The Yankees and Aging Parents

The NY Yankees won the 2009 World Series last week. What a way to inaugurate the New Yankee Stadium! Jubilation reigned in the ballpark. But George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner, did not attend the game. Millions watched as his son, Yankees’ managing partner Hal Steinbrenner, accepted the magnificent World Series Trophy, crafted by Tiffany & Company.

Mr. Steinbrenner, now 79, was home watching the game on TV, we are told. For over three decades he invested so much of himself–financially and emotionally–in his Yankee team. Since money is no problem and he must have had all the resources to make it easy for him to attend the game–limo, luxurious box, capable caregivers–we can only guess as to why he stayed home. But that’s not the our primary concern. What was this victorious moment like for his sons, Hal and Hank? I thought about the importance we place on having our parents with us to celebrate important events.

These thoughts followed: Why is it so important? Are our wishes for our parents always compatible with their wishes and needs? Do we want things for our parents that we assume will be good for them, not realizing it may have the opposite effect? I was discussing these questions with a friend, who shared the following true story with me. It was one of those eye-opening moments:

The wife of a prominent community leader who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, wanted him to accompany her to an important social event. She thought that it would be good for him to get out, he would have many friends at the event, and she wanted him to participate in life. You can imagine her surprise when she found him sitting in the bedroom crying. “Why?” you ask. Because he was having a lucid enough moment to realize that he wouldn’t recognize people he should recognize and he didn’t want to embarrass himself and end up feeling foolish.

My friend said she could relate to this situation because of her mother, who has macular degeneration. A still bright and intelligent woman in her early 90’s, she stopped going out socially because of the difficulty she had recognizing people she knew. And it was hard to see food on a plate or in a bowl so she no longer wanted to eat out. While she had pride, she greatly appreciated it when friends came up and said something like “Hello A. It’s me–Sally,” saving her from embarrassing moments. But that didn’t happen often enough even though her friends knew about her vision problem.

Which brings us back to the reality that there are important occasions our parents just can’t be there to share with us, even though they’d like to and we’d like them to. And while we may feel bad, it doesn’t change anything, so probably everyone feels better if we find ways to make the best of it. I think the Steinbrenners–young and old– set a good example.

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