How to cope as your parents get older

How to cope as your parents get older

Author: Canadian Living


How to cope as your parents get older

I woke up one morning a few months ago and realized my parents were old. This is not the easiest thing to admit. For one thing, it requires that you face up to the reality that you are old, or, at the very least, getting older.

Next, it means you have to look at your parents as they really are, not the way you have them frozen in that part of your brain where you are always a kid. This is also not an easy thing to do. One reason is that your parents keep treating you the way they did when you were 12.

Some things remain the same
Even though my mom is 80 and my dad is 81, I still pretty much get the same greeting I got 40 years ago.

“Hi, Paul. Are you hungry?” says my mom, before I can close the front door. “Do you want a sandwich? I just made some muffins.”

She’s in the kitchen putting down a plate before I get my jacket off. My father, who is already seated for lunch (some things never change), gives me “the look.”

“You could use a haircut,” he declares. He’s been saying this to me almost weekly since 1974. Now, he says it to me – and my two sons. I guess it’s nice to have a family tradition.

Some things change
Some things are different. When I visit with the kids my father slips them 10-dollar bills when he thinks I’m not looking. When we were kids, we had to fight for a buck to go to the store. “It’s Christmas around here every day,” he would say, reluctantly handing over a dollar. Today my daughter gets five bucks every time she hugs him. She would do it anyway, of course, but the money is a nice bonus.

All of this – the visits, the kids’ birthdays, the dinners, the steady stream of day-to-day events – moves along so seamlessly that the passage of time is somehow disguised; so gradual we do not see it. And then something happens.

Page 1 of 2 – Read page 2 to find out how to live in the moment
Showing age
Three years ago the doctors found a lump in my mom’s kidney. She didn’t tell us it was cancer for several months. “I didn’t want to ruin Christmas,” she said. They took the kidney out and she’s fine, but she is smaller now, barely 100 pounds and more frail.

Two summers ago my father almost died. A nasty cough turned out to be pneumonia, and my dad went from joking in the hallway of the ER one minute to being in congestive heart failure the next. Doctors had to put a tube down his throat so he could breathe, and he was put on a respirator. He made it. Five weeks in the hospital took their toll, though. He’s home now, but different.

Staying together
The crisis forced me and my brothers and sisters to see my parents clearly for the first time in a long, long while. My father shuffles now and has trouble getting himself out of a chair. He’s a diabetic and his eyesight has worsened.

A few years back, he handed over the keys to the car. My mom still whirls around the house all morning, but by two o’clock, like a kid’s toy running low on batteries, she goes up to her bed and lays down for a long nap.

Living in the moment
Both of them forget things. My mother has taken to tacking up lists everywhere – reminders to call repairmen; step-by-step instructions for my dad’s insulin pen. All of them written in her beautiful, flowing school-girl handwriting. We stop in once a day if we can. We drop off food – a casserole or a container of homemade soup. We call to see how they are.

We’ve admitted they’re old. We’re OK with it now. And we’re happy – happy for each day they’re here.

This story was originally titled "Meet my folks" in the October 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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Paul Benedetti teaches journalism at the University of Western Ontario in London


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How to cope as your parents get older