My first date was an awkward and unpleasant thing in the beginning not because of my fate but because of her father. He was a retired Marine and he didn’t like the idea of his daughter dating until she was thirty. She was sixteen and he considered me a potential rapist and he sat in his lounger in his underwear glaring at me as I waited for her to get ready. She, of course, hid in her room just to make me sweat and I did sweat, a lot. That was a world away from where I am now but it would seem parents are coming around again and this time they’re going to be a lot more trouble.
The cottage is a nice place, a very nice place and Mary can keep her two cats there. It’s a cottage on the grounds of a nursing home and because I have a truck and because Mary’s daughter and I are close friends, I help move her stuff in. I really don’t have a problem with this at all, but Mary is eighty and her husband is nearly ninety. His children, who are my age, are throwing a fit about the expense of all this when their father is doing just fine in that single wide trailer in the woods. Of course, they never check in on their father and they are quite astonished with the idea the man, who is nearly deaf and going blind, might need to live near people. He’s taken to sleeping twenty hours a day now and he weeps uncontrollably. But hey! He’s just fine, no need to move into a place where scare resources might have to be expended to make his life comfortable and to help his aging wife take care of him.
The man’s son is a piece of work. He wants the land his father owns but he wants to keep it in his father’s name so he isn’t responsible for the taxes. Conversation with this individual is punctuated with his exclamations of, “We ain’t doing that shit!” and “That’s ain’t right, we ain’t paying of all that!” with no regard at all to two elderly people who want to stay together. The son wants his father put somewhere cheaper. A closet would do, really, and it could even be one of those with a light in it, as long as it didn’t burn all day. The elderly are a burden to this man and he doesn’t understand at all why anyone would want him to help pay for any of this at all.
But it is a nice place. This is the last place the two of them will live together before one or the other of them will have to make the trip into the hospital wing of the nursing home, warehoused until death. The cottage was built for the elderly in mind with lots of light coming in through the windows and a sit down tub with a door on it. A lifetime ago parents were those people who you had to dress up for and be polite to and now they’re becoming those people you have to move into a cottage so they may live their lives in what leisure they might find.
There will come a day and that day will come sooner than later, when I have to decide what to do with my parents. I cannot imagine my father becoming old and infirm but the signs are already there that he will. My mother’s health is good but not great. My stepfather’s health has been in a decline for years and I suspect his future will have to be decided before we get down to the real problems of having aging parents.
The children who are no affected by their parent’s decline are always those who scream the loudest about nursing homes. Of course, other than holidays and an occasional weekend visit, their lives remained untouched by the day to day struggle of feeding and cleaning and social connection. Mary likes to go to church and visit with other people but she is anchored to her husband and it is getting more difficult for her to drive. She’s the primary caretaker for her husband and she’s the one suffering the most through this. Yet her husband’s son rails against her dragging his father to a nursing home and the very idea that he might have to pay for some of it seems to enrage him.
There seems to be some sort of disconnect in some people’s minds when they see their parents aging. They seem to think just because this person has taken care of everything since birth this trend will continue indefinitely. But parents age just as we all do. There will come a day where those two people who changed your diapers might need their diapers changed. There will come a day that person who was your taxi for the first part of your life might need for you to be their taxi for the last part of their lives. There may well come a day the same person who taught you so many things you needed to survive doesn’t remember who you are at all.
There are people who just never grow up. They will lean on their parents until their parents die or until they do. Until that time they will continue to live in a state of total denial and make things worse for everyone. There are people who understand that life is a process that ends in decay if it doesn’t end suddenly. There are ways and means to make the last years of life fun and productive but it will take as much effort as making the first years of life fun and productive. The idea that our parents are somehow superhuman and can last forever is a child’s dream. It is time to grow up and be adult about aging. Life is going to happen whether we curse or cry. It will happen if we live and love. The choices are not simple but life isn’t supposed to be.