My dad used to joke about being in his ‘Golden Years’. He had such a marvelous sense of humor. His definition of those precious years in the final season of life were supposed to be filled with happiness, relaxation and freedom. Instead much of his time was spent in an endless parade to various doctors offices.
I was adopted by Charles and Mildred a little later on in their lives. My dad was 40 and my mom 38. This meant while growing up usually my parents were closer to the age of my friends’ grandparents. That wasn’t a problem, it just meant that they hit those ‘Golden Years’ while I was younger.
Many, many people that I know are encountering the aging and passing of their parents and grandparents. My heart goes out to them because I know as an adult child, it can be an extremely difficult and challenging time. In some respects it is wonderful to continue to have loved ones on this earth with us while in other respects it is very wearisome to see them struggle.
Of course, not everyone goes through the same exact situations, but it is inevitable that one day we will be without those that raised us.
Although we may not want to admit it, deep down we know that things will change. That our elderly loved ones quite possibly may become more like children than adults.
The roles switch and we become like parents as we help them navigate the dangers and scariness of life. As we implore them to eat more than a bird’s portion to keep their immune system working and drink enough water so as not to become dehydrated. Where we end up holding their hands at the doctors office or rushing them to the emergency room because they have fallen. When we shuttle them here and there and eventually run errands for them because they feel safer remaining in their own home. As we comfort them over and over as they mourn the death of an increasing number of friends, siblings and spouses.
It isn’t always an easy place for them to be. And, it is a distressing place for us at times. Being strong for our aging parents, just as they were strong for us when we were kids, means the shedding of many tears every time you hug and kiss them goodbye because you never know when they will leave for good. Trying to keep their spirits up as they are prodded and poked by well meaning physicians—their faces and bodies often scared and marred by skin cancer or recent minor surgeries or wounds that won’t heal. And the endless sorting of an array of minuscule and confusing pills.
We tell ourselves that this is part of life. And it is. And most of us will pass through this phase as well. Our grown children caring for us as we have for our parents.
Know that even though your loved ones may not be able to express nor choose to verbalize their thankfulness of your efforts during this period of their life, I believe deep down it is there. Somewhere in that mind full of memories, many of which no longer can be recalled; in that once young firm body that changed your diapers and playfully carried you on their shoulders; and in a once strongly beating heart that may now need the help of a man-made device—they appreciate you and what you are doing for them.
If you are sharing this final phase with someone so dear, it can be frustrating and emotionally exhausting for all involved. Just remember, this IS part of life and it will not last forever. You may need to seek assistance from various professionals and that is okay and probably a really, really good idea.
Now on the other side of this journey by six years—I lost both of my parents in 2008, I often still shed tears over their absence. Life just isn’t the same. However, I feel absolutely privileged that they did make it to their ‘Golden Years’ and we were able to tackle them together.
Despite the physical and emotional challenges you and your aging loved ones face, remember to acknowledge the times of pure joy you have shared together. Enjoy the conversations that focus on special memories of times once faced during life’s more active years for that can bring laughter, lessons and gratitude. Smiles, hugs, and a gentle touch on the hand become actions that hold more than just superficial comfort, they are a physical representation carrying the messages—I love you and I thank you.
Blessings to those going through and those helping loved ones through the ‘Golden Years’ of life.
– I love and miss you, Mom and Dad. It was my privilege to have been there for you as you were for me.
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