Is caring for older parents our responsibility?

Je li briga o starijim roditeljima naša obaveza?

Faced with the age of her parents, our columnist wondered what she could do to make their lives easier and better without sacrificing her needs at the same time. This is a question we should all be looking for an answer to because many older people in our society live unworthily.
People are living longer and longer, and although the average life expectancy in our country is about 75 years, many people live to be ninety. Better health care, but also awareness of the importance of a healthier lifestyle prolongs our lives. When those mighty decades have passed, I think so as I watch my aging father turn 80 this year. Until a few years ago, he baked his brandy in the fall, picking grapes in his vineyard. He is a diabetic, for many years he neglected his health and ate the way he wanted to, not the way he should and all these bad habits resulted in his inability to take care of himself now. Although he still walks, he moves hard and little, so he spends most of the day in bed. I ask him what he thinks about while lying down, because he doesn’t sleep all the time. “Nothing!” The innocent child tells me. She’s a woman, I think. Maybe it makes his age easier.

My mom is a little younger than him, a little healthier, a little more mobile, but a lot more aware. He often jokes to me: “You see that crossword puzzles helped me to remember and function well in these late years”, pointing to my forehead. Oh yes, she remembers and functions, but she often worries. The mind is said to be a good servant, but a bad master. My parents belong to a generation that has not been spoiled by life, partly because of the difficult circumstances in which they were born – poverty, hunger and wars, stress due to many changes that our earthquake area has undergone – but partly due to their own ignorance and inability to know in time which is important in life to do for a peaceful old age.

It is said that a man does not value health until he loses it. Isn’t that exactly what our parents are painfully aware of today? My mom keeps telling Dad how important it is for them to stay together for as long as possible. They tell me they are not afraid of death, but they are afraid of helplessness. They don’t want to go to a nursing home for a living, they want, as long as they can, to feel that they are free and that they are not in some “regime”, so help in the house is not acceptable to them yet. But I see that they themselves are aware that each new year brings a new difficulty.

They were both educated, but because of their difficult childhoods, many fears crept into them. Because of them, they do not accept many innovations that could make their lives easier. They do not use the Internet, they hardly use a mobile phone. The children are from the village. Our country was rural and most of those born in the first half of the last century cried for the first time in their parents’ home in a village. And that crying didn’t seem to stop. Tears, blood and sweat – that’s how they lived! Sacrifice is the key word of that generation, and it is difficult to eradicate in the generations that come after them, because parents always influence their children, and so do mine. They sacrificed their whole lives and got used to sacrifices. My role is changing now – from a child I often become a parent to my parents. This is an unhealthy principle when you are small, but necessary when your parents start to “shrink” under the burden of age.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me is just believing that everyone can change their lifestyle if they really want to. So I catch myself coaching my mom, instead of just listening. But in these situations, apart from (occasional) self-discipline, a conversation with my sister is very helpful, reminding me of the obligation to respect their “impossibilities” and their right not to change their patterns in which they are stuck. The most important thing for them is to continue to feel a certain degree of autonomy, because the feeling of being completely dependent on someone is worse for them than illness.

It is not easy to juggle between one’s own needs, the demands of a daughter who still needs me sometimes and parents who are drawn to their side. Fortunately, the vocation I am dealing with helps me to easily recognize my old patterns arising from the roles that my family system has (so far) assigned me, and then I can more easily reconcile all the challenges that the present moment poses to me. These same challenges help me change and correct my own limitations. I wonder if a dignified old age is even possible in this country where it is increasingly difficult for all of us to maintain dignity. Quality protection mechanisms for older people, which so often depend entirely on their adult children, have not yet been developed. Counting, probably, that we are still a traditional patriarchal society in which parents and children live in joint households, it is forgotten that in urban areas there are many old people whose children have become independent, and many do not have the conditions to care for elderly parents. old age left to themselves. Some of them seem to have been forgotten by all, so there are those who beg or dig in the trash looking for bottles, and some even food, or you can see them at the market, before closing, looking for discarded vegetables. Age then looks cruel. But that is also our reality.

In the fall, my sister and I will sit down with our grandparents and talk about how to organize their lives so we can all be calm and content. The two of us want to do everything we can to help them in time – and that means now. I also think about how good friends are lost in those years, and not only health and strength, so I decide how to take my mother to the cinema and theater. Like she used to be me.

Tatjana Divjak