When time gets away from me it typically means I am super busy or completely distracted. Right now it is November 30th, 2011 6:16 pm est. I am sitting on a plane heading west to California. I have been in Ontario, Canada as well as Detroit, Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Between the tears that are running down my cheeks and the abbreviated breaths that go in and out as if I have hiccups, I am not doing well. For the past five days I have been exclusively with my parents who are both in their eighties. The couple that I call mom and dad. The pair that brought me into this world. The ones who guided me through the years and the roots from which I grown to be the person I am. This brief time with them has taken me to a new place in my life, a place that I have not wanted to visit, accept or deal with…aging parents.
Most of my life I have lived with the idea that I would be ready for what I have just gone through. My plan was that I would be strong and stoic. I had no idea the scope of emotions that come with the reality of a person drifting away. The ones you have known for so long. The ones you can count on with what they will say or do no matter what. A comfort of knowing what was, is now changing.
A while ago I witnessed my parents journey of the aging process with my grandparents, and when I look back I didn’t take into account what they must have gone through until now. I didn’t imagine what it must have been like for them to let their parents go. I never thought about what it must have felt like. My guess would be alone, taking charge, scared, relieved…is that how they felt? Why hadn’t I ever asked? When my grandparents, Gaga, Papa and Oma (I never knew my father’s father) passed, I grieved about them not being here anymore. The smell of Papa’s pipe with the Detroit Tigers baseball game playing in the background. The flicking of Gaga’s wrist while she sat shot gun next to Papa as we drove back from vacations. Us kids in the back snickering while we watched the wrist go up and down. The high standard of ethics, manners and morals that my Oma bestowed upon me and all of her grandchildren, that has thankfully stayed with me until today. And yet, I still can’t ask my parents about it.
It never registered with me all the time that my mother spent with her aging relatives what she must have been going through. Was I just not mature enough to ask how she was doing? How she was feeling? Was she sad to see them drift away, never to return, except for just the memories? Am I still not mature enough or is it that I am too afraid about hearing how it feels to lose a parent?
After spending these few days at home, I have been forced to open this chapter that I guess you just have to step up to the plate and deal with. Do I wish I had spent more family dinners asking my dad what it was like when he started out? How he asked my mom to marry him, his first job, how they planned to raise my brother and I? I wish so bad that I had asked. I know I am just like others out there where we just get through what we need to get through. The hurry up holidays, the dreaded birthday dinner, the family reunion and the I gotta go I have another call.
This time I was able to take a few baby steps. I asked personal questions like what are you feeling? Are you scared? How can I help? I also found myself saying things like; this is all normal and we all will be on this exact same road. I wanted them to know that I can make things easier. I wanted them to know that I want to help.
We take for granted all the things that we have done for most of our lives by ourselves. Like standing up and walking, engaging long conversations or tying your shoes. What you can’t imagine is something as simple as having a brush at the end of an ice scraper and my dad using hisnhand instead to wipe off the snow on the windshield. Climbing up the stairs sideways or forgetting what letter comes next mid signature. Hard to conceive, but this will be you one day.
As I take in where my parents are right now in their journey of life I pray that they stay safe. I pray that they will know when it is time to reach out to my brother and I for guidance.
As a parent myself I know it is early on when kids leave the nest. Relinquishing the need to do for them is emotionally hard especially when it comes at the parallel time your parents need you back in the roost. Selfishly, I want my kids to need my help. This is one way I get to go back in time to relive what I did and how I did it, where I went and what I felt. So much fun to share. However, diving into medicare, taking the car keys away and negotiating the plus sides of assisted living is not cheery. I have no experience with this and obviously something that I am having a hard time facing.
I have no idea as to what is next while I sit in seat 38A I just know that I am sad. I could barely talk about my kids with my dad as I didn’t want to know if he did or heaven forbid didn’t remember their names. It sucks getting old as the body begins to not function like we have grown accustomed to. I can’t imagine the frustration that both my parents are experiencing.
As you read this think about those around you who may be encountering the ticking clock. Take in as much as you can. Be patient and compassionate. Gain nuggets of knowledge from simple conversations that will last the rest of your lifetime.
Keep in mind that you too will reach this seniority status and you will want someone to be there to hold your hand.
I love you mom and dad.
Thank you for teaching me to live a better life.
Since this post my dad passed away. RIP Dad, I will always love you.