper hoard. It wasn't particularly fun but I'm sure his two recent falls are related to stepping on papers and then slipping. I also did some laundry because in a separate incident he soiled his clothes. Then I get to go scrub Mom's bathtub thoroughly with bleach because she thought it would be a good idea to wash his clothes out there before putting them in the washing machine. I've also had to sterilize the kitchen sink because she thought it would be a good idea to use the cooking tongs to wash his clothes so she wouldn't have to handle them directly and then she put the tongs in the sink because they needed to be washed. What can I say? I'm the very image of Hollywood's definition of a loser.

Of course if I put my parents in a nursing home instead of taking care of them myself, Hollywood would say I'm a bad son who doesn't love his parents. Yet love is why I find myself thinking more and more about putting them in a rest home. I don't think it's possible to imagine just how physically and emotionally demanding it is to take care of your parents. People might think that it's about the same as caring for a child but it really isn't. There are profound differences between the two. For example, with every day that passes your child becomes more able to take care of themselves. Caring for your parents it's the exact opposite. Every day they're a little less capable of taking care of themselves and you, as their caretaker, have a front row seat. My father was once the most intelligent man I knew and this morning he told me mother and me that he had no idea who we were.

Despite that, despite all the unpleasantness, I don't consider caring for them a burden. I'm glad I can be here for them. I'm glad that I'm getting to spend this time with them. And every day I wonder if they wouldn't be better off in a nursing home where they can be taken care of by trained professionals who know what they're doing and are better able to see to my parents needs.

Loser. Bad son. Cold. Callous. Unfeeling. Just ask Hollywood.

No comments: