Please change my colostomy bag ….

Kennith’s grandparents are probably in their mid 70’s and live a fairly independent life about two hours out of Cape Town.

Unfortunately Kennith’s grandmother has been plagued with various illnesses and a few accidents i.e those of the falling variety, rather than those of the automotive kind.  This has impacted on her ability to get around easily, and she has had several stints at a variety of hospitals, for several reasons.

She also has more medical specialists than I have friends, on her speed dial.

She relies on Kennith’s granddad for physical support and assistance when she is not well – the problem is the “not well” patches have become longer and more concerning.

Over the last few years, we have seen a definite “oldness” that has attached itself to Kennith’s grandfather, who has always been a strong man.  Over the last 3 – 5 years he has really started to look, tired, drained, and just old.

The reality is that they ARE getting old, and as much as we hate to discuss it the inevitable approaches (insert something philosophical about death and taxes here ).

A friend of ours is going through a process of selling the house that her parents have lived in for years.

Packing up possessions and relocating her parents to a retirement village.  Which as you can imagine is very stressful – for everyone.  Also the fact that one day her parents were fine and dandy,  and the next minute it is crisis stations, has caused her huge amounts of stress and panic.

My friend’s dad is ill and has been hospitalized for some time.  His present prognosis looks good and no doubt he will be getting out of hospital soon.

But it is unlikely that he and his wife will be able to manage the large house they had before he became ill, as no one knows if he will remain well, and for how long.

So, it is not just a case of downscaling in real estate.  The issue is that they need to be somewhere that is geared to “if something should happen to them.”

Of course the ideal is that your parents push a panic button and you come running, but the reality is that we work – often long hours, and have commitments, that make the ability to be flexible disconcerting should something happen. And more importantly – what do I know about caring for someone, who needs a level of medical care, albeit of a minor nature?  And if your parents/grandparents needs minor medical care now, then logic should tell you, that in 2 – 5 years, the medical care is going to escalate, and odds are you can’t fit a stent.

Retirement villages are all the rage, and we have all boned up on what is available and what the different ones mean, and more importantly what they cost.

R4 000.00 – R6 000.00 rental will get you into a fairly good retirement village in our neck of the woods.  A semi-detached 2 – 3 bed-roomed house, with 15 prepared meals a month served in the dining/restaurant in the complex.  There is usually a sports centre in the complex and other services on offer, so if you cannot travel or do not want to get in your car, you are not stranded for dear life.

The retirement villages I have heard about appear to be vibrant communities, and not these dark terrible places that one appears people are shipped off to, to wait until the grim-reaper comes knocking.

Kennith’s grandparents are resistant to going – pretty much anywhere by the looks of things.

The problem is what do you do when you can see a situation needs some serious intervention, and there is actually nothing you can do?  You appreciate that they are adults and should make their own decisions, but for what ever reason, they are not making the decision.

This weekend our friends and I were talking.  We are all in our late thirties, very early forties, so we are still able to chew food, and can manage not too get too much spittle on our chins when we talk – all a good sign.

But the reality is that in the not too distant future, we are going to be wearing blue and purple hair rinses and chewing food with teeth that weren’t ours to begin with.

The problem appears to be, that the older a person gets, the more resistant they are in seeing the value and the logic in moving to an “assisted living arrangement”  and want to continue “going it alone” when they really can’t or shouldn’t.

There seems to be this delusion amongst our parents and our parent’s parents generation, that they will live in a granny flat attached to one of their children’s homes.

I think this works in principle.

But many of us are working full time, and have our own children.  So juggling our lives, which is always past hectic, and trying to find time to do our children’s homework makes for a very chaotic existence.  I am not sure how adding an elderly parent who needs a care giver is possible or even achievable in reality.

I know a few people who have an elderly mom or dad living with them, and it seems to work.  But in these situations often the parent is in their late 50’s or 60’s and does not need a health carer.

I do think that children should care about their parents in their old age.  I do not think that children should care for their parents in the role of a health care-giver or nurse.  I really do not.

I realise this makes me sound like I am going to put my own mother in a wheel chair, and park her outside on the balcony to die from exposure.  I probably wouldn’t.

I do not want my children seeing me wearing nappies, and the creamed sweet corn dripping out of the corner of my mouth because I can no longer close my lips properly.

I really do want to spare them that, and more importantly spare me the total loss of dignity infront of my nearest and dearest.

I want to hire a pleasant nurse named Nancy, who wears a starched uniform, with maroon epaulets, whose job it will be to do wipe my bum and pat my wrinkly veiny hand, and say things like “it is all going to be alright.”

I want my kids to remember me for the total bitch I am.  I would like them to remember be being stubborn, capable, opinionated and more importantly having control over my sphincter muscles.

I plan to have a very serious conversation with my mom and my step-father when I see them.  I need them to write letters to themselves NOW, where they explain (to themselves) why they feel they need to go to an “assisted living” facility. Then I will keep the letters and give it to them when I think that we are at that point.

Kennith and I plan to write similar letters to ourselves while this entire issue is fresh in our minds.

Leave a comment


  1. This is one of the biggest challenges we as families face. My gran also refused – she stayed with us, it was a huge strain. Then she had a stroke and we could not look after her anymore – she had to be admitted to a frail care. This influenced my mom’s decision to move to a great retirement village at age 65 – she is so happy there. She is now 74 and in such a happy place.

  2. hellyamber

     /  October 24, 2010

    LOL I don’t know, the one thing that keeps me going on those tough days is knowing that one day my son will be wiping *my* butt, changing *my* sheets and cleaning up *my* face 😉 My Mum on the other hand who deserves her children’s undying care and attention in her old age if anyone does, is determined to go into a home so as not to be a burden on anyone (she saw her mother nurse her grandfather and grandmother in their old age).

  3. Bevan Buck

     /  October 20, 2010

    My gran is 83 now and living by herself in Obs….not ideal from a safety point of view in so many ways, but she refuses to even consider a retirement home etc.
    I think that she’s holding out until my parents return to CT from Jhb and hoping that there will be a granny flat in the deal somewhere. Knowing my father, hell will freeze over before that happens!
    Not an easy situation for anyone to be in.

    • reluctantmom

       /  October 20, 2010

      No it isn’t. And always something horrible has to happen, and the next thing you are rushing through the dark night off to hospital, and then there is some huge disaster, and then you are frantically running around trying to get her into a place because well now it is desperate, so you are trying to find anything available, and actually you do not have much choice now as she now needs to head to the frail care section – which is already booked ahead by about 2 – 4 years by other people who are on a list.

      And then you get her in anywhere, where there is a place and they will take her – but it is yugh and grim, and then she is depressed and you are depressed, and then she thinks “this is exactly why I did not want to come to this place.”

      But actually this would not be the choice you would have made, and is what was available because you were desperate! Story kind of repeats itself over and over … but there we are.

  4. My father will be 74 next month (Kennith’s grandparents are quite young to me!) But my Dad has alzeihmers and most days doesn’t know who any of us are, let alone where he is. It is a hard time. Sadly it was his worst fear as he is a very proud and intelligent man.

    I have tried on numerous occassions to convince my Mom to get him on a waiting list for a Home, as he is getting more and more difficult for her to care for. But she seems to be in some kind of denial about the whole thing. In some ways I think the whole “elders getting older” thing might be harder than child rearing. Although I’m only 10 months into the child rearing. But a child can’t refuse to live where you deem most safe/suitable. They just go where you tell them.

    You know I should probably just write my own blog post about this as I’m taking over yours. Sorry – hope this contributed in some way!

    • reluctantmom

       /  October 20, 2010

      Kennith does have a family that …. well ….. starts producing early, hence the reason he still has grandparents and my kids have great-grandparents. But that is another post for another day.

      Medical intervention allows older people to live longer – so they are living longer, often not with the best quality of life, and need care. I must be honest, prior to this, I did not really have to give this any thought, but right now it is quite an issue in my little head!

  5. Tania

     /  October 20, 2010

    I agree and Good idea


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: