As my parents get older I’ve found myself caring more for them like they cared for me growing up. I’m their advocate, their care giver, their cook, their encourager and their maid/chauffeur/errand girl. As I get deeper into this role my husband said “Very interesting that you have to care for your parents even though they’ve been around a long time. It’s like they have reverted back to being children.”
I began to think about that. I don’t think they are reverting back to being children, and it doesn’t matter that they know HOW to do things. But I do have some thoughts about why this interesting phenomena occurs. Here’s a short list:
1) They’re tired. My mom is 72 and my dad will soon be 70. That’s a lot of years. My parents have been married (my mom married, divorced, married again), had children (mom had several miscarriages), raised two children (one the picture of perfection, the other not-so-much… guess which one I am?), been through at least 10 different jobs between them, suffered lay-offs, illness, numerous wars, had to scrape and save, survived their daughter getting through college, barely survived their daughter moving back in… TWICE, buried loved ones and various dogs, seen their own parents grow old and die, watched their siblings grow old and some die, watched their friends grow old and some die… My dad has heart issues and high blood pressure. My mom has emphysema/COPD. They’re both on more medications than I can keep track of – and which change frequently and go up in price more often – while their paychecks remain the same. Holy crap. I’m just tired writing all this. They LIVE it. For 70 years!
2) Technology. When they were born there weren’t computers or cell phones. Hell, they only had one phone line! You certainly didn’t call any further than down the street and phones didn’t come with touch screens. Seeing who you were talking to meant going to their house – not “Skype-ing” with them. (My mom probably doesn’t even know what that is.) My mother went outside to the bathroom as a child. (But she complains the house is too cold now…) They didn’t get a television – black & white, 2-3 channels – until she was almost a teenager! Dad didn’t have one until much later because they were pretty poor. Now they each have a computer. There are 3 TVs in the house and 4 phones. (Not to mention their cell phones.) Their main TV is the size of me. With over 150 channels. (But my dad pretty much just watches “Gunsmoke” all day long.) Keeping up with all this technology has worn them out.
My dad simply wanted me to make a phone call today. A phone call. Nothing fancy. But with the “press this” and “hold please” age – he’s had it. “You are so much better at that stuff than I am,” he said. … talking on the phone?? was my first thought. Then I realized, as I was on hold for 10 minutes, that he just didn’t have the patience for it anymore. (And I tend to be a bit more tenacious than they are… again, they’re tired.)
3) It’s my turn. I’m 40. I got married 5 (almost 6) years ago. I had been in my own home for 5 years prior. So for 30 years my parents took care of me. THIRTY years. Not 18 folks. 30. Anyone who says that parenthood sucks up 18 years of your life is wrong. It’s at least 25 – maybe longer. Now, of course, I had my own jobs and made my own money and lived my own life. But when I moved to Lancaster and couldn’t make a go of it, I decided to move home. Of course, I had no money so I moved back in with them. That was 1996. I was 22. I moved out eventually, had a good job, met a guy, wanted to get married… and then it fell apart. I had just lost my job so I couldn’t afford the apartment on my own so… I moved back in with them again. That was 2001. I was 27. They paid for meals for me, gave me a roof over my head, and offered me emotional support. I bought my own house and got out in 2004. I was 30. And I’ll tell you this: they would have taken me in again if I needed them to. (They still would – no matter what my age… or theirs.) That’s 30 years of support – both financially and emotionally. They’ve given their all to me.
Granted, I’ve given some back, but not much. I go get things occasionally for them, make phone calls for them, or clean up around the house. But in comparison to what they’ve done for me? No comparison.
My mom might have 5-10 years left in her. I’ve just started my support of her. 10 years versus 30? I think I got the better end of the deal. It’s my turn.
As I continue down this road of caregiver for both of them I’m finding it both exhilarating and exhausting. I’m happy to do for them – happy to be finally giving something back to them – but I’ve barely been taking care of myself. Frankly, my husband does a lot of the heavy lifting around here. But, for me, it’s my moment. It’s my turn. They need me. They’ve always been there for me and I’ll always be there for them.
Does this mean I can’t take care of myself anymore? No.
Does it mean my life is now over? No.
Does it mean I’ll feel guilt, depression and inadequacies along the way? Yes.
And so did they.
It’s not going to be a fun road or an easy one, but I’m starting to understand what they must have felt all these years. It’s tiring and yet… satisfying at the same time. When I did get through today on the phone, I got the answers they wanted. When I got the medicine she needed and gave her the food she wanted and she finally fell asleep… it felt satisfyingly… satisfying.
And, with a good night’s sleep, I think I can do it tomorrow again.