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Too Old to Parent?

Parenting: The Sequel

Mother of 13 -- and Still Not Off Duty continued...

For each chemotherapy treatment, Annie made the drive from her home in Augusta, Ga., to Atlanta and stayed with Mary Ellen a week at a time. One of her other daughters, Margaret, accompanied her on the majority of these trips. But it was Annie who set the schedule and tone of the day, keeping everybody moving like clockwork, assigning tasks and duties.

Mary Ellen's illness hit Annie hard, and she rearranged her entire life to care for her. Still, she will say little about how much she has contributed. "I'm not cleaning up Mary Ellen's vomit to be a hero," she says.

Dealing With the Stress

Psychotherapist Marianne Hunt, who works with seniors in her Los Angeles practice, says, "It's critical to acknowledge the illness and not to minimize the incredible amount of stress, on a practical and emotional level, for both the parent and the adult child. The parent must also walk a fine line to honor the child's way of coping."

"But don't be afraid to ask for help," she says. "Make sure you get enough support."

When Sophie Pipkin was further wiped out by the six months of tetracycline treatment, she needed meals, laundry, transportation, snacks at odd hours, and help to accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Since, she has slowly regained some of her energy.

Getting on With Life

Grace says that when Sophie was beginning to recover enough to consider the future, it became evident that she would not be able to return to the demanding schedule and long hours of law practice. Instead, she started keeping a journal at Grace's suggestion and began to find the energy to write for a short time in the mornings. A few of her literary essays have won awards, and she is now beginning to work seriously as a writer, as her health allows.

"We talk about writing a lot," Grace, a fiction writer herself, says. "We share ideas and books. Sophie goes to any readings that are during her few hours of energy. Twice, our work has been anthologized in the same volumes, and because she couldn't stretch her energy enough to perform at readings, I read her work.

"There are still those moments without hope -- but never self-pity," says Grace. To cope, Grace writes her fiction and focuses on her three grandchildren. In turn, the grandchildren adore their Aunt Sophie, who creates art projects for them. Grace adds that Sophie has never demanded so much of her attention that she could not find some time for herself.

"There are times when she meets former classmates and their babies, moments when the Harvard alumni magazine arrives and she reads about the professional successes of her classmates -- when she's certain she will never fight her way out of this," Grace says. "We listen, we tell her, yes, she's gotten a lousy deal, and then we try to be upbeat, to make lemonade out of her lemons and then to sweeten it. Sometimes we feel choked by the aftertaste."

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