Is Meddling Helpful or Unappreciated When It’s Someone Else’s Aging Parent?

A Judgment Call

Dried Miniature Arrangement

Dried Miniature Arrangement

A carefully-wapped dried miniature flower arrangement surfaces in a recently-opened box from our move. Gently unfolding the small-size bubble wrap reveals intricately designed, award-winning miniatures. While they look life size, they are–in fact– no more than 3″ in any direction. A gift from a very dear older friend before she died. (Click photos to appreciate details.)

She had a wonderful, caring family–a son and daughter who couldn’t have been more devoted or on top of things, although I didn’t know them well. I knew their mother only as an esteemed flower show judge–that is, until the last few years of her life when her cancer returned.

We sat next to each other at a flower show and learned we both had ponds. Her fish had been eaten by some wildlife. I had fish to spare which I later took to her newly-protected pond. We shared a passion for gardening and a love of miniatures and in the fun and now-treasured times that followed while she battled cancer, we became friends.

Throughout her experimental cancer treatments, with the ups and downs, she carried on–not wanting to waste a day of living, and she delighted in sharing her talent with younger people like me. When her kids went away on business trips, we exchanged telephone numbers and I tried to fill in by doing something “gardeny” with my friend. I felt like a special daughter.

The cancer progressed in spite of the drugs and she stopped driving. Living at home became more difficult so she went to her daughter and son-in-law’s. They had a room and bath at one end of their home–privacy. She made beautiful flower arrangements for their home, had company there during the day when they were at work, and was driven to her home several times a week to tend her plants, do paperwork, and get things in order for the ultimate.

But the ultimate didn’t come as one would like–how often does that happen! While living with her daughter she had a serious event that necessitated going to a fine nursing home nearby.

It was a half hour drive for me. I decided I’d go twice during the work week so her kids wouldn’t feel it a necessity to stop by if they were tired after work. One afternoon my friend, who still thought clearly, was uncharacteristically agitated. Two older garden club women were there when I arrived. They were uncomfortable–didn’t know what to say or do and my arrival gave them a chance to leave. I walked them to the door, deciding I’d stay a while longer.

This is when my friend asked if I had my cell phone, which I did. She thought she was on too much medication–was having trouble holding thoughts and getting her thoughts together. Accustomed as she was to being in control, her agitation was understandable. Can’t remember if I gave her my phone and she called her daughter or she gave me the number, I made the call and handed her the phone. In any event, she said she wanted to plea with her daughter for a change of medication asap and I became the conduit.

My counseling training kicked in. I knew I was triangled in by participating in the phone call–something professionals are taught to avoid. This was between mother and a very smart, good daughter… not a mother, daughter, and me. But stuff happens. My wanting to help my friend was injecting itself into her relationship with her daughter.

That night I phoned the daughter and apologized for interrupting her work day. She graciously said she understood, telling me she’d called her mother’s doctor.

My role was friend. My friend’s daughter’s role was health care proxy. That’s a difficult enough role without another person getting triangled into the mix. Yet it’s easy to fall into the trap. Is the key to recognize it and–unless there’s a threat to life and/or limb–get out gracefully so our meddling is overlooked and our caring is appreciated?

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to current research from top universities plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.

2 thoughts on “Is Meddling Helpful or Unappreciated When It’s Someone Else’s Aging Parent?

    • Thanks, Martin. As I rethink it, those miniature arrangements are a happy reminder instead of a reminder of what could have been a major regret.

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