In the olden days in my home country, it’s said that poor families used to practice elder-dumping. There was even a designated dumping ground they called the Obasuteyama: literally, Granny-Dumping Mountain. (Don’t believe me? Watch the 1999 film Ikitai.)
I’m ready for a trip to Obasuteyama. With both my parents.
Here’s the situation. They live in Japan; their four children don’t. Three of us live in New Jersey; the youngest is moving to Hong Kong, which at least puts him in their time zone. My mom’s in the advanced stages of multiple cancers, and my pop has a variety of senior ailments that recently landed him in the hospital for a month. He arrived home yesterday, but with his mobility greatly compromised.
My younger brother Ken is there right now with them to ease the transition. Mom is understandably distressed at having to care for Pop after my brother leaves while she herself undergoes hard-core chemo. Yet she refuses to agree to live-in help—for now.
Caring for elderly parents long-distance is a growing problem for thousands of Americans, particularly Boomers. I’ve blogged before about it in connection to a CNN report on the topic (so thank you, friends, but you don’t need to send me the link again).
And I’m hardly alone in the super-long-distance category. According to the Census, 33.5 million in the U.S. are foreign-born, which makes up 11.7% of the population. If you presume many of their parents remain abroad, that’s a lot of us who care for parents many thousands of miles away.
Like many big employers, mine offers services like emergency in-home care for elderly or sick parents. I’m pretty sure they won’t fly a home aide 8,000 miles to our home in Kobe, though. And of course there’s FMLA, which allows employees of large companies up to 12 weeks off unpaid to manage personal issues like this one. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. But I’m pretty sure my employer won’t arrange round-the-clock childcare in my absence, or overseas prenatal care, or counseling for my worried husband.
Here’s another concern my Japanese grandmother would rightly call selfish: I’m also sure my absence would torpedo the assignments I’ve worked really hard to snag. It’s enough that I’ve got maternity leave looming; taking a few months off to care for my parents preceding that leave will doubtless gouge a chunk out of my output this year.
It’s a lousy dilemma and one that cuts through my already addled concentration like a hot knife through butter. I’ve had a crap day putting out fires (see correction below; that’s just one), and all I can think about is how we can help get my parents through this mess. And you can save your indignant comments, friends: no one in my family is dumping anyone anywhere, though we keep telling our Pop that’s the plan.
Never mind Obasuteyama for my folks; I think I need to spend a week up on some deserted mountaintop myself.