That’s the hashtag that came to mind when I snapped a picture of my mother on her 83rd birthday last week.
It can be tough to watch the decline of your aging parents. My mom has a good deal of age-related hearing loss. It doesn’t bother her at all. What bothers her is that it bothers us.
She has refused to even entertain the idea that she has had significant hearing loss for well for over a year now. My brother and I have been gently (and lately, not so gently) telling her that she is going deaf, but she insists she can hear just fine. I’m sure many of you with aging parents can relate.
Fast forward to mom flunking the hearing test at the audiologist’s office. Don’t even ask me how I managed to get her to agree to go there or about the scene she pulled in the waiting area speaking very loudly (whispering, according to her) about how much she didn’t want to be there, wasn’t hard of hearing at all, how the audiologist wasn’t really a “doctor” anyway, and how she will never let me drag her to another doctor until after she’s dead.
Spitfire, isn’t she?
The audiologist, who unfortunately wasn’t very pleasant (increasing my mother’s irritation level toward the entire visit), told me and my mom that her hearing loss is severe and that my mother should be aware that deafness in seniors contributes to confusion and early signs of dementia, both of which my mother has been exhibiting lately.
I agreed with the audiologist, but my mother did not. A month later, she now admits that her hearing isn’t “perfect”. She compensates by turning up her tv super-loud and we compensate by screaming at her super-loud on the phone and in person.
Sadly, from my end, it is the end of lengthy or in-depth conversations with my mom.
I can’t scream entire detailed stories at her, and when she misses words I didn’t pronounce clearly or scream loudly enough, she misses the overall meaning anyway. What conversations we do manage end up sounding a lot like those old Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First?” skits.
It’s frustrating for me and I miss being able to really TALK with her. She has always been a voice of reason in my life and her no-nonsense, thank-God-things-are-not-worse approach to everything in life has often been the slap across the face I’ve needed in troubled times.
In a way, I mourn the loss of my mother while she is still here with me.
Between the hearing loss and what turns out to be non-hearing loss related confusion (which she refers to as her “scrambled brain”), it’s genuinely heartbreaking.
I remind myself that I am here for HER needs now. It’s the good old circle of life; a shift that I think about frequently these days. I see how much more independent my children have grown and how much more dependent my mom has become. It’s a natural course of events, but it is painful to go through.
So I continue to encourage my mom to put on the hearing aid we got her (against her will). I remind her of what noises and conversations she is missing and how I think she would benefit from using the hearing aid. She will occasionally allow me to put it on her ear, but she hates it. She begs me to remove it. She tells me she hears what she WANTS to hear and that is just fine with her.
I look at her and I think about what a force she always was in my life.
The strongest, most unselfish, compassionate, honest and real woman I’ve ever known. My kids know that their grandma will tell it like it is. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything. If she thinks your haircut looks unattractive, she’ll tell you straight up in as few words. She has been known to point out pimples, extra pounds, and that new line that appeared on my face. There was never, ever anything fake or pretend about my mom. She is a tough woman who lived through tough times. The death of her youngest sister when she was six years old and the loss of her mother when she was seven are the events that most affected the rest of her life. Growing up during the war in Italy with meager food, money or shelter formed a resilient woman. Getting on a ship for the unknown – the United States of America – at 18 years old with her parents and younger sister on a permanent move that she didn’t choose nor want is a character-building experience that I can’t even imagine.
Today she is several inches shorter and many pounds lighter than she was as a vibrant young mother.
Her hair is completely silver and her skin is wrinkled and pale. She shuffles when she walks and is unable to straighten out her back when she stands. Independent and fairly active until a few months ago, she has recently been unable to drive and that leaves her “feeling like a prisoner” in her words. I visit her several times a week and try to spice up her life by taking her out, but I realize those few hours can’t make up for entire days of boredom and loneliness.
So, she doesn’t want to wear the hearing aids. You know what? I get it. I know it would be good for her to wear them and I think she knows it too, but why shouldn’t she have the dignity of making her own choice? She lived a full life with hardships and joys, she raised two children, she worked, she traveled, and she enjoyed hobbies, friendships and grandchildren.
She’s made decisions for herself for the last 60 years. She knows I love her, she knows whatever I’m telling her is for her own welfare. But why shouldn’t she have the choice at this point in her life to make a decision NOT to hear more than she does?
Think about it. Do you want someone to tell you what to do if you make it to 83 years old?
I don’t. I’m hopeful that I will also have the ability to make my own decisions as I age. After all, that freedom is a part of our human dignity. Don’t our aging parents deserve that?
So I stand behind her, nudging her toward what I think is best for her well-being. At this point, she is still consciously making the choices for herself. If she chooses to not hear and doesn’t care, then so be it. That fierce iron will is a sign that inside that frail, slow-moving body is the strong force of the woman she always was.