A few weeks ago, I posted a rant about the trials and tribulations of caring for my mother after major surgery. By some trick of fate, that post became a cause celebre amongst a certain set, and the next thing you know, I'm being interviewed by the New York Times. The gist of the post was that my mother was a pest, and I was merely pointing out that professional caregivers probably do not get the accolades or respect they are due. Because if given the choice between setting myself on fire and having to care for a crazy woman with a martyr complex and an insatiable need for sympathy again, I'll be the guy in the street with the gas can and Zippo.
That post has brought me a lot of attention; not only have I gotten offers to write freelance humor pieces because of it, but I have somehow become the guru of choice for exasperated and desperate people who seem to think that I'm some kind of authority on how to take care of difficult parents. I must be -- I was in the New York Times, you see.
Here's a sample of my mailbox, every day, for the last five weeks (and liable to continue because people are still coming in to read the original):
"Hey Matt, read your story, great! But, I was wondering if I might get your advice. See, Dad is 86, and has trouble controlling his bowels..."
"Could you please tell me what I should do? I'm almost at the end of my rope..."
"...you may joke about killing your mother, but I'm thinking of killing myself...."
"Mom no longer recognizes us. There's nothing in her eyes, anymore. She just looks at us "strangers", and tears run down her cheeks. She's lost, confused, and frightened, and there's nothing we can do about it. How did you communicate with someone in this state? Please help!"
"...waiting for the inevitable is worse. I may be a bad son for saying this but this bedside vigil stuff is for the birds. I wish she would go already, and let the rest of us get on with our lives. What do you think of that?"
That's on a GOOD day. The rest of the time, it's people who want to regale me either with their (ultimately) pointless feel-good stories, that always end with: "hang in there, buddy!", or scold me for being such a heartless, insensitive pig.
In one of those mysteries of human nature and the inner-workings of the brain, different people somehow manage to read the same thing, but come away with different interpretations. I don't know how this happens, but a simple internet post managed to become:
1. A Professional Credential; I am now qualified to speak on all matters pertaining to Elder Care, or at least, some people think I am. Whenever I remind people that I know absolutely nothing about this subject, beyond my own experiences, it does not seem to register. The Times would not have given me the time of day, otherwise, they think. I can make no appeal to logic, cite no example, make no point, that is not summarily ignored because folks want to believe that I'm going to solve their problems with impossible parents, or help them through the slow agony of waiting for a loved one to die.
Sorry, but I'm not your man. I don't do sympathy (except for children and dogs). I can empathize with some of you, to a certain extent, but I don't have any answers for you, nor do I share your pain. I can't counsel you on whether or not it's good idea to have the doc give Mom a "hot shot", or pull the plug on her. I really don't want to hear about your ancient father's bathroom habits and how they annoy you.
Also, I don't really give a crap about your life story. While I'm certain that your childhood memories of Sunday picnics, baseball games and fishing trips, hold some sentimental value to you, they hold none for me. Why it's necessary to write your autobiography before you get around to the question of "so, do you think it's okay to leave Dad alone for a couple of hours a day while I get coffee and do my shopping, so long as I lock him in his room?" baffles me.
First off, I don't care what you do with your father, so long as you aren't hurting him or plotting his demise. Otherwise, it's not my concern. I have my own problems, thank you. Staple him to the wall while you go about your business, if that's what you think you need to do, but don't think I'm encouraging or excusing that sort of thing. I'm getting the impression that people who think this way don't want advice so much as they want someone to justify their questionable behavior or thought processes. You think I'm bad with what I wrote? I'm getting e-mail from people who would lock an elderly person in a closet, consider leaving them in the care of young children while they go off and gallivant, or who just might chain their mother to a radiator so that they can go to Starbucks, or take in a movie. Considering how many admonitions I got, I wonder what my detractors would have to say about these people?
Secondly, I'm not giving you any eldercare advice, anyway -- I'm not qualified to do that, after all -- so save yourself some typing and possible Carpal-Tunnel.
2. Proof that I am The Biggest Jerkoff on Planet Earth; and this on a planet that I am forced to share with the likes of Al Gore, Barack Obama, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, and the cast of Jersey Shore? I'm a bad person with no sense of shame or decency, who was disrespectful to his mother, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Some are shocked that such a respectable publication like the New York Times (I wonder how respectable it is now that Krugman pretty much shit all over it reputation this past week) would give me any publicity, and I must be a morally-reprehensible person.
"Oh and by the way...", my super-sensitive respondents will always add, and then it comes: paraphrased " I'm a much better person than you", and then they cite some long-winded and totally disconnected example of their superior powers of "caring". Fuck you and the horses you all rode in on. People like you are almost as bad as the insufferable douchebags who think being able to quote Scripture makes them better than everyone else, and assures their place in Heaven.
Everyone has different ways of coping with things. Everyone has differing levels of patience and tolerance. Those of you with incredibly high levels (perhaps you are high to begin with?) of both should take this piece of advice from me:
Everyone else secretly hates you. We normal people, the ones with normal emotions --not you Bizzarro Vulcans -- we seriously think of killing you. Sometimes, some of us actually get together and discuss how we're going to do it, so as to get as many of you as possible in one fell-swoop. We figure we'll start with the ones who can't shut the fuck up about how much better they are than anyone else so that the rest will get the message and lay off.
3. The biggest mistake you can ever make as a blogger is to directly answer somebody's e-mail. Unless you absolutely have to. I have lost count of how many I have answered (badly) on this topic, but it seems that there's a percentage of people who write to you who don't want answers as much as they want a dialogue; they just want to talk to you. More like AT YOU. A good many of them don't even bother to consider what's been written back, because they'll respond in a repetitive manner, asking the same questions over-and-over, or making the same points in repetition. A good number are simply thrilled that someone answered them, at all.
The messages I truly despise are the "kindred spirit" e-mails, the "oh yes, I know all about that...don't have to tell me! I know exactly what you're going through..." routine. Suddenly, a complete stranger and I have some deep and meaningful connection because we have had an (arguably) similar experience. At least they like to think so, and these folks, too, want a dialogue. A one-sided dialog, usually. They wear out the "I" key on their keyboards, I'll bet. If I had the ability to wish people like you out of existence, I most certainly would.
Only slightly worse are the pathetic cases who ask me out on dates, because we have the common experience of taking care of a sick and difficult parent. This gives us a bond, they tell me, so any potential relationship would be starting out on a strong foundation, and we'd have something to talk about (and some of you, really, put your clothes back on!). In psychology, I think they would liken this to the formation of a Trauma Bond, a situation wherein two people who have shared a, usually horrific, experience -- experienced it at the same time, together -- form a partnership wherein they look almost exclusively to each other for support, encouragement, safety, security, and so forth. Each sees the other as "the only one who understands what you've gone through", and is therefore, the only reliable person in your little world.
The problem with Trauma Bonds is that they usually disguise or mingle with other mental issues; people develop co-dependence issues, they withdraw from the rest of the world, there may be self-esteem issues involved, and they may develop damaging or even dangerous repetitive behaviors if the bond becomes the central focus of their lives. People in Trauma Bond situations certainly have trouble forming relationships. People exhibiting this behavior have even been known to plan, and carry out, murder-suicide pacts, believing they are helping each other deal with their pain.
Yeah. I need a woman like this like I need a hole in the head. I don't care how much money you have, how many liquor stores you own, what you can do with your tongue, or how many of your girlfriends will watch/join in. Been there, done that, vis-a-vis crazy bitches. No thanks.
So, let's recap for the retarded amongst you:
A) No, I am not an expert on Eldercare. Never was, never claimed to be. If you need advice, seek professional help; I'm liable to tell you things you don't want to hear, that won't work, or which might put evil thoughts in your head.
B) I write what I write. I usually never apologize for it (why should I?), and I'm not particularly concerned about whether some of you like it or not, nor am I concerned about your personal opinion of yourself, or your exploits in eldercare. You're probably a douche in real life, and lying to me anyway, just to present yourself to the rest of the world as something you're not because you have serious self-esteem issues. Get psychiatric help.
C) No, I'm not dating you because we've both cleaned a bedpan once. Stop sending me photos (unless you're actually hot, of course). No, I don't want a relationship with some chick who's already scheduling our nuptuals around Mother's funeral, and Father's next round of radiation treatments.
This has certainly been a learning experience for me.
Update: If you need help dealing with issues surrounding the care of an elderly, or seriouisly ill family member, please check out www.thefamilycaregiver.org. They have the resources and expertise to help you through what is a difficult and stressful time for all involved.