Aging parents. This is what is on my mind of late.
It is on my mind quite a lot, too. Like all the time. Like whether I am awake or asleep, working or exercising, running errands or cleaning turtle poop off the carpet.
The other day I told my boyfriend I feel like one of those just-completed jigsaw puzzles that gets broken up and dumped back into the can and then shaken really well so as not to leave behind any hints about which piece goes with which other piece.
It is not a comfortable feeling. Ever since the hurricane Harvey house flooding fiasco (and you can read more about that in this blog post), my parents and I have been joined at the hip in the most unusual ways.
Harvey has precipitated the kind of family activities that typically only take place after a parent passes. For instance, we have worked side by side to strip their home of decades (and my childhood home) down to bare walls and floorboards, making decisions about what to keep and what to pitch in a fever of confusion and grief we know will not lift until long after the time has passed for us to change our minds about any of it.
And I will never forget the night when, a couple of weeks after Harvey forced my folks to relocate to a nearby hotel, the three of us (plus our puppy) were sitting in their hotel room sorting through papers and receipts.
My mom kind of tripped over a small file case. She peered down at it and then casually mentioned to my dad, “Oh that’s our death stuff, isn’t it.”
Oh sure. Yah. The death stuff. No big deal.
I have learned there is something unique about losing your home that instantly puts all topics back on the table. “Death” is no longer that word you spell out around small children (or aging parents). You just say it. And when you do, no one bats an eyelash.
Brass tacks topics like bank balances and beneficiaries are discussed while standing in line at the single-serve (but delicious) hotel coffee machine in the morning.
Personal subjects, too, finally enjoy their special moment in the limelight….often over shared meals and during other equally (formerly) inappropriate moments.
From digestion to doctor’s visits, anxiety to interpersonal conflict, it makes no sense to hold anything back when everything you have ever owned, literally, is sitting out on your front lawn awaiting the FEMA waste disposal truck.
What is so interesting (terrifying) about all this is how, somehow, I didn’t really notice my parents aging until now.
I wasn’t ready, but it happened anyway and now the tables have turned. At a time when I feel like I still need them, now they need me.
Suddenly, in their eyes when they look at me, they finally see a mature, capable adult who can solve complex problems (especially if they involve the computer!) and be a voice of reason, a tie-breaker, a dog walker, a relocation organizer, a heartache soother.
When I look at me, I still see a cowering 5-year-old.
I am doing my level best to roll with it and fake being the person they need and believe me to be until (hopefully one day, and sooner rather than later) I actually become that person.
But it isn’t easy. I am not ready. And I don’t know if I ever will be.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you had to face the reality of aging parents at a time when you had previously assumed it was still years away from happening? What was that experience like for you? Did you feel sometimes like your roles had reversed? How did you cope and what helped you get through it and be there for them in the way they needed you to be? I’d love to hear about your experiences!