It’s scary when you realize that your parents are aging before your eyes. You begin to realize that the people who were once the strongest, most invincible people (somewhat near superhero status), aren’t so invincible anymore.
I remember when my father had his first heart attack. He kept rubbing his arm and finally asked me to take him to the hospital. My father’s not the type to go to the hospital. He once used duct tape to reattach his little toe after a skiing accident so that he could continue waterskiing before going to the doctor. If he asked to go to the hospital, I knew that it was more serious than either of us was willing to let on.
After he returned home from the hospital, my father seemed slightly more fragile than he had once been, but he still carried himself like he was the He-Man that I remembered. My mother became even more She-Ra-like as she cared for him while still holding down the fort and downplaying his ailments for my brother and me. It took two more heart attacks before I finally accepted that life is actually a circle and my parents wouldn’t live forever.
My mom and I often joke that when she “gets old,” I’m going to put her in a nursing home (a “nice nursing home,” but a nursing home nonetheless). The sad truth is that there may be a time when I’m faced with that reality. While I still rely heavily on my family for support, there will be a time when they rely on me.
In the past few years, the farmer and I have lost three grandparents and many other close family members. Part of me wants to be sensible and acknowledge the fact that we were privileged to spend as much time with them as we did, but the other part of me wants to stomp my foot and throw a tantrum because “it’s not fair.”
Death is never fair, nor is it happy for those left behind. No one wants to lose a loved one, no matter how much pain they were in or how good of a life they lived while on Earth. I want my family members to be invincible, the way I thought they were when I was a child. I don’t want them to age, and I certainly don’t want to think about planning for the inevitable.
Planning always makes reality easier, though. Regardless of how much I hate the thought of my parents aging, I still need to think about how I will handle the future. Here are some things that should be discussed (whether you like it or not):
1. Living Arrangements
The farmer and I are planning on building a house near his parents in a few years. As we look through house plans, we’ve discussed adding an in-law suite for my parents to live in once they decide to downsize their house. My parents recently bought a house down south so that they could be “snowbirds” in the winter and live a life of leisure in their retirement. However, I can only imagine that maintaining two homes will quickly become cumbersome.
Other than throwing my mother in a nursing home (I’m joking, Mom!), living arrangements are an area of concern for the elderly, and their children need to begin having “what-if” discussions sooner rather than later.
2. Travel/Everyday Necessities
In addition to helping our parents with their living arrangements, I anticipate that our parents will begin to need additional support and care. My grandparents spend countless hours driving to doctor appointments each week, and after my father’s heart attacks, I’m quickly realizing that this is a fact of life.
When children work, who will be able to transport their elderly parents to the grocery store, pharmacy, and everyday appointments? If you’re busy raising your own family (and carting them here, there, and everywhere), will you also be able to transport your elderly parents?
3. Emotional Support
When children are young, parents are the people offering emotional support and kissing boo-boos. Once parents age, the children have to fill their shoes as primary support givers. Parents begin to turn to their children to listen and provide empathy and encouragement. Children need to call their parents (ever since I moved out of my parents’ home, I’ve called my parents daily, although my mother tends to hang up quickly if I’m in a cranky mood) and check-in on a regular basis.
It hurts to see your parents and loved ones age before your eyes, but it helps to have a plan in place so that you can meet their needs before it’s too late. My parents still seem young and vibrant, ready to tackle their retirement bucket list, but there will come a time when I need to step up to the plate and help them achieve their final needs. I don’t want to think about this, but I know that by planning ahead, I can handle this one step at a time without throwing the toddler-style tantrum that I desperately want to throw.