I have aging parents.
They are 78 and 76.
So when Ashley from It’s Fitting sent me this post last week, it hit home – a little too close. Watching our parents age is, I think, one of the most difficult things one can go through. She sums up so well all of the feelings I’ve had over the last ten years.
Read Ashley’s Story
I was living in LA when I got the call.
“Ash, your Dad has Parkinson’s.”
I sat there in stunned silence, disbelief. We knew that something had been wrong, thought maybe a stroke, or just slowing down with age a little bit. But the diagnosis was in, staring me in the face. Parkinson’s… My Dad… Parkinson’s… Shit.
It was the first time in my life that my parent’s mortality flashed before my eyes. That there was a diagnosis for one of them that would carry them through the rest of their lives. Something that wouldn’t ever go away. Something that would cause an eventual decline in all of their faculties, until the end.
I moved home to be with them but it was hard, moving back in after having been gone for years at college and in Los Angeles. I was adrift, unclear on the future and what this diagnosis meant short and long term for my father’s health. Then 2 months after I moved home, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yeah, it was one of THOSE years…
I felt selfish, concerned with how all this was going to affect me and the rest of my life. I was scared, faced with the questions that come as our parents age. What will happen? What kind of care are they going to need? What am I going to do without them? I was an only child, single, no boyfriend, no family of my own and I was scared at the prospect of being alone in the world. I was so scared of a future without them.
My mother recovered. A long summer of a double mastectomy and reconstruction. A long summer of taking care of HER for a change, the roles reversed. Taking her to doctor’s appointments, making them both meals, nurturing and providing for them like they always did for me.
My father’s illness has taken a different course than we expected. For years the Parkinson’s only resulted in a little slow-down, a tremor here and there and dyskinesia from the meds. But the emotional toll on everyone has been heavy. I dealt with all of it, the anger and frustration from my mother that Dad can’t do the same things anymore, that he is more forgetful and off balance and oh-so stubborn about his limitations. I have dealt with the emotion from my father, his grief at seeing his own decline, his own mortality looming large. All this while meeting the man who became my husband, getting married and having two children.
It’s been ten years since that initial diagnosis. Ten years of anger and frustration, of heartbreak. Ten years later and the disease has crawled instead of run. His decline has been so, so very slow and we know we are lucky. But lately, it’s begun to speed up, to manifest itself more markedly. And we’ve started to ask the hard questions of what the future may hold. Where will they live in a few years? What are realistic expectations for what he will be able to do? How do you tell him that it’s time to take away his license, his ability to get away and control his own life?
As our parents age, the roles reverse. We are the caretakers now, the ones who bear the heavy load of responsibility. We do it willingly and with love, but the change is hard and heartbreaking and doesn’t come without a fight. They grasp for the right to control their own lives, get angry at our “interference” and we argue. So many words, spoken in anguish and frustration. So many feelings and emotions. So hard to see the people that were your whole world growing up, grow smaller, weaker, more in need of help.
The only thing to do is carry on. To communicate with each other about the future. Candor may be uncomfortable, but is key so you know what they want from the rest of their lives. Conversations that you never wanted to have with your parents must be had…
And all you can do is hold on a little tighter, a little longer and keep loving them like they’ve always loved you.
Ashley is the creator of It’s Fitting, the place where she blogs about life as the big city girl who moved to a small chicken town and got… you guessed it, chickens. 2 kids, 6 chickens and a dying veggie garden later, she’s a major supporter (read: consumer) of the wine industry.
Watch Women Discuss Coping With Aging Parents
Now that you’ve read Ashley’s story, watch the live discussion we had on this very topic. It’s one you won’t want to miss.
Ashley Fitting | http://www.its-fitting.com
Carolyn West | http://www.thistalkaintcheap.com
Sili Recio | http://www.mymamihood.com
Diedre Smith | http://www.jdaniel4smom.com
Alli Ward | http://www.diapers-n-heels.com/