Preparing for Goodbyes-When You Realize You Only Have Years Left With Your Aging Parents

My parents are going to die. One day.

I am consumed by this thought. My outside is 46 years old and as I greet each new year I am reminded not so much of my shortening life but of my parent’s. I’m not quite sure when you stop believing that your parents will be around forever.

I’ve spent each of my 46 years unknowingly and knowingly loving my parents. I see certain photographs of myself as a child, sandwiched between my doting parents and I know that I was loved beyond measure. Love and affection build over time. I’m sure I felt comfort but love didn’t have a place in my heart back then like it does today. I know it in many different forms now—the love of a partner and child, the love of a friend, the love of grandparents, the love of pets, the love of food, of an experience, and the love of my parents—a love that has grown infinitely over time.

As a parent, I frequently chat with my son about his grandparents, my mom and dad now synonymous with grandma and grandpa. Our conversations force me to reflect on my past and present from a new perspective. I see these collections of events from a bird’s eye view, attributed perhaps to my 40 plus years of life combined with parenthood. Both storyteller and protagonist in my narrative, I can shape these memories to emphasize a point or relate a current event to a past experience. My son can’t get enough. “Tell me another story about when you…When you were young did you ever…?” I still feel young and my childhood, while decades away, is just beyond a mental curtain, ready to be drawn at any moment.

I play the “way back when” game. Way back, when I was 20 and living in France, my mom was 46, the same age as I am now. And I think, “Oh my god. How is that possible? She seemed so much older than that to me!”

I remember a phone call I shared with my mom while living abroad. I was homesick and longing for the comfort of my mother’s voice. There she was, her love, her warmth, her compassion just a country code away. I see the speckled wallpapered walls surrounding me, the centuries old rough sawn ceiling beams juxtaposed with the newly laid bright green carpet on the sloping floors of my rented apartment. I feel the long twisted phone cord that I untangle to no avail. I cried and I laughed during that call. I was so grateful that I could speak to my momma. She will always be there in that memory, her voice, her virtual hug.

I look at my son and I think of the years that have passed as well as the years that have yet to come. If I’m feeling particularly morbid, I think about the years when I won’t be with him. And then I think about my own parents. I daydream about specific life events and there I see my mom and dad beautifully immortalized, preserved for future viewing.

With every passing year, I remain frozen in time. Inside, I am terminally “young”, forever in my emerging adulthood. And yet my parents are not afforded the same privilege. I see their outsides. Infrequent visits reveal more drastic transformations. We all have more years on our faces, more memories in our vaults. At the end of these visits I often think, “What if this is the last time that I see my parents alive?” The fragility of life is ever present.

Death’s messenger will deliver the obscene news one day and it will accost me with inconceivable and suffocating sadness. But for now, when I am blasted with this cruel reality I phone, I FaceTime, I text. I enjoy the “thoughts and dots” as my mom and I call them—the three little ellipsis that each of us stares at during late hours of the night in between text messages.

I observe, listen, and share. I don’t wait for “later” or “tomorrow”. I don’t want to rely on memories of days gone by. I want to continue to speak to them about some things and nothings. I want to slow the warp speed progression of time. I am blessed with these imprints of lives lived. And I realize how much I will miss them when they are gone.

This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.

Leave a Reply