As hard as being a parent is, it is something that you sign up for. However delusional you are in thinking that it will be relatively easy (HA!), you have a say in the matter and you have 40 weeks to come to grips with the responsibility you are about to embark on. Hopefully, you have a network of friends who might be along the same stretch of the parenthood path to keep you company and trade stories with.
Not so much when you become the caregiver for an elderly parent.
My parents had my sister and I later in life. My sister and I like to joke that they were avant-garde in the "late thirties/early forties jump into first time parenthood" trend; about thirty something years too early. My father passed away after a very long battle with cancer almost eight years ago, and it was HARD to watch this man who had always been so strong just wither into a shell of what he once was. But his mind was clear, and for the most part, he followed his doctor's orders. That is not to say that he was easy, but he tried, as best he could, to not worry us too much.
My mother is a different story. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease almost five years ago. While at first, she followed doctors orders, the decline in her ability to care for herself became painfully apparent. At first, in small ways; then in ways that you could not ignore.
But harder than trying to convince an adult, mainly your parent, that they need help is nothing compared to your realization that they are not invincible. That they are becoming frail. That they are getting old. That inevitably, they will die. And that is scary, no matter how old you are.
And it goes back to how much we need our parents, even when we are adults. When we are children, we need them to take care of our most primal needs. When we become adults, we know that their wisdom is invaluable. That they have survived our own childhood. Our perspective changes. We don't think that they were always wrong. We might be persuaded to see their point of view, now that we ourselves are being challenged in the same ways by our own offspring.
So there is another force that tears us apart. We see ourselves in them. And that you too are getting older. That you too will become frail. That your body will give out.
We fear having to depend on our own children; to be a burden to them, to be another reason for them to worry.
We cannot prepare ourselves for this; becoming the caregivers to those who birthed us. It is too hard, too frustrating, yet, it must be done. Luckily, my sister and I, in spite of the five children we have between us, have found a rhythm for divvying up the tasks that help my mother try to maintain the mobility she has, that help unburden her of most of the things that would make her fret.
We have each other to lift the other up when she becomes overwhelmed with the reality that is upon us. The reality that mom needs us now. As much as our children need us, with the same fierceness to right any wrongs, with the same gentleness when the anxiety sets in, with the same tenacity that we face each day's challenges with them. And it is an emotionally draining tug-of-war between the responsibilities of parenthood and the responsibilities to your parents.
And I am grateful, even for this. That I can do something for the woman who worked so hard to provide for us, who did without so that we may have, who fought for us to have a better future. It is the ultimate thank you note...