The Long Goodbye

It starts slowly. At first it is not really noticeable; perhaps it is because we have always thought they were invincible. And then it becomes undeniably visible – we are forced to acknowledge that our parents are aging.

As we progress through our 40s and 50s, our relationships with our parents change. We slowly (or quickly) become the caregivers and guardians, and they the recipients. There is possibly nothing more upsetting than watching our parents age and become increasingly dependent on others. For many, it is the long goodbye –a phrase used to describe Alzheimers, but so poignantly describes witnessing parents advance into old age.

The realization that the lifelong, clearly defined parent-child roles no longer exist is a rite of passage for adult children that creates sadness and a longing for what was. How did our parents, who were once so vibrant, hearty and full of life become so frail, vulnerable and dependent on others?

The pride and tenacity that propelled them to success and allowed them raise a family in their younger years, is now keeping them afloat in their golden years. However, it often prevents them for asking for assistance, even when they so desperately need it.

Simple things become increasingly difficult –getting up, holding a fork, getting into and out of bed, showering, dressing oneself, and the list goes on. This raises the question –how do we provide our parents with the care and assistance they need without compromising their pride and dignity?

I am now confronted with this dilemma with my parents. Until recently, they were both strong, vibrant, independent people. Illness and age have taken their toll, but not their pride. I struggle with the delicate balance of providing the help I know they need with maintaining their dignity.

Recently, my father was hospitalized for several days. Unfortunately, I live across the country and was not there to assist them. Each morning my mother told me she slept in her recliner and stayed dressed because she was “warmer that way”. When I asked, she insisted she is able to dress and undress herself and is capable of getting in and out of bed. I had my doubts.

On the third day of his hospitalization, my father told me he was eager to get home because my mother is not as independent as she portrays. He admitted he helps her get dressed/undressed and into bed. He, too, requires help with those same daily functions. They somehow help each other to make it work with minimal outside assistance –for now, but not for long.

When they do accept help, my mother often rhetorically asks, “who is the parent and who is the child? How did it come to this?” I know the answer to the former. The answer to the latter is also clear cut, but heartbreaking. Age and illness have taken their toll, and their effects are everlasting.

Contributed by Lisa G