You think the hard part about being an older parent will be the stigma. Trying to stay ahead of the incoming gray hair before people at the Little League game notice. Steeling yourself for the “your grandson is so cute” comments. Then all of a sudden, you experience what the real implications are.
My dad, 80, just lost his wife of 30 years, my beautiful stepmom, to ovarian cancer. It’s heartbreaking in and of itself to lose a loving grandparent. You feel cheated, especially on behalf of your children.
What we also learned during her final weeks was just how much caring she’d been doing for my dad while also trying to take care of herself – an impossible situation. And she’s been shielding us from most of it.
My dad is a dignified and brilliant man – was a neurosurgeon by trade – but he always told us your brain ages just like the rest of you, and he is a good example. He is still with it, still gets the bigger picture, but he struggles with short-term memory loss, which has been compounded by the unbelievable stress and grief of losing his wife. We knew he was facing new challenges, but we didn’t realize how much help he needs with day-to-day living.
My amazing sister has taken Dad in to live at her house, which thankfully is only a mile away from ours. Together with the help of our incredible extended family we are trying to make sure he’s eating well, sleeping well, taking his medicines, and getting where he needs to go. We are just beginning to scratch the surface on his long-term living situation and his financial and medical issues going forward. It is a lot.
I can see why in the natural order of things people are set up to have children in their 20s, not their 40s, because now I have three sons under the age of 3, and in a way, a fourth. My sister is a super woman, taking the bulk of the load in such a caring and compassionate way, but she’s also a doctor, an OB-GYN, with a full-time schedule. We have two loving brothers but they don’t live in Charlotte. Thankfully they are within a doable drive away, visit often, and provide Dad a lot of comfort just by calling on the phone. We’ve also got a warrior stepsister, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who have been champions through all of this.
I know in the grand scheme we’ve got it so easy. We have the financial means to get help. My dad isn’t bucking suggestions we’re making for his care going forward. He seems to understand his limitations (he’s the one who realized he needed to stop driving) and he still has a strong will to live. That’s a powerful combination. Yet all of this is daunting, for everybody involved.
It seems to me that no matter how much you try to prepare, no matter how well you plan for end of life scenarios, when the time comes, it’s just plain hard.
The best way I’m seeing through it so far has been to lean on family and friends. My husband and two close friends have been through scenarios like this just recently with their parents. To them, I don’t have to explain.
Talking seems to lighten the load, so does knocking a few things off the checklist each day. I’ve kept the occasional social event on the calendar just to take momentary mental breaks. I’m taking it one step at a time and trying to do what my stepmother encouraged me to do when I looked to her for answers: “Just love on those boys!”
I’ve tried to be wholly present in the moments that matter most, to let the tears roll when they need to, and to stay quiet so I won’t miss the important things, like hearing my dad tell my stepmom, while holding her hand at her bedside, “You are my everything. Thank you.”
There is good to come of this. My siblings and I are experiencing a new and different kind of closeness with my father. I am witnessing a different kind of connection between my sons and my father, who had been at arm’s length in recent months with all he had going on. Amid the grief, there have been meals together, time spent, storytelling and laughter, moments that wouldn’t have come otherwise. That’s what I count on getting me through from here on out.
You hate to say it out loud, but by being an older parent, it also means there’s a good chance I’ll be putting my own children through this when they are much younger than I am now. They’re going to have to grow up faster than I did, and I hate that. It’s part of why my husband and I wanted a sibling so badly for our oldest son. We were blessed with two, twin boys.
I’m still just coming to understand and appreciate the full scope of this situation, but this much I already know, the best – and only way through this – is with each other.