The preponderance of horror/fantasy entertainment in our culture at the moment is striking. Consider how many vampire vehicles there are (I’m a Truebie myself), a genre which also tends to include werewolves and other exotic creatures of the night.
Then there’s the zombie genre: beginning with Night of the Living Dead, there’ve been many variations on this theme, including a current Cartoon Central comedy series and a recent comedy feature starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson called Zombieland.
When you consider how many people in this country are my age (born in the late 50’s) and how many of us are caring for our aging parents, it’s no surprise that escapist entertainments are providing us distraction and comic relief.
It occurred to me this morning that aging parents are kind of like zombies. (Note to the PC police: don’t harangue me about pejoratively classifying old people as zombies. Read on before you hit the nasty comment button). They start out being human, but start morphing in something else that can be truly frightening. Because they LOOK like our parents, we tend treat them as we always have. However, much as we may love these creatures, their quality of life depends on our discernment what they’re becoming and our ability modify our attitudes and reactions in appropriate ways.
And I find that, like Jesse Eisenberg’s character in Zombieland, if you intend to survive, you need to establish some rules to live by:
1) Get organized. If you know where important items are, you can talk your parent off the ledge by finding what they’re looking for before they totally freak out.
2) Write stuff down. You’re remembering for two (or more) now. I find my iPod Touch to be invaluable. Everything in one place, no scraps of paper to lose.
3) Pay attention to new behaviors. If something weird happens once, it might just be an aberration. Twice begins a pattern that may reveal a new issue.
4) Get support. When you care for someone on your own, you will eventually need to talk to other rational people. You will need perspective. Depending on the relationship you have with your parent, you may need help changing the dynamic. It’s natural for families to resume the traditional roles they’ve played with each other when they reunite after a long period of independent life. We outgrow these old roles and must grow into new ones that work for the phase to come. And they will keep evolving.
5) Get your parent a good geriatric physician who will partner with you.
6) Unplug. Take breaks whenever you can. You need to remember who you are and what you need.
7) Find humor in your situation.
8 ) Find healthy ways of dealing with your stress and maintaining your own health.
9) Adapt. Keep adding to your list of rules.
This is a process. There are lots of us going through it. If we find each other, stick together and share our experiences, we can stem the tide of despair and find our way to the next phase, until we begin our own inevitable transformations. I don’t intend to become a zombie. But who ever did?