I’ve traveled to different countries and moved across the country. I’ve fallen in love a few times and have the scars to prove it. I’d bought a car and paid an enormous sum for rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’ve written a book, which had been a dream of mine since forever. I’ve gone skiing and swam naked. I’ve even put money on the New York Knicks to win a playoff series (they lost). And none of that was more scary than when I had to come to grips with the fact that my parents had grown old. And I’m still not over it.
Now, of course my parents always seemed “old.” No, like for real. They were in their early 40s when the took me in as a foster child and in their mid-40s when they decided to adopt me. I was the kid with the older parents, the ones people always thought were my grandparents when we were out and about. The ones that probably had to stretch before heading out to the driveway to play catch with me or likely contemplated taking a nap before we went to evening baseball games after working all day.
Even with all of that, I never considered them to be too old. They were just… my parents. I mean, were my best friend’s parents younger and more active? Sure. A little bit. But not enough that they weren’t able to show up for every PTA meeting or writing event (what? I was a nerd. Leave me alone!). They were always available for a trip to the mall for back-to-school shopping or to the city (that’s what we called Manhattan, folks) for a day on Broadway. We were cultured. We were taken care of. Even at that “advanced” age.
I think that’s what made what happened hurt even more. You like to think your parents will always be that way. So when they aren’t, and the tables turn with things going from them looking down on you to take care of you to them looking up at you in need of care… you get scared. It makes you think things aren’t in its natural order. It makes you think things are upside down. Out of wack. It makes you think you might not be able to handle it.
Until you do. It forces you to step up like you haven’t before, because it’s never been necessary. You spent the first part of your life learning how the world works, and then the next portion just learning how you fit in the world, and now you’re faced with learning how to care for the people that brought you into the world.
None of it is easy. All of it is scary.
But you do it. You get over yourself and into what they need. If you’re fortunate and it’s just getting older and all you have to do is check on them as you’re traveling or living on the other side of the country or making sure they have groceries as you sit and both watch the Knicks lose (again), that will feel like a type of bliss. Something that feels natural. That feels right. However, if they get sick and are too frail to get around on their own or able to handle small tasks, or god forbid they can’t remember who or where they are–or who YOU are–that’s another level of care.
That’s how it happened for me, and it was a complete role reversal. I had to care for my mother, the person whose eyes meant warmth, and forgiveness, whose eyes meant home, and how they suddenly went to looking empty. And scared. She not only couldn’t remember my name. She couldn’t remember who I was. To her I was a stranger. And caring for her was like caring for a stranger. It wrecked me. Rocked my soul. Constant prayer is what got me through. It was a lot. I look back at that time and recall how unprepared I was for it all. And how, some days, I didn’t feel like I was built for it.
It was seriously the moment I feared. Word to Slick Rick.