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Jim Bishop | Going full circle: Parent-child roles are reversed

Day by day, we are all on the same journey of aging, with certain events and experiences providing stark reminders of this reality.
Here we were, my wife Anna and I visiting my mom, Ann Dayton Bishop, at Rockhill Mennonite Community near Sellersville, Pa., over the Christmas-New Years holidays. It’s been her home for about nine years after vacating the humble abode on Old Easton Road that had been the Bishop homestead since 1962.

Wife Anna and I sat in the dining room that serves her floor and, for the first time, I spoon-fed Mom her lunch. It wasn’t hard to do, but the food items were pureed to aid her difficulty in swallowing. Her food didn’t look all that appetizing, but she ate most portions and especially relished washing it down with the “chocolate milkshake” in a plastic-coated carton.

It wasn’t too long ago, was it, that I sat in a wooden high chair that is still in the family and Mom fed me strained comestibles, either from glass jars (Gerbers) or veggies compressed in a food strainer that hooked to the edge of the kitchen table.

I scanned the room during the meal, and it appeared to me like most of Mom’s fellow residents were in worse condition, physically or otherwise. Most needed assistance with eating; one woman started crying loudly in the middle of her meal with no apparent provocation; another kept falling asleep between bites.

Rockhill residents are not ignored; that’s apparent. Staff is on duty 24 hours a day, and, especially in this skilled nursing unit, attend to occupants in ways that I know I couldn’t do day after day. I admire their commitment to their charges.

For most residents, their quality of life is pretty much found wanting, including for my Mom, I thought to myself. She’s the same person, but not the mother that I’ve known for so many years. Missing is the high energy level and the outgoing sparkling personality, not to forgot the incredible culinary artistry and hospitality that were her trademarks. She has difficulty reading and spends large blocks of time watching the Nature Channel on TV, sitting and staring into space.

But, she still looks after her physical appearance and to me is still radiates an inner beauty despite her numerous physical ills. I’m grateful that I’m able to tell her, “I love you, Mom,” and she replies, “I love you, too. You’re one of my four favorite sons.”

It’s not morbid, I believe, to say that Mom could be with us for a long time to come or she could suddenly depart this life to join Dad, who died in early 1998. Her mother, my Grandma Dayton, was in fairly decent health, but died peacefully in her sleep at age 84; Mom is 87

Even as I reflected on this, word comes that Anna’s mother, Edna Mast, passed away on Sunday evening, Jan. 11, at Landis Homes near Lititz, Pa. She was 96, in fairly good physical condition until recently, but pretty much out of it mentally.

Mom Mast was ready to cross over the river and to reunite with her spouse of 60-plus years, Alvin Mast, who died in 2000 at age 88. Now, both Anna’s parents are gone, leaving an indelible mark on their progeny and many others who were touched by their exemplary lives.

Last October, I attended my 45-year high school reunion and enjoyed an unhurried evening of fellowship and reminiscing with fellow classmates. We talked one-on-one and had animated conversation around tables on many topics, but kept returning to health-related themes.

Many in our group had either lost or were caring for parents who were in poor health. Beyond that, I was struck by how many of my peers had dealt with serious health situations – heart attacks, strokes, spinal injuries, breast cancer and West Nile Virus survivors or had undergone hip or knee replacements.

I trust it’s not improper to say that I don’t want to spend my final years in some immobile or semi-comatose state, yearning to cross over to the Great Beyond. I pray that I might spend many years ahead with my good companion Anna, to accomplish some worthwhile things in retirement and to see what my grandkids make of their lives.

I never was very good at acting my age, but as the years roll by and more extended family and friends depart this life, I desire more than ever to make the most of each day given to me, to age grayfully and to be ready at any time to meet my Maker.


– Column by Jim Bishop