The elderly father of a friend of mine recently had cancer surgery. During the time around the operation, my friend, his four brothers, and their wives all took turns waiting on their mother, keeping Dad's spirits up, contributing to a webpage designed to keep their family and friends up-to-date on Dad's condition, and generally sharing the responsibility.
When my friend told me about all this, I was especially struck by the role that Dad's daughters-in-law played. A couple of them sounded particularly close to him. They carried a good deal of the load of caring and, when necessary, being firm.
It was an inspiring story. But for me, it was also a bit depressing. No family looks forward to the time of its life when the kids need to take care of the parents. But it would be a much more pleasant prospect to look forward to if I had a helpmate to share it with, or if my brothers had partners that could be relied on in a crunch. Unfortunately, one of my sisters-in-law hates my parents with a fanatical passion, and the other is a bit of a mess.
Then there is the matter of my brothers themselves. One of them, although married and the father of a beautiful little girl, can hardly take care of himself (a description that also goes for his wife). At this point I can't even imagine him growing up to the point where he can take care of someone else. It seems much more likely that, when it comes time for Mom to lean on someone, I'll end up supporting my youngest brother as well.
The middle boy, divorced, also a parent, has proven much more adept at taking care of himself. He's turned it into an art-form, actually. But will he ever be able to help me care for Mom? I would like to hope that he'll surprise me.
I feel sad for my Mom when I think about this. How much good can one slob bachelor do for her, with or without the "help" of one world-class narcissist and one borderline personality disorder? As for my Dad and/or Stepmom, the prospect is even more lonely. Neither of my brothers has any relationship with them--one as a result of his own choices, the other because they're not even related to him.
I want to be there for them. But at the same time, it's a lonely prospect when nobody is going to be there for me. It's a downside of living in an age of shrinking families, broken families, geographically dislocated families. And it is above all a downside of being a confirmed bachelor with dwindling chances of ever being anything but.