Can We Be Perfect When We Help Parents Age Well?–1

Aging Parents and our Quest for Perfection
Can/should we expect perfection? 

Years ago, in Santa Fe, I bought a seed-pearl-size, turquoise, bead necklace from one of the women selling Indian jewelry in front of the Governor’s Palace. Later, closer examination revealed a mismatch–one tiny coral bead among the turquoise–near the simple clasp.

On another occasion, in Cottonwood, Arizona, an Indian woman came into a garden supply/gift shop. She carried two hand-made, seed-pearl-size, coral, bead necklaces to sell. The proprietor had no interested. I, however, did. Necklaces in hand, the woman headed towards the door. As she passed me, I commented on the necklaces and purchased one–at her very reasonable price.  At first look it was all coral. A closer look revealed one tiny dark-colored bead.

Shortly thereafter I was told the reason: Nothing on earth is perfect. So in stringing a traditional bead necklace,  a non-matching stone is included. The “imperfection” in my necklaces was cultural… purposeful.

I wonder if these imperfections are allowed in the beautiful, expensive, commercial beaded necklaces the Southwest Indians create because, of course, our culture (we are the customers) places a high value on perfection.

And then I think about those of us with aging parents and our quest for perfection. We try to do what’s best for our parents at the end of the life cycle, just as we try to do what’s best for children at the early part of the life cycle. We learn from professionals, we read, we research, we speak with friends.  While we try to be caring and try to be smart, we need to remember we are not perfect.  If we do our best, that’s our best.  Stuff happens. We can’t control. We can’t do more.

So why do we take it to heart and get so upset when we’ve worn ourselves to a frazzle and made great efforts to help our parents age well and things don’t go well and/or we’re criticized? (Yes, I know, it’s because we’ve worn ourselves to a frazzle.) Why, when our parents have died, do we remember the things that didn’t go right and may continue to regret we didn’t do things better? Why are we so hard on ourselves?

Grandma’s quote “Angels can do no more” (legitimizing we’ve done our best, don’t berate ourselves) is once again appropriate.

And thus I wonder. Is it culture or our psychological make-up that causes our stress and regret? Do we, perhaps, place unrealistic expectations on ourselves– especially when we feel responsibility for those who need us at each end of the life cycle?

Since I’m out of town, I will get in touch with our Senior Advisor, psychiatrist Dr. Bud, and try for an answer before Saturday’s post. Once we know the reasons, perhaps we can allow ourselves to be less than perfect as we try to help our parents age well.

Note: 3/31 Dr. Bud isn’t available until later, so his opinion re: perfection and causes of our stress is postponed until Tuesday’s post. Today’s planned post is replaced by the updated opportunities to help parents age well during Easter and Passover.

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