It is a gift of our fulltime travels that we’re able to spend a chunk of time with them each year. And frankly, it’s also stressful and exhausting. The first week we were here, in early February, I bought myself a mug emblazoned with the word “CALM.” I’m obviously desperate when I’m looking to my coffee mug for reassurance.
Being with elderly parents is all consuming. I have spent countless hours navigating the unfamiliar waters of elder care, getting help for my parents who still don’t think they need help. But when I watch my dad counting out their pills, mention to him that it looks like a few are missing, and he responds, “Oh, it’s close enough!” or when we return from a few days away to find that one of them has fallen and is badly bruised, it’s clearly time for some outside help.
The trick is getting them to agree. I have learned to offer options to my dad in ways that don’t make him feel like he’s giving up his independence. I present ideas to him over and over again, with patience and respect, until he accepts them. My mom doesn’t get a vote. Without my dad, she would be in a nursing home.
I am grateful to Eric for all that he does, for his unending love and support and hard work in helping my folks. And for being able to laugh with me and with them, at this time in life that is tender and difficult and sometimes, embarrassing. Getting old is rarely pretty, and none of us know how our particular journey is going to end.
We’ve taken care of everything we can think of to keep my folks safe and to enable them to live in their home for as long as possible, from putting bright orange duct tape on thresholds and removing glass shower doors to arranging for home health care visits. There is now a walker standing by in the living room. They should both be using walkers, but they both refuse. My mother asks several times a day, “What is that damned thing? And why is it here?” My dad hangs his windbreaker on it.
Our days have been filled with doctor’s visits, financial meetings, setting up home health care, organizing their paperwork, hiring a housekeeper, deep cleaning, and clearing out a few more truckloads of random junk, including 200 rolls of wrapping paper and every gift bag and box that ever entered the house. I look around and realize that we’ve barely made a dent. But I like throwing stuff out. It gives me the illusion of control.
One of the unexpected benefits of fulltime travel is that it forces you to deal with the detritus of your life (unless you are paying for a storage unit and you have squirreled away your crap). Trust me, if you deal with your lifetime accumulation of paraphernalia now, you are paying it forward in ensuring peace of mind for those you will one day leave behind. It is daunting, time-consuming, and depressing to sort through other people’s stuff, no matter how much you love them.
Obviously, my plan for getting our blog up to date before we left Florida has fallen by the wayside, just as it did last year at this time. Last year, I wrote a much longer and more heartfelt post about our time with my folks. I still feel the same way—it is heartbreaking to witness the slow erosion of their once active and vital lives.
I find it interesting that the older people get, the more they seem to cling to life. My mom and dad used to say that their plan for leaving this world was to mix up a pitcher of martinis and walk out into the bay until their hats float. But when the home health care nurse asked my mom if she wanted to be resuscitated if they find her unresponsive, my mother roused herself from the sofa to yell, “Hell, yes!” My dad’s answer to the same question: “Well, wouldn’t everyone want to be brought back?”
As long as they’re happy in their home, and they’re reasonably safe, we’ll continue to support them in being there. I’m sad that we won’t be there tonight to say a blessing over dinner, holding hands as we share our gratitude for having this time together. And we were also more than ready to leave and to resume our lives, on our own terms. We’re thrilled to be taking off on all new adventures—the Finger Lakes, Maritimes, and New England await!
But you know me. First, I have a few belated posts—but they will be brief. I’m ready to move on.