I’ve gone through various stages with my parents in their aging process. These last couple of weeks have taken me to a whole new level. I keep thinking of a quote from Kalil Gibran’s The Prophet – “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” It’s not exactly sorrow that’s carving deep into me now, but understanding, empathy and perhaps a kind of acceptance of this mysterious thing we call life (particularly the old age part) that takes us on so many different paths.I’ve seen one or the other of my parents grapple with the aging process for many years. The body doesn’t work as well as it used to, there are more aches and pains, hearing goes, perhaps sight. How do you find quality of life or joy when this happens? For some years my mother used to say to me, “Don’t get old.” It always bothered me. I thought that she wasn’t really thinking about what she was saying, and I believed that if she had a better attitude she would have a better aging. Finally, one day I got so annoyed that I responded, “So you want me to die young?” After that she didn’t say those words as often and for a few years now I’ve rarely heard her say it.
I don’t recall my father saying much about what he couldn’t do. Even after he lost a lot of his hearing, had to have an artificial eye and lost most of the sight in the other, he still walked nearly every day – to get the mail or around the town where he lives. People said to me that they saw him walking. Sometimes someone would ask him if he wanted a ride, but he’d always refuse, though he liked to stop and chat with people. That’s the kind of attitude I want to have.In the last few years I’ve seen my father become more crotchety at times, particularly with my mother. This however, didn’t surprise me because I find her constant talking, and at times nagging, annoying myself. She doesn’t realize that since he can’t hear very well, even with his hearing aids, long rambling monologues are pretty much incomprehensible. He doesn’t know when she’s saying something that he has to pay attention to or when she’s just rambling.
I’ve always had a more difficult relationship with my mother and aging has made it even harder. However, these last couple of weeks with my father first being in hospital for a week and a half, and then going into temporary respite to get assessed, have made me at least try to see my mother differently, and to try to have more patience with her. I can see her as an elderly woman who needs my help through a difficult time. Her behaviours may annoy me, but I can put that annoyance aside most of the time and just do what needs to be done. I can sometimes smile at habits that drove me up a wall in the past. This is not to say that I still don’t get weary or annoyed. Silence (mine) is a key coping mechanism.My parents chose to keep living in the small town where we moved when I was in grade eight. I and at least one of my siblings suggested they move to the city when they retired, but they resisted. As they grew older and needed more medical attention – doctor, dentist, optometrist, ophthalmologist – I thought that they had definitely made the wrong decision to stay there. They had stopped being able to drive and had about a two hour bus ride into the city for many of their medical appointments. Of course, I ended up picking them up at the bus station and driving them to their appointments. One of my brothers was able to do this for a time, but he didn’t always live in the city. Though I could have let them look after their own affairs in this respect, because after all they had made this choice to live where they did, and the difficulties were logical consequences of that choice, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. No matter what issues I had with them, they were and are still my parents and I feel a duty or a responsibility to help make things a little easier.
I think I’ve at least begun to move beyond resentment and my own negative feelings. I do what I do for them out of choice. And I do what I can; I won’t go to the point of exhausting myself. It’s a balance. I also have seen how much that small town takes care of its seniors. Someone will bring my mother her mail once a week. People have given her rides to visit my father when I couldn’t be there. The grocery store delivers. The pharmacy will, too. It’s not the sort of situation I would choose to live in now or in older age, but it seems to have worked and still works for my parents.Through all this, as I’m attempting to do what I can for them, I’m also conscious that I must take care of myself (get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, do things I love). And I’m learning about the aging process, seeing different attitudes toward it, different ways of behaving. I’m hoping that will stand me in good stead as I move through my sixth decade, into my seventh and beyond.