Over the last few weeks I have had posts that have celebrated some of the fond memories of vacationing with our kids and my history of moving while growing up. It was fun to look back and remember as part of my satisfying retirement.
Unfortunately, there is another type of memory that is part of life. For many of us one of the most traumatic events in life is the eventual death of our parents. There have been countless books written and movies made about the long-lasting effect of that loss. No matter how old we are or how long our parents live, we are never ready for that sense of being alone.
Probably just as difficult is watching the mental and physical decline that usually precedes death. If I could ask God to change one thing in his master plan, it would probably be to change how human beings decay away. Wouldn't it be better to simply drop by the side of the road or not wake up after a nap without having to endure our minds and bodies failing us? Since that change isn't likely to happen, we have to prepare ourselves for our parents or relatives to endure the ravages of time.
A few years ago I wrote about this process as my mom was declining in ways that would eventually claim her life in December of 2010. I am reusing some of those thoughts along with additions that come from looking back over the 19 months since her passing.
Watching the physical and mental decline is not an easy thing to accept. In many societies the norm is for one or both parents to live with one of the children and their family. While there can be tremendous positives in a multi-generational household, it does come with major risks and headaches.
In America it is much more likely that a nursing home or long-term care facility will be the end destination. There are probably many reasons why this is our standard way of dealing with aging parents. But, even that scenario certainly doesn't promise a stress-free period.
My mom was in one of the finer facilities in the area. It provided three-level care, though mom moved directly from independent living to the nursing center without a stop at assisted living. She and dad tried to stay in their apartment as long as possible but it finally became too dangerous for both of them. The transition was smooth and the nurses in the health center were as gracious and compassionate as one could hope for. All of her physical needs were met, and then some.
But, no matter how nice the facility or how caring the staff, to watch your parent end up in a 12 x 15 foot room, with a bed, TV, dresser, nightstand and chair is tough. Mom's life had shrunk to a space with no more room than a freshman in a college dorm. As she deteriorated she couldn't even use the chair or see the TV.
Dad spent most of his days, in the chair, in the room with his wife. For the most part his life started to shut down along with hers. He skipped many choir practices and church services so his wife of 63 years wouldn't be left alone. His back became a constant source of pain after mom fell on him at one point and he hurt himself trying to pick her up. Of course, sitting in a chair 6 hours a day near her bed didn't help. He refused to see a doctor since that would mean worrying her and not being in the room.
Since her death, he has resumed singing and going to church, but has never consented to dealing with his back pain. Most of his days are now spent reading paperback novels he grabs by the handful from the local library. The weekly lunch visits by Betty and me, an occasional haircut, and the days he does his laundry are the highlights of his life. His purpose for 63 years was mom. With her gone he has lost the wind beneath his wings and is simply marking time. It is sad to think of him simply existing, not living. But, he resists every single attempt to add something back into his life.
What do I miss most about mom in the nearly two years when she was too sick or infirmed to be my mom? It is the little things that pop into my head. She was the person I could always ask for the answer to a tricky grammar question. Is it lay or lie? Is it who or whom? I could pick up the phone and have the answer. This blog certainly contains grammatical mistakes she would have corrected.
She was the one wanting all the details of our vacation plans, or what has been going on the girls' lives. She loved sitting in our backyard and enjoying the flowers and stillness. She called it her private resort. Bring her a cup of coffee and she was completely satisfied. She wanted to know what books I was reading and what I thought of the authors. She would make sure everyone had sent thank you notes after Christmas.
She was interested in what we were interested in...because it was important to us. She had that ability to both empathize and relate based on the other person's needs, not her own.
In his own way Dad is teaching me lessons. Certainly a dedication to your partner, regardless of health or hassles, is part of the deal. It is what you do without questions or complaints.
He is also teaching me, without knowing it, the importance of having individual interests and passions. If someone lives his entire adult life just being a support for someone else, when that support is removed there is nothing to continue to prop that person up except basic survival. I don't want that to be my end game if Betty goes before me.
Parents teach us many things in life, starting from the day we are born. The lessons, both direct and indirect continue as long as we live. Even with mom gone and dad existing in his easy chair, there are lessons being transferred.
Is this part of a satisfying retirement? Of course. It is part of life. Learning to accept it for what it is part of the bargain.
Note: I've had to turn on comment moderation due to a huge increase in spam-type comments. I hope you understand.