By Lorraine Duffy Merkl
About Lorraine Duffy Merkl:
Author of the novel, Fat Chick and a freelance journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Lorraine Duffy Merkl lives and breathes her role as attentive mom and daughter perched inside The Sandwich Generation.
My 87-year-old aunt/godmother, Evelyn, is in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery. She is a widow, who never had children. Not only has Aunt Evie been my Auntie Mame, but she has been my second mother as well.
When Aunt Evie was admitted into the hospital, she chose me as her healthcare proxy.
That of course does not stop my 90-year-old mother or my 14-year-old daughter, Meg, from getting into the act. You would never know I'm supposedly “in charge”. Actually, you'd never know the hospital personnel are actually in charge either.
After Aunt Evie finally got settled in her room, it was way past lunch and too early for dinner. The woman was just plain hungry. On her behalf, I requested that the staff bring her a tuna sandwich, which she specifically asked for. They said okay, and my mother, Meg and I continued to watch the Olympics, as well as our loved one drift in and out of sleep.
I took the opportunity during this quiet moment to step out of the room into the waiting area to make some phone calls, because also on my list of those I tend to (besides the aforementioned trio), is a husband, Neil, and a 17-year-old son, Luke. I also work with clients who give me writing assignments. What could possibly happen during such a short absence?
About fifteen minutes later, I returned to the room and was stopped by a nurse who apologized profusely for upsetting my mother. The puzzled look on my face was his cue to begin explaining how she started screaming at him and the entire nursing staff that had yet to deliver the requested tuna sandwich. As I have been screamed at by my mother for the last half-century, I can tell you from experience that when she lays into you, you hop to it. He was very understanding as I tried to smooth things over with the medical team by mentioning my mom’s age and how stressful this whole situation is for her.
I then entered the room and was not surprised in the least to find a sandwich sitting on the L-shaped rolling table that serves as my aunt’s dining tray/desk.
A little later, Aunt Evie needed to use the bathroom. Meg insisted on helping her. I told that girl in no uncertain terms to let the second nurse do her job. Meg then told us all in no uncertain terms that no one could cater to our aunt with the love she could. I looked sheepishly at the RN and, with smiling eyes, she looked back at me as if to say, “It's nice that the young lady cares so much about the older woman.” I responded with a, “Sorry, what can I tell you?” shrug.
I must admit that as frustrating as my mother and daughter can be, I admire their headstrong ways and ability to get things done. Make no mistake, I too get things done, but in perhaps a more subtle manner.
I have decided that to get us through this rather harrowing situation, (FYI: my aunt is coming along quite nicely after her operation) I have to see my mother and Meg, not as adversaries who want to antagonize me by not doing things as I do, but as members of Team Evie, each bringing a different and valuable skill set to complement what I have to offer.
Ultimately, in a critical moment, I am the one in charge. I have to admit though, I’m glad that I’m not doing this alone and appreciate the help, even when the help has all the earmarks of a hindrance.