“My doctor gave me a prescription,” Virginia says pointing vaguely toward a piece of paper on her counter. “Will you fill it at Wegman’s?”
“Sure,” I say, picking up the slip and reading. “It’s for a walker, Virginia. I got you a walker two months ago when you wanted one. You made me take it back.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“I know,” she says, hanging her usually defiant head in defeat.
“Wegman’s has groceries and a pharmacy. They don’t have walkers,” I say. “And I don’t want to spend hours finding a walker you refuse. Do you really want this?”
“My doctor said I need it.”
“Your doctor said you needed it two years ago,” I say with bitchiness creeping into my voice.
“I need it. I need it,” she says, raising her voice, defiant again.
“Wegman’s won’t have a walker, Virginia.”
“Will you figure it out?”
“Yes,” I say, trying to contain my irritation. My mother-in-law is 97 years old, 90% blind, willful, and fighting for independence. She’s also angry that her only son died. I don’t blame her for being angry, but she’s stuck in self-pity and I’m tired of her bad temper and bitterness. She refuses to hire help she can afford and cooks for herself even though she burns much of what she cooks. Still, I have to admire her spunky toughness. She volunteers at the library information desk and another morning at the Food Bank. I’m sure she’s the oldest volunteer in Ithaca.
One morning, I stood in front of the library information desk without speaking. She looked up with cloudy meandering eyes, squinted, and saw that someone was there. Since she couldn’t see well enough to recognize me, she smiled and greeted me with the kindness she shows strangers. I rarely see this part of her.
With her prescription in my wallet, I drive her to Professional Home Care for a walker.
“Don’t you have a smaller one? I don’t like these,” she whines at the woman who helps us.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, they don’t come smaller.”
“OK,” Virginia says, defeated again. We practice using the walker. Put the brakes on before turning and sitting. Don’t release brakes until standing and facing the walker.
“Let’s go,” she demands before mastering the simple brakes.
“Will you practice in your apartment hallway? I’ll help you,” I offer.
“OK,” she grumbles, “but I don’t need your help.”
A few days later, I stop by her apartment with my dog Willow. Virginia’s hair is in rollers since she is willing to pay to have her hair done at home once a week. She feels her way around her apartment without her cane, holding on to chairs and tables, wobbly, bumping into things. Four canes lean into various corners, and the walker sits against the window wearing a bright pink scarf.
“Have you practiced using the walker?” I ask in a cheery voice. “Let’s practice now.”
“No,” she snarls. “I don’t need it. I’m OK with my cane.”
“Virginia, you don’t use your cane inside. You fall down in your apartment and on the street. It’s a miracle you haven’t broken a hip. You need the walker.”
“No,” she scowls.
In my head, I hear Pema Chodron say, “Don’t Bite the Hook.” This is my cue to back away or cause a showdown. I laugh at myself and surrender as I did over canes, an aide, burned food, and a medical alert necklace. Virginia is of sound mind and stubborn temperament. I will not win.
‘Til death do us part.
When I married Vic, I was 22 years old. I never imagined then that, after his death, our vows automatically transferred to his mother.
I’d love to hear your stories about caring for aging parents, especially the belligerent ones. How do you find humor in the situation? For a post about caring for my own mother, see My Mother’s Blessing.