Harvey: You can’t force ‘help’ onto your parents; tread lightly

By Mark Harvey

We’ve been told “Pride goeth before a fall.” Well, nothing can hurt your pride (and other relevant body parts) like falling over — but, no, I’m not going to go on about fall prevention here.

No, today I’m going to go on about pride. And independence. And fear.

And “help.”

Not long ago I was contacted by the son of a local gal. The son lives in another state with a family, a job and a life, and he obviously loves his mother.

He contacted me looking for help for Mom, because he thought she might be “slipping” — you know, maybe not remembering everything, maybe not eating so well, maybe not getting the house work done, maybe not remembering everything (like medical appointments!), maybe not being able to get around anymore.

We talked on the phone for a while. As it turned out, he and his sister — who also lives in another state with a family, a job and a life and obviously loves her mother — were going to be in town soon, so maybe we could get together and delve into a bit more detail about “help.” Sure! And maybe, says I, your mom could join us.

Well, she did; and, as it turns out, she and I had talked about this-and-that at one or two events in the past. No, we don’t hang out together on weekends, but we were certainly able and quick to say, “Hi, how are ya?”

We talked. They talked. I paid particular attention to what Mom had to say.

So, what’s my “take” on Mom? Well, maybe a little early memory loss and maybe a bit of relatively minor confusion, but mostly alert, bright, quick to laugh and able to pretty much follow the conversation — but I’m no diagnostician.

We talked. They talked. Son and daughter, who obviously love their mother, wanted her to get help at home as soon as possible, so we talked about home care agencies and home-delivered meals and transportation and even “housing options,” which is a euphemism for things like assisted living facilities, etc. But mostly, we talked about help at home: agencies, private providers, etc.

The kids were respectful of Mom’s independence, but theys were also afraid for her. I don’t blame them.

Mom took all this “help at home” talk with something less than unbridled enthusiasm: She smiled a lot and nodded a lot and kidded a bit and pointed out all the things that she was doing for herself, thank-you-very-much. But mostly, she smiled and nodded a lot.

I started focusing pretty much exclusively on Mom, and Mom started talking more-or-less exclusively to me; sometimes, it’s easier to do that with a stranger.

Mom and I both knew what would happen: The kids had families and jobs and lives in other states, and soon they would have to go home, and all of this would go away. Mom was doing a great job of “getting through it.”

So, I negotiated with Mom: “What’s the hardest thing for you to get done these days?” “Vacuuming! … and on some days, getting the laundry up and down those stairs.” Other than that, she said, everything was fine.

You could hear the kids’ eyes roll.

Here’s what Mom and I negotiated: She and the kids would contact all of the local home care agencies for prices, “minimums,” procedures, etc. (the kids were footing the bills), and find one who could send in someone just to help with the vacuuming and the laundry. “If she rubs you the wrong way, you can always fire her or get somebody else.”

While Mom’s enthusiasm remained distinctly bridled, she saw the same thing I saw: a way out. A way to ameliorate the kids and get them out of town and off her back, without seeming ungrateful or making them angry. “I can live with that,” she smiled.

The kids saw the same thing I saw: that this was as good as it was going to get — and that’s what did, ultimately, occur.

The other thing that occurred was that the kids — who obviously love their mother! — were a bit disgusted with me. They had expected me to be on their “side” — to see that Mom needed help and to help them talk her into “help.”

Here’s why I didn’t do that: It almost never works.

We come charging in, set up all kinds of “help” (because we obviously love our mothers) then go back to our families, our lives and our jobs; and as soon as Mom figures that your plane has landed, she fires everybody and stops everything and resolves to never go through that again!

… And to be very careful of what she says to you in the future.

It’s about independence and it’s about fear, but for today, it can just be about pride.

Here’s what I got: a chance. There was a chance that the home care aide who came in to help Mom with the vacuuming and the laundry would be a good, decent, pleasant, respectful person. They often are.

And there was a chance that they would become “friends,” in a professional way, so there was a chance that, as time went on, Mom might be open to a little more help with a few other things. And there was a chance that home care aide would become the eyes and ears in Mom’s house — a decent person who could convey how Mom was really doing.

And there was a chance that Mom might even call me to talk “it” over, so I was willing to take a chance at having a chance, rather than know darned good and well that Mom would blow up the whole darned thing before the kids got through airport security.

We’ll see. I don’t blame the kids for being disgusted with me, because they didn’t get the “help” they thought they wanted. Mom got more “help” than she thought she wanted, but she could live with it.

And, happily, I got the only thing that I wanted: a chance.

“Help” only helps if the person being helped thinks it helps; otherwise, it’s just another annoyance, and we all know how we deal with annoyances.

Pride is important.

Respect is important.

Love is important.

I’ll take my chances.

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Every four years, the Olympic Area Agency on Aging goes through a broad planning process to develop the next Four-Year Area Plan, engaging community, stakeholders, clients, staff and local leaders. Once it’s in draft form, we present that document during a public hearing process in each county. We invite members of the community and providers to attend the public hearing in their region, or to send us feedback on the plan.

For Grays Harbor County, the public hearing will be held Thursday, Aug. 22, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room of the Administration Building, 100 W. Broadway, Montesano.

Mark Harvey is the director of information and assistance for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached by email at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov; by phone at 360-532-0520 in Aberdeen, 360-942-2177 in Raymond, or 360-642-3634; or through Facebook at Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.