Today my friend Lee reported to me that her mother had died. She will be flying back to Virginia with her children for the memorial service.
"What happened?" I asked with sympathy. Her mother been in assisted living and was about the same age as my mother but did not have dementia.
"It was sudden--congestive heart failure," she reported.
"When did you last see her?" I asked.
"Three and a half years ago," she admitted. Lee is a single mother, intermittently employed, raising two children in 7th and 9th grades. There is just no money for flights from California to Virginia.
But still it hit me: a pang of envy.
Lee, an only child, did not have to do years of elder care. Her mother did not want to move to California when she got to the age where she needed help with the activities of daily living, ADLs as they are called. So Lee had located assisted living for her in Virginia and kept in touch by phone. Lee's cousin did things that needed to be done locally.
I expressed sympathy for her loss, but what I was really feeling was more complicated than sympathy.
"Am I crazy?" I was thinking. "Why am I putting two or more hours a day into care of my mother? She's in assisted living--why don't I just leave her to the staff at Ocean View? There must be something wrong with me--codependency or whatever. I've got to change something. And why can some people escape elder care completely? Lee's mother just up and dies, after several years of fairly comfortable living in a senior residence, no dementia. How many more years will my mother live? How long will I continue to lose a fair chunk of my time, at an age when the number of productive years I have left is shrinking rapidly?"
After these thoughts, of course, I felt guilt.