The Natural Progression of Life: Caring for Our Aging Parents

  • By Ashley Bechtloff Springible Contributor
  • Reading Time About 5 minutes
  • PostedJuly 24, 2017
  • Category

I have always considered my Dad to be my own personal Buddha. He offers honest, truthful—sometimes not what I want to hear—advice. Even as I matured into an adult and moved across the country to be my independent-self, I always knew that I could go to him when I was in over my head.

I remember back in high school, I was so angry at one of my friends. I wanted to curse them out and never talk to them again. I went to my dad, explained what was going on, and asked him, "What I should do?" He told me to write a letter. He said, "Get everything out on paper and don't leave anything left unsaid." When I was done writing, he said for me to put the letter in an envelope and address it to the person.

Then, he told me to take that letter and burn it... I didn't understand. Why would I spend all that time on something just to watch it go up in flames?

"Trust me, you'll feel better after you write it all down and in a day or so you won't be feeling the way you feel right this moment,” dad explained. "The things you want to say today, you might not really mean tomorrow, but once they are said you can’t take them back. So, write it down, get it all out, and burn it."

Even as a teenager I understood the power of my Dad’s words.

From my high school sagas to the beginning of my career out in California, my dad has always been a phone call away to lend an ear and some straight forward advice. Now, at 71 years old, he's been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is incurable, but manageable... something we are calling a silver lining.

None of this is easy and quite honestly, all of it sucks. Watching my parents age has been one of the most emotionally challenging things I've experienced in my life. I just thought they would stay the same forever: fun, full of laughter, and always down to throw a dinner party. There's a last time for everything though, and you don't always know it will be the last.

Like, two years ago when I met my parents in Islamorada for a quick getaway and we spent our nights playing Gin Rummy and swimming in the pool. In that moment I never thought, "Wow, this is the last time my family will get to spend careless and free in the Keys together." But, I do look back on that moment now and I smile ear-to-ear, knowing that we have had such amazing times together. I often stop and think back on the better times, and greet those memories with a smile... And a tear.

The cancer is in his spine, shoulders, and other bones throughout his body, causing him a great deal of pain. He uses a walker to get around, when he can get around. He starts chemo in a few weeks and we are hoping that will ease some of the pain by decreasing the size of the tumors.

Things have changed in our relationship with this news. My Buddha, the man who always has the advice is turning to me for advice. I am, and will always be both grateful and proud that he looks to me for my opinion on matters with the hospitals or just when he needs an ear to rant in to.

And after the rants I've put him through, I'm glad to do it.

I keep hearing the same thing in circles of my friends about parents getting older. It's this emotionally confusing time that no one can prepare you for: when your parents begin to need you more than you need them. I know it sounds silly, right? Your parents are bound to get older, just as you continue to age.

It's the progression of life. We are all born and we all inevitably will die.

What I'm trying to say is, there's really nothing that can prepare you for the emotional side of it. And, it's not a conversation that happens often. "Hey, I was helping my dad change his diaper earlier today and he told me the funniest joke," is not a commonly heard phrase with the 30-something-year-olds that I know.

Not all of my friends will experience their parents aging in the same way. Some parents get sick and live their final days being shuttled in and out of hospitals and doctors' offices. Some parents live well in to their 90's in a comfortable assisted living home where they play bridge every Tuesday with their equally as old buddies.

Everyone's journey will be different. While I begin to wrap my head around the change from being the child to becoming a caregiver, I've gathered some thoughts and some tips on what I have found helps the process.

I hope that you will follow along as I go through this journey and attempt to make sense of it all, sharing with you the things that I learn along the way.

Oh, and, I've decided to write a strongly worded letter to Cancer, which will be placed in an envelope... and thrown in a fire.

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