Wednesday, August 30, 2006

If Only All Mothers Were Aunt Sophie

Here’s my problem with my mother. I want her to be my Aunt Sophie. I think the whole baby boomer generation would all like our mothers to be Aunt Sophie. She was 92 when she died two years ago and it was a terrible loss for her two remaining sisters, (the twins) one of whom is my mother. But it was also an enormous loss for all her nieces and nephews as well as her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. First of all, she was incredibly funny. I mean laugh out loud hilarious. Then she had such a positive attitude. When she found out she was going to die, she declared that she was not afraid to die but she didn’t want to suffer. So she decided to move into her daughter’s home, have hospice care and good drugs, —so as not to be a burden—and die with dignity. All the friends and relatives came to say goodbye while they still had a chance to let her know how they felt about her. And a few days before she died she decided she didn’t want any more visitors and she didn’t want to talk anymore, except to my mother and her twin, Rosalie, her daughter and Honey who was Fritzie’s daughter. Fritzie was Sophie’s twin. She died in 1980 from lung cancer.


the Twins: Fritzie and Sophie

Yes, my grandmother gave birth to two sets of fraternal twins. None of them were even remotely alike physically or personality wise, but when one had an ache the other had a pain. The twin phenomenon is really spooky. I would call my cousins and ask if their mother had hurt her arm because my mother had pains there, and of course, she had. Aunt Sophie was strong willed, funny and basically grounded everyone else. Aunt Fritzie was a real sweetie pie. Always good humored and upbeat. She loved clothes and so would buy two of everything in different colors and then Aunt Sophie would take one. She would buy designer stuff, and once even called Paramount studios to find out where Doris Day got a sweater I own today. As a consequence of her marriage, Aunt Peppy was an Orthodox Jew and was very involved in the temple, Haddasah and other Jewish organizations.



the twins: Rose and Peppy
She made it her business to be in charge—except when Aunt Sophie was around. My mother was the baby so she didn’t have to do anything but look pretty and have fun. She and my dad were great at partying and were great dancers. Aunt Peppy and Aunt Sophie did all the housework and tasks my grandmother assigned. Expectations, as far as cooking or cleaning, were seriously limited for my mother and Aunt Fritzie. The other siblings, Betty, who was the eldest and kind of the queen, Sarah, who had polio as a child, and Helene, (one of my personal favorites), who was between all the twins, kind of filled in the blanks. Uncle Jack, generous and loving to a fault and the only male simply supervised his sisters, (without having to know anything) whenever they were assigned a task.

When my grandparents got old and infirmed, my Aunts took care of them. When my Aunts and Uncles got old or sick, the other Aunts took care of them. The idea of an old age home was never, and I mean never, part of the conversation. Do you remember the movie “Where’s Papa?” Every time George Segal tries to say the word ‘home’ for his father, he starts to choke. That was nothing in comparison to the way my family dealt with the idea. It was a “shonda” – an evil. Not one person in my family was ever in that kind of an institution. And I have, as you may have guessed, a pretty big family.

And so the expectations our parents had was that we would take care of them like they took care of their parents. But it was such a different time. And they all lived near one another. And there were so many siblings who didn’t work and felt it was in their job description to do whatever they needed to do for their sisters or brother or husbands. And for whatever reason, people didn’t seem to have lengthy illnesses, except for my dad who had multiple sclerosis, and although he was a quadriplegic, no one ever though of him as a sick person. And he died of complications not the disease, but he did it at home—as did almost everyone else.

And now I find myself, still being caregiver to my children, in a situation where my mother expects me to be caregiver to her. And to tell you the truth, I, like so many baby boomers, am not prepared to do that. I love my mom but I was never taught to do that.


the Sisters: Helen, Peppy, Sophie, Rose
In fact, in my family the children were protected from any bad news. I read literature about women who are giving up successful careers to return to their childhood homes in the middle of nowhere to care for their aged and sometimes, you should excuse the expression, demented parents. Remember not too long ago when women had to chose between family and career? Are we right back to square one, but with the older generation? My Aunt Sophie would never have expected anyone to give up their life to take care of her. My mother is quite the opposite and although it never seems to be enough, I’m doing the best I can. Which is why, I hesitantly admit that, yes this is a generational problem and we all need to think out of the box and find better alternatives, and I wish my mother was Aunt Sophie. We’re just sayin…Iris

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