Ever since I began spreading my tale of woe (one parent struck by a bus and the other struck by a stroke on the same day, and poor me having to manage the whole situation), people have been quietly confiding their own sad stories. One friend provided hospice for her father, who had fecal vomiting from colon cancer. Another spends her Saturdays visiting her stone-deaf father and alcoholic step-mother, who are confined to wheelchairs, and walks their yapping dog—and she has done this for years without a word of complaint. Another has provided hospice—twice—to her mother, who's still alive years later. Yet another oversaw the descent into dementia of her mother, a dignified, distinguished doctor who took to tearing off her clothes and defecating in stairwells. It turns out I'm one of the lucky ones.
That was driven home today when I attended a lunchtime eldercare presentation by a social worker. There were perhaps 10 of us in the room, and about half were just in their 30s, taking care of parents and grandparents and children, juggling jobs and night duty. At least at the age of 59, I'm engaged in an age-appropriate task. And although I'm a full-time worrier, I don't give hands-on care on a regular basis. Some 400 million families—nearly a quarter of the population—are engaged in eldercare, according to the presenter. Who knew? I guess it never seems real till it happens to you.