Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Losing Your Marbles? A New Way of Looking at Eldercare

Juggling generations is dicey. The needs of an eighty-year-old aging parent for peace and quiet run counter to a two-year-old grandson's penchant toward screaming. And it's up to us Boomers to keep it all together.

Try as we might, life often unravels before our eyes. We start losing our marbles. For me, it happened on the eve of my parents' fiftieth anniversary surprise celebration. When I met them a week earlier at the airport, they were hunched in wheelchairs, exhausted from their five-hour-flight. What a shocker! Daddy's Parkinson's had progressed so much since I'd seen them last. Mother, also frail, looked like she could tip over.

During their two-week visit, we crammed in two graduations--one high school and one college--plus a wedding and the surprise 50th anniversary celebration. But what I remember most was the continual feeling of being split in a hundred pieces. Teenage sons crying, "We're out of milk, AGAIN." Mother and Daddy shuffling here and there, accidents waiting to happen. Like little birds, they chirped out their needs: Fleet enemas, dry cleaning, clean underwear. And of course, there were the needs of our daughter, the bride.

One day I remembered the "marbles" presentation. Years earlier at a conference for senior care professionals, a motivational speaker underscored the importance of positive words. To help him remember to say kind things to his spouse, his coworkers, his family, he placed 10 marbles in his left pocket at the beginning of the day. With every sincere compliment he would transfer a marble to his right pocket. His goal was to give 10 compliments a day.

During my parents' visit I didn't actually buy marbles to transfer from pocket to pocket. But the idea of intentionally complimenting folks in all the generations helped me cope. I started "seeing" the good, rather than just the sea of need. One day I caught my Dad, a retired minister, explaining a New Testament passage to our 18-year-old son. "Grandpa can really help you understand the Bible, can't he?" I said.

When Grandpa voiced his fears of tripping as he walked down the aisle at Shari's wedding, I assured him, "Tim is strong. He loves you. He'll make sure you're OK."

No, the marbles idea didn't take all the stress away, but it did give me a better handle on things. Just thinking of the marbles put a smile on my face.

If you think you're losing your marbles, you might be right. But try transferring them, from pocket to pocket, as you say kind things about the generations. The situation won't always get better. But you probably will. Take it from soneone who knows.

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