"Widow's lack of independence after 5 years burdens her children." This is the headline for Amy Dickenson's "Ask Amy" column in the March 6 Chicago Tribune. It seems that when their mother was widowed five years ago, twelve siblings collaborated on figuring out what she should do after selling her house. They decided that she should buy a condo.
The problem is that the mother made clear that she didn't want to live alone, so the "children" agreed that they would rotate the job of staying with her overnight, seven nights a week. The strain on the siblings and their families is evident, according to the son-in-law who wrote, "Worn Out in New England." After five years of this, he wonders if there isn't a better way.
I'm not sure "Worn Out in New England's" letter is real (twelve children, all cooperating?) If the letter is real, that part of the story is amazing. However, as an outsider, a senior with no children at all, I'm tempted to ask these questions:
1. How old is this mother? She's described as fairly healthy, still walking every day, and still driving.
2. Why, if, as the letter says, "The family is worn out and wants things to change," will "no one speak up"?
3. Does such extreme martyrdom still exist? If so, is it really commendable?
4. Here's the main question: What is the mother's opinion on all of this? Has anyone asked?
As a childless senior widow who has lived alone, mostly in a condo, for eight years now, I find the whole situation puzzling. Having constant and every-changing overnight guests, no matter how beloved, would drive me crazy.
Assuming that the mother is of sound mind, why do her children need to make living decisions for her? Is this part of a dangerous trend: well-intentioned younger people deciding what to do with "the old folks"?
Whatever happened to self-reliance? A woman with the strength to raise twelve children surely should be able to make her own decicisions. Again, has anyone asked?
Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne