Monday, March 09, 2009


When I was younger and raising five small children, I didn’t much think about the ebb and flow of life cycles. I was focused on the demands of a large family, and juggling a marriage and job with the joys and trials of young kids. It wasn’t age that jolted me into considering the passage of time so much as an accompanying panic each time I realized one stage of my life was over. Whether it was kids in diapers, having all the children in school, the first one to graduate, and then, finally, empty nest. There was always a sort of sorrow when one stage had passed, even as I looked forward to the joys of the next. Because there are benefits of aging, grandchildren being one of the biggies :)

But even knowing and accepting the different steps we take as life goes on, I don’t think anything really prepared me for dealing with an aging parent. Just the term makes me uncomfortable. I don’t think of my dad as elderly, although he’ll be eighty-five this summer. He’s active and vital and I’d challenge anyone to enter into a political discussion with him and come out on top. A news junkie and avid golfer, his mind is sharp and his devotion to his family is unwavering. We’ve lived thirty miles apart for the last twenty-five plus years, and that has been a blessing. My children grew up knowing their grandpa very well.

But arthritis is slowly eating away at joints and there will be a time in the near future when the man will become a walking testament to titanium. With three hip replacements, a neck and back operation, three wrist operations and three carpal tunnels, he was about to undergo a knee replacement next week. Until he slipped on the ice and fractured his upper femur.

The last two weeks have been a blur of doctor appointments and x-rays and surgeries planned, then cancelled, only to repeat the process. I have five siblings but only one is in state so the bulk of these sorts of arrangements fall on me, although any one of my brothers and sisters have and will fly home on a moment’s notice to help.

It’s difficult to shrug off the mantle of ‘child’ and don the shifting roles in my new relationship with my dad. That of taskmaster (Are you using that walker?) to disciplinarian (I told you to stay off that leg!) to tattletale (emailing my siblings and saying, ‘would you call him and tell him he has to go back in for an x-ray? He won’t listen to me.’) Doubly difficult for him, I imagine, to have one kid after another call him and tell him the same thing. What to do and what to ask the doctor. What to try and what to stay away from. He takes it all in gracefully (he’s unfailingly polite.) And then he does whatever he damn well wants to ☺

Did I mention he’s full-blooded German? He also possesses a stoicism that I didn’t inherit and a tendency to downplay any pain he might have. (Me explaining to the doctor: I know he said his pain was a 2 but the fact that he admitted to pain at all means it’s at an 8.)

A couple weeks ago when I took him in for his first x-ray (eight days after his fall because it took us that long to convince him he needed to go to the hospital) he sat in the car a moment after I’d pulled up to the front doors of the clinic. His throat worked for a moment and then he said, “You know, I never wanted to be a burden to my children.”

I almost wept.

Because no matter how much I assured him that he wasn’t a burden, that I wanted to be there and would do anything for him—I understood exactly what he was feeling. The same thing I’ll experience when I’m his age, having to rely on my kids to take care of me when I still feel little different than I ever did, save for the body parts that are slowly deteriorating.

It takes having passed through several stages of my adult life to recognize the need to savor each one fully. To be able to reach the next stage with no or few regrets. As difficult as this time is right now, there’s still the hope he’ll get through it eventually and be with us many more years. But there’s also the growing realization that this process will be repeated more and more often in the next few years, making them bittersweet. And leaving me wanting to wring every ounce of joy I can from the time I still have my father with me.

What stage are you in your life right now? Is there a part of your life you miss? One you look forward to? Or one that you dread? How do you go about making memories from the current phase in your life to savor when it’s past?


Anonymous said...

I lost my mom to a drunk driver when she was 59. Waaaay too young! I'd give almost anything to have her here today--even if she was a burden. (Which she could never be.)

Kylie said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Susan. But you're right--having them with us is such a blessing they could never be burdens. Any more than we were to them when we were kids.

GunDiva said...

My Paternal Grandmother is 88 and still taking care of the family. Every day she gets up, watches my cousin's youngest (she's 4), cooks, cleans, does laundry and in general takes care of everyone around. Knock on wood, she's never broken anything (though she's had two heart attacks) and is still mobile. Just in the past year has she decided that she might need a cane when she goes shopping because her legs get tired. My Maternal Grandma is 79 and still living and tending her own acre of land. She loves her riding mower and tends to over-do it, which causes some back pain, but over-all those are her worst complaints (other than we don't spend enough time with her).

I don't look at all forward to the day when either of them passes; my Paternal Grandma is the glue that holds the family together. That is one stage in my life that I don't ever want to happen - to be grandmother-less, though I know it's inevitable.

Susan, your mother was taken from you far too young. I can't even imagine. I am sorry for your loss.

Kylie said...

GunDiva--when I grow older I want to be like your grandparents! And like my dad, actually. Still traveling, still getting out and doing what I enjoy. I actually think when one is able, it helps keep them healthy!

Cindy Gerard said...

Your post touched me for a lot of reasons. I've lost both my parents both of whom were very independent even though health issues greatly affected their quality of life toward the end. I, too, saw how difficult it was for them to accept that they were no longer the caretakers but the ones in need of care and their reluctance to become burdens to my sister and me.It's all about acknowledgment. Acknowledging that we understand, that they need respect and humor and the same kind of love we received from them when we were the ones needing their guidance. As tough as it was, I was grateful to 'pay back' all they did for me, just as I'm sure your dad knows you feel exactly the same way. I hope you get to enjoy him for a long time yet!!

lois greiman said...

Kylie, you made me cry. Maybe just because the seasons are hard. But maybe because my mom is 90 and the changes are hard. She's still living on the farm three seasons out of the year. Tending her gardens, taking care of a huge yard etc. but we worry. And I know exactly how your father feels. I already feel like I'm a burden sometimes. There are already things we can't do...that we'll call our sons to help us with...heavy duty shoveling, carpentry work...and I don't like it. Although, generally, I think it's easier for women to ask for help than it is for men.

I'm looking forward to grandchildren, to travel. But everything's a trade-off. There's good and bad and really...I just want the good.

Kylie said...

Cindy, losing a parent is so devastating. We were never a demonstrative family. I *knew* my parents loved me. They showed it with their unfailing support. But I don't recall any of us ever saying it. But when she died so suddenly, that changed. I tell my dad I love him regularly and hug him each time I see him. Such simple things really but when loss hits us, it makes us re-evaluate things to some extent.

Kylie said...

Lois, you're so right about the trade off. I tell my kids all the time not to expect an inheritance because they are getting it all now! We're taking the whole family to the Outer Banks for a week this summer. A terrible time to do it with the economy. But all my siblings are coming with all their kids. And we all feel like it might be the last time my dad will be able to make it, so it's a priority for all of us.

Losing my independence...yes, I know that will bother me. I already make the kids bring down all the Christmas containers from the attic before they leave from Thanksgiving. And I used to have them help their dad put in and take out the window air conditioners. He would never ask. But I noticed things like that were getting harder for him. So it begins...

As my brother is fond of saying, life is a series of trade offs. But it's a bummer that the trade off for financial independence, retirement, travel and grandchildren has to be aging.

Playground Monitor said...

I have reached the grandparent stage and the Grammy gig is absolutely the best.

I lost my dad when he was only 48 and I was a freshman in college. My mom was 43 and she's my hero. She stepped right up to the challenge and finished raising me and my sister. She just turned 82 and overall her health is good. My sister lives a mile and a half from her so I know someone's keeping tabs on her.

My husband's mother will be 92 in a few months. We had to move her to assisted living about 5 years ago and she went kicking and screaming all the way. We're pretty sure she has Alzheimer's but my husband doesn't want to get a definitive diagnosis because he's afraid they'll make her move out of assisted living. As long as she's not a danger to herself or others, she's fine where she is. We have someone come in daily to help with bathing and dressing and to make sure she takes her meds. And my sister-in-law checks on her daily as well.

I don't really dread getting older, but I dread the inevitable health challenges that go with aging.

Your post made me cry too, especially when I got to the part where you dad said he didn't want to be a burden. He's part of that "greatest generation" and they have a resiliency and pride that's unbeatable. It's very difficult for them to ask for help. They survived the depression and WWII, so how can a joint replacement or irregular heart beat be unconquerable?


Kathleen Eagle said...

Kylie, I envy you being so close for so long. I don't know whether I would have done my parents justice had they lived to become less independent. I have so many friends now who share your role, and I admire you all. It must be bittersweet. Treasure the sweet.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, I think we've compared this note before. My daddy was 48 when he died of a heart attack. It's hard to imagine him as an old man. He never saw his grandchildren. Mama outlived him by 15 years, died of cancer at 63. She saw all but one grandchild (my sister's daughter). She was healthy and independent until she wasn't, and that was about 6 months of pain.

I miss them both every day. I probably talk to them more than I ever did. They talk to me, too. Maybe that's memory or wishful thinking, but it's a comfort.

Kylie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kylie said...

Yes, Marilyn, you're so right. There's an inner toughness to that generation that constantly inspires. My dad was a fighter pilot in WWII and he talks about his experiences so much more than he used to. I find that riveting.

My greatest fear is getting dementia. To become a burden and not know it. For my kids to lose the person I am, even while I'm still with them. I watch with interest as more and more drugs come on the market to help with memory. Sometimes I think I need them now!

Perhaps we have come to expect too much, especially in this country. To live long healthy productive lives. But even in the old west the average age prior to death was early forties. Sometimes remembering where we were as a society reminds us of how far we've come.

Marilyn said...

You brought tears to my eyes. I'm going through much the same stuff with my mother now, who is 83. Last summer she broke her hip and now her hands are so crippled up she can't button a shirt and I've been sewing velcro into everything so she can stay independent as long as possible. It's so hard to watch her frustration at not being able to do all the things she used to. It's also made me a lot more aware of my health. I don't know if diet and exercise will stave off the inevitable, but it can't hurt.

Kathleen said...

Kylie it is never easy having to become caregivers to our parents and grandparents. I know exactly how you feel. I have been through this three times already. Once with my grandmother and then with my dad. And now with my mother. It it is not easy and it was never a burden.

I am lucky that I have other siblings that help in the care of my mother and with my father when he was alive. But I was always the one that got things done. There were times when I just had to take the bull by the horns with my dad, and say "Look dad, you go to the hospital by car ar you go by ambulance those are your only two choices". The first time we went by car, the second he had to go by ambulance. So try to give them choices so they are the ones making the decesions, but make sure they know that they know that a trip to doctor or hopsital is the final outcome. Hard to do, but somethings just have to been done. Think back to when your parents gave you a choice for the final outcome of a situation. It is now the same premise.

They took care of us and now we have to look out for them. It is not a burden when you love the person. It only becomes a burden if you let it.

Kylie said...

Kathleen, it is sweet. And I'm thankful every day that we made the choice to move 'home' to be closer to family. We've never regretted that. And I don't mind a bit doing things for dad, taking him to appointments, etc. but I do worry because during the school year I'm only allowed eight family illness days. So I need to be careful with them so I don't run out before I need to use them again.

I know my siblings are glad I'm close. But sometimes I still feel a little bit guilty about not doing more. It's all a balance.

Kylie said...

Marilyn, I do the same thing! Well, at least I take his clothes in to get velcro put on them, LOL. I have them sew the button on and sew the hole closed then put velcro underneath. Thanks for the reminder. I need to get all his shorts done this spring. I had his pants done this winter.

MaryC said...


Please make sure you take care of yourself. The emotional drain is so tiring.

As I attended and scheduled my Dad's appointments for two years, I kept a record which listed all his medications, doctors and dates of medical procedures and would carry extra copies with me. Great time saver when it came time to fill out forms and I knew they had the most up-to-date informaion.

My Dad did not want to be a burden either, and thankfully, his restrictions were minor.

Again, please take care of yourself.

Kylie said...

It's funny, Kathleen, but I see us kids slipping in to familiar childhood roles when we deal with my dad. I was the peace maker, the one to calm waters (hard to believe, LOL!) and the one to make him laugh. So the tough guy role that I don so easily with my own kids is an unfamiliar one for me when I'm dealing with my dad. (that role belongs to brother #2).

Nothing moves him when he has dug in his heels. Did I mention he's German???? But he did say after that first appointment, 'Well, that's why I resisted coming. I guess I knew it was going to be something like this and I just didn't want to face it.' Hopefully the next time he resists I can point to this time and say, 'remember what happened the last time you refused to go to the hospital????'

Kylie said...

Thanks, MaryC. My husband is also a huge help to my dad. He shovels and moves things and runs errands when I can't. That helps out a lot.

Helen Brenna said...

Susan, so sorry you lost your mother so young. It's hard for me to imagine with both my parents in their 80s and 3 of my 4 grandparents living well into their 90s.

I'm trying not to take so much for granted, so thanks, Kylie, for reminding me. It sounds like you're doing the loving best you can in this stage, and I'm sure your dad appreciates you for it.

I'm one of those people who's always hot to move on to something bigger and better. I have a very difficult time stopping to smell the roses. Although I still try!

Kylie said...

Helen maybe we're a bit alike. I'm very task oriented. Always have a list in my head of what needs to be done next. I have to consciously shut that inner voice down and focus on the things I once took for granted. I find the busier I am the more difficult that voice is to shut off, however!

Estella said...

I have reached the grandparent stage. Four grandsons, ages 19 years, 18 years, 3 years and 2 years. The first two belong to my oldes son and the younger two belong to my youngest daughter.
I am still active, but am nearly seventy, so hope I am not going to be a burden on my children.

Christie Ridgway said...

Kylie: You are a great daughter and sister. Your dad sounds wonderful.

My parents live much closer to my brother than me (2 hours vs. ten), though my husband's parents live in our town (and his brother is 4 hours away). I don't know how we'll work it out. My husband spent a lot of time with his beloved grandmother before she passed, so we know how this process degrees.

I wish for your father many more happy times ahead.

Betina Krahn said...

Kylie, great post.
I've been thinking about my dad a lot lately. . . he died at 83, four years ago. He was vibrant and alert and incorrigible up until his last three weeks of life. My mom was a different story. She had Alzheimer's and we watched her leave us day by day and piece by piece. And we knew she would have hated what was happening to her and the burden it placed on her loved ones, especially my dad.

But both of my parents had wonderful, full lives and were much loved and are much missed. I don't think you can ask for too much more than that in life.

Me, I'm just starting the whole "Grammie" thing and it's wonderful. A little heartbreaking that I can't be with them more, but the times we are together are so very sweet. And I'm enjoying the freedom of being able to make my own decisions and live my own life. . . in the warm winter sun.