Friday, May 4, 2012

WHY IS NO ONE CELEBRATING?


This year has been a busy one at the office where I work.  Two male co-workers have had new babies in their households and it’s been celebrations and back-slappings all around for several months.  And rightfully so.  Welcoming new life into the world is a fun and awesome thing.  Gifts are showered on the new parents, visits to the hospital to ooo and aahh over the little dears, family visits from proud new grandparents and food brought to the house to help the family keep up with all the visitors.
Treats for a baby shower at work
Although there’s little doubt that I’m tickled pink and blue for the families, something feels slightly unfair and it’s taken me a little while to figure it out. 

During the past six months, I too have welcomed new additions to my household.  Without benefit of nine months of planning for their arrival nor any sort of pre-arrival classes teaching me to feed and care for my new lodgers, nor even any maternal instincts to guide me through the process, I’ve managed to take on not one small bundle of joy, but two aging, memory-impaired, adults and their somewhat obnoxious dog.
I cannot help but wonder where was the party where my co-workers, family and friends gathered to shower me with well wishes and gifts so that I might better care for my new arrivals?  While the babies arrived with congratulatory emails, balloons and flowers, my bundles arrived nearly unannounced on a bleak winter afternoon with almost stealth like disinterest. Where were the balloons welcoming them to my home?  How about friends and family bringing food and good wishes over to share in my good fortune? Are there no cute little onesies that are appropriate for this that are emblazoned with “My Daughter Loves Me” or “Nice to meet you again”?  Where are all the gifts I should have gotten from the family and friends whose baby showers I attended with gifts in one hand and plates of goodies in the other?
Mom holding a baby duckling
But as a rule, most people don’t celebrate the arrival of old age and diminishing memories.  Few people ask to see photos of Mom and Dad and remark, “my they’re getting so BIG!”  I’m doing my best though to be the proud daughter.  I show pictures to friends when we accomplish something like baking cookies or doing something fun. I imagine that they think I’m a bit crazy, but in reality it must be a lot like raising babies.  I’m proud when they do something good (like taking a shower), happy when Mom is enjoying a ride on the carousel at the mall, and upset when Dad manages to break yet another cup or glass in the kitchen. 

And before you get the totally wrong impression, I have some very awesome friends who have been supportive throughout this process.  Without them I could never have gotten through the past six months.  They’ve listened to my ranting and whining and arranged to get me out of the house when I needed to be around coherent adults.  Moms friends have been terrific and Dad has a good buddy that has been around and offered to help from time to time.
But on the whole, this process is a very lonely and difficult one.  Rather than the celebrations of baby’s first steps or words, I’ll be looking for signs of unsteady walking or helping to fill in words missing from their vocabulary.  Yesterday I smiled when Mom finally came up with the word “cantaloupe” after struggling for a few minutes.  Must be how a new Mom or Dad feels when baby first says Mama or Daddy. 

I know I’m not alone in this process, although most times it may feel that way.  When I talk to friends and acquaintances, I’m surprised by the number of those going through the same issues.  We don’t talk about it out loud much, but I know we’re out there.  It’s like a secret society to which we have unintentionally been initiated.  I’m beginning to think it’s time to start coming out from behind our sleep-deprived haze and identify ourselves.  We have the same issues as new parents and then some.  Society needs to stop turning away and begin to embrace what’s happening at the end of life as well as at the beginning.  So many of us are caring for one or both parents, aging siblings or even aging friends and we generally are doing it with little or no acknowledgement or support.  This is hard work.  It's hard and it's sometimes unrewarding. 

You can do a little to help by finding someone who is a caregiver and giving them a hug or a little help with a daily chore.   Don’t ask their permission because most likely they’ll smile and say “that’s OK, we’re fine”; just do something unbidden.  You’ll be surprised at the reaction. 

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