They're squinting at their phones constantly. They forget their reading glasses so often, I recently considered ordering a portable pair to keep on me for them. They doze off during the evening news. They're at the dentist, or on the golf course whenever I call. Yup, my parents are getting older, and it can be hard to watch (even if it's also a little comical). I may roll my eyes when my dad turns the TV volume up so high our neighbors can hear it, or snicker to myself because my mom still wears a shower cap, but truthfully, I also worry about them. Because after every doctor's appointment, or when I hear a friend lost a parent, it's only natural to think about these three things as my parents get older.
- What life will be like without them.
Everyone worries from time to time that something will happen to their loved ones. But as my parents get older, it's no longer a matter of "if." Like every human on earth with the exception of (one of my favorite people) Betty White, my parents won't live forever. Still, that's incredibly scary. My whole life, my mom and dad have, well, been there. Even when I don't see them as often as I'd like, my parents are just a phone call away.
I watched my mom lose her mother, and the thing I remember most from her grief is when she said, "I just wish I could call her." I'm filled with sadness when I think that one day, I won't be able to text my mom with a quick question about thread count and sheets, or call and get her opinion on if I should join the PTO or have another baby. And what about when my father isn't around to counsel me on how I shouldn't be drinking wine at noon on a Sunday? OK, well, that I could do without, but you get what I mean.
It's disorienting to imagine what life would be like without my parents. I know I'll need to figure out who I am then, because I definitely won't be the same person. I hope we still have a long time together, but every day, aren't we all getting older? Sniff. Hold on. I gotta go call my mom.
- That I'm getting older, too.
OK, I'm back. As I said, as my parents age, so do I. The scary thing is that I remember my parents at my age, and they seemed so old! Of course, perspective is everything, and to a kid, 40 does seem old. Kind of like how I used to look at high school kids and think they were adults, and now they look like babies. I've started to consider my own mortality in parallel with that of my parents. The more grays I get, the more my skin appears crepey, the more lines that crop up around my eyes, the more I realize how quickly time is going by.
I mean, I turned around, and I'm older. I know I'll look in the mirror one day before I know it and see a truly old woman. Because as my grandmother said, "The older you get, the faster time goes." And I believe it! I'm not a girl with her whole life ahead of her any longer. The time to do what I want to do is now. I shouldn't put off going after my goals, like writing that book and traveling to New Zealand (OK, that one will have to wait since I have a 9-month-old, and holy long flight). Just like I should not put off taking that trip to visit my mom and dad.
- That our roles are starting to reverse.
As my parents age, I see that they need more support. Not only physically (like when the grandparents fall asleep on the couch and I have to repeatedly shush my kids and ask them to please, please not to put stickers on grandpa's face!) but in dealing with various aspects of their lives, from health issues, to making big decisions on where they should live next. I can see how that balance will continue to shift as time goes on. And I'm happy to step up and lend a hand after everything they've done for me, but I'm feeling wistful witnessing how much is changing between us. I used to call them crying when I felt overwhelmed with the kids (OK, I still do that), and now, my mother is the one who's reaching out because she's lonely. Or, to regale me with their latest health odyssey.
It's draining to worry about your parents' well-being. I feel for anyone who is at the next stage, perhaps caring for an elderly parent, or having to make decisions about their living situation. I know that'll be me one day, and to be honest, I just wish things could be different — that my parents could stay nimble in mind and never become physically or emotionally fragile. Since that's not possible, I'll just hope for strength and courage to support them in their older years, and hopefully set a good example so my children will do the same for me!