Last week was a tough one for my parents and me. The three of us are learning, as we explore this aging business, that it’s rarely easy. Or, as my dad likes to joke, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”
There are stages in the process. Sometimes they creep up gradually, giving both the older person and the caregiver time to adjust to the changes. But sometimes those earlier stages are preempted by illness or an accident, throwing both parties into the fray with little preparation or warning.
If you’ve read my earlier post about my parents’ health you will know that we hit it hard and fast. Dad was misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer and Mom had a stroke a few months afterward. It’s pretty incredible how protective you get of your parents when they’re struggling to survive. For me, my mothering instincts kicked into overdrive.
Dad was hospitalized last December and I flew out to be with them. Mom was exhausted from staying with Dad in the hospital and the night before I arrived, she had to go home and get some sleep. She couldn’t know that Dad would stay up most of the night praying that God wouldn’t give up on him. He was that close to dying but had such a strong will to live. And he felt more alone than he ever had before. He told me all of this the next morning when I spoke to him before I left my home to go to the airport. I was so grateful that he kept talking because I was sobbing and couldn’t have responded if he’d asked me a question. I never wanted him to feel alone like that again.
Fast forward nine months and here we are. Dad and Mom now live less than fifteen minutes away from me. I see them almost every day. They are semi-independent now. They own a home in a small town and both of them are improving, health-wise, every day. Dad is 80; Mom is 73. Things are settling into a routine, but everything has changed.
Last week I spent one entire day cleaning and reorganizing their basement. There were several boxes left to unpack and everything needed to be rearranged to make the areas livable. I did almost all of it by myself. Mom and/or Dad would come down every once in a while but Mom would look around and get overwhelmed (a lingering aftereffect of her stroke) and have to leave, apologizing to me over and over about it. Dad would come down and wander around fiddling with this or that for a bit before he returned to the main floor. His obsession was finding a cord so he could set up his printer in his office. We eventually went through every cord in his impressive collection without finding what he needed. (I found it upstairs in the guest room just before I left that evening. He’d told me repeatedly that he’d just seen it earlier in the day. I don’t know why it was on the guest room bed.)
My reward was seeing the looks on their faces when they came downstairs just before ten that night. Mom was so excited and I could tell how relieved she was to have it done. The little touches, like unpacking some of their knick-knacks and hanging pictures, etc, on the walls made such a difference. They sat on the couch in one of the living areas and watched the news while I finished dusting. We talked and laughed, enjoying the moment. Finding the joy.
Also last week, Mom had two doctor’s appointments. I went with them to both. It’s an hour drive, each way, from their home to the city. Both days I drove so that Mom could study for her driver’s exam to get her new license. On Friday I brought my tablet along so that she could take practice tests. She kept taking them (there are over 500 questions and each test consists of 25 so you can take test after test and not have the same questions) until she felt like she knew it well enough to pass the exam.
Note to self: NEVER go to get your driver’s license on a Friday afternoon. Dad and I waited in the car for TWO HOURS before Mom came back out. She’d passed but the lines were so long that it took a while for her to take the test and then another while before she could get her picture taken for the license. She was frazzled and exhausted when she got in the car. The entire next day she was still wiped out.
I was pretty tired by then myself. In addition to helping out my parents, I still have to take care of my family—my husband and two younger daughters still living at home. They’ve been pretty awesome at sharing me, by the way.
On Friday, as I was driving home, I was tired from the exhausting week, but as I looked at my dear parents, I thanked God again that they were here with me. I have new responsibilities toward them now. I cook, I clean, I help with their finances, I go with them to their doctor’s appointments, and do whatever else they need me to do. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is how much I love them. No. That’s not true. It has changed. I love them more. Every. Single. Day.
Joy! My cup is overflowing with gratitude. I don’t know what the future holds, but right now I have my parents nearby. After 29 years of seeing each other only two weeks out of the year, these days are precious to all of us. Joy-full!