Sunday, December 18, 2011

Moms of Baby Boomers

The essay linked to below is moving and timely.  Like the author, my dad was born in 1913 and passed away quite a while ago.  My mom is still alive, at 91, a Holocaust survivor, a breast cancer survivor,  a tough old bird - as my wife once called her , a line used in this piece to describe a still alive mom of a baby boomer, a fitting classification.  The piece tells much of the story very well, so here I'll only write about the bits it didn't focus on. I base this not just on my own parents but on my wife's too.

When both parents were still alive, the rhythms of routine life became such that both father and mother were highly dependent on the other.  I don't mean this only or even primarily on an emotional level.  I mean this functionally, getting the necessary tasks of existence done - the shopping, the cooking, the balancing the checkbook, the driving to a social activity, having a coherent conversation, and so many other ordinary things.  Together the parents formed a whole.  After the dad passed away, lots of pieces were missing.  Of course there was a huge emotional void in the mom's life.  But there was also a need to fill in with the functions the dad used to provide.  Perhaps some moms who are spry enough can cope and reorient themselves to what comes next.  Neither of our moms could do that.

The other big deal is dementia, which is perhaps partly caused by these demands to cope when the capacity to do so is no longer there, though that's only a guess.  The piece talks about one of the benefits of this extension of life is that the adult children can become closer to their moms.  I can't recall whether that happened or not in the early years immediately following my father's passing.  But nothing like that happens now.  When I visit her, my mom doesn't know who I am or, at least, she can't say my name.  Once in a while I do put the back of my hand on her cheek and she smiles.  I hope this is communication of  a sort, but maybe she would smile just the same if a stranger did that.  I don't know.

My hope is that 35+ years from now when my children are in this situation, with respect to my wife (and maybe with respect to me), they will feel less empty about this than I feel now.  And by then maybe society as a whole will have a more sensible approach  on the financial piece of this.  Outliving your seemingly ample retirement savings is not a good thing.

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