Fifty Plus: Aging parents

aging parentsWe just get our kids through college, we have a wedding or two, we have a few grandchildren, we are in debt, we think it’s finally our time, and then our parents get old.

If we’re fortunate enough to have our parents into their twilight years, we don’t notice the aging at first.  For the Baby Boomers, our parents are the “Greatest Generation.”  They survived hard times, they paid off their mortgage in fifteen years or less, they had no debt, and they were frugal.  They are supposed to be invincible.  They are supposed to stay healthy and energetic.  They are supposed to live forever.  They aren’t and they don’t.

There is a point when our parents simply cannot go on as they used to.  It is a burden for us.  I say this lovingly.  Besides distance, finances, our own careers, our spare time, it is emotionally and mentally exhausting.  We watch our once robust parents deteriorate.  Sometimes we deal with multiple aging parents and in-laws at the same time.  Aging parents is not a topic that can be explained in one column.  At best, I can merely address it from personal experience.

Today is the one year anniversary of my father’s death.  I’ve learned a lot in this past year of reflection.  At first, I simply refused to acknowledge that my father was aging and needed assistance.  My father was independent until the last two years of his life.  He started to decline when he was 83-years-old.  He lived in Florida so I didn’t see him on a daily basis.  I could tell from telephone calls and conversations that he was starting to gradually decline but I didn’t want to accept it.

I pleaded with him to live with us in Virginia.  My father, like all in that generation, was a proud man.  He would not accept help.  He told me he preferred the climate in Florida.  I believed that but what an easy way out for him.  Fortunately, my father was able to get around until his last hospitalization.  It was unbearable to put him in assisted living.  He didn’t resist and I should have known he was close to the end.  He died four days later.

If you are dealing with aging parents that now need your help, I can only impart a little bit of what I did, what I should have done and what has helped me.  Allow your parents their dignity.  Be patient especially with yourself.  Call on your siblings, extended family, and friends for help.  Research medical ailments your parents are suffering.  Go with them to medical appointments.  Be informed.  Ask for guidance from counselors and members of the clergy.  Be aware of their finances.  If your parents simply cannot be left unattended, it is safer to have them in assisted living or a nursing home.  It will break your heart.  Visit them often.  Tell them you love them.  No matter how well you think you can prepare yourself for their last breath, you can’t.

This is the price we pay for advanced medical technology and active parents from the “Greatest Generation.”  We have them for a long time and expect them to live indefinitely.  The human body is a machine that can only go on for a limited time.  I was told “high mileage.”  I like that analogy.

When parents take their last breaths, allow yourself time to grieve and mourn.  There is no timeline for how long it will take.  You will smile and laugh again.  You will always remember them.  In time, the memories come without tears.

Today I will celebrate my father’s life.  I no longer criticize myself.  There is no more I “should have” or I “could have.”  I am confident that what I did for him in the end was the best I could do.

– Column by Linda R. Jones

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