BPD Update Online, Spring 2004
BackPage: Changing Roles
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By Mit Joyner

Last month I was rushing to get to the university when the telephone rang. It was mother; she wanted me to bring her some Mardi Gras beads as well as carvings and artifacts from my trip to South Africa and Ghana.

That evening in the pouring rain I drove to my mother's. As I waited for security to ring me into the apartment complex, arms full with the items that my mom requested, and with groceries that I thought she might need, I started to laugh out loud, because I realized that the last time I had to rush anywhere with decorative beads and a black history display was to my children's school. Smiling, I thought to myself, here I am years later taking items to my mom for her "show and tell".

Today, this new caretaker role requires me to rush around and bring items to my mom. It is important. The community members are older adults and they want to enjoy and fully participate in every holiday that comes around, Fat Tuesday, Black History Month, Women's History Month, Valentine's Day, and Easter, to name a few.

I remember yearning, when I was an adolescent to get to the next life stage so I could relax and enjoy the full pleasures that came with being older. Now as an adult, I know that enjoyment does come with each life stage, not knowing what is ahead is the gift.

Now I am an empty nester. Over the last two or three years my life has been full of Gerontology Initiatives. At the same time, I had to make many difficult decisions so my mother could maintain the quality of life that she deserved. Although I read material on older adults, attended numerous trainings and conferences, applying the information to your own life situations is difficult.

In June of 2002, my mother had several mini strokes, she was living alone and I never knew from one day to another whether she was okay or not. Sometimes she would answer the phone and other times she would not, which required me to drive to her home. During her illness, I watched my mother become more detached, isolated, and depressed. She made a poor life decision by insisting that she could still care for herself. My biggest fear during that time was that she would fall and not be ale to get up or she would start to cook something on the stove and forget - these thoughts were draining on me to say the least.

My mother was determined not to sell her home and move; it was her legacy. My father had died several years ago, my mother felt that she would betray his wishes if she sold the family home. I understood those feelings but I also knew her plans to stay in her home alone were not realistic. Looking back, I wanted desperately to remain in the role of a daughter wishing that my mother would get back to being the person she was - my mom.

My role has changed forever. I will always be the daughter but I am also a caretaker. Reading the book How To Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris helped me to make the necessary decisions. As a social work educator, I also realized why it is critical for every social worker to have a basic competence in working with older adults. It was through my work with the various aging initiatives in social work education that I acquired the knowledge and skills regarding the issues that face older adults and their children.

I was able to assist my mother to make decisions that were difficult but realistic. We searched, made appointments, cancelled appointments, and made more appointments, but we finally decided on a retirement facility that met my mother's needs.

My mother is enjoying her new home, developing new friendships, re-acquainting with old friends and family members. She is an active participant in her community; playing pinochle in the evening, going on trips, still driving and attending to her day to day living on her own. My mother is happy, healthy, and safe.

My mom still calls me to do the special things and I am the anointed caretaker. I have come to accept and enjoy the role of caretaker which is why I laughed out loud, as I have also changed during this journey. It feels great knowing that my mom is still having fun enjoying her life and her friends. I also know as a caretaker I have the ability and knowledge to make decisions when necessary.

Children who are caretakers must always remember that as our parents get older making life decisions for older adults is complex and challenging but necessary. Changing roles with our parents is also difficult but it also can be rewarding!

BackPage is an opportunity for you to share about a joy or trial you've experienced as a social work faculty member. Please send your short essay for consideration to: rjholcomb@stthomas.edu

Click here to send an email message to Ralph Holcomb:

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 26, No. 2, Spring 2004

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