Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kids and A Learning Op

A work friend is going through a rough patch right now. He has finally convinced his mother that she needs more help than the family can provide, and they are shopping for assisted living or a nursing home. I am a long way from that for myself but listening to his story reminds me of what my sister and I went through when faced with similar choices for our parents; and that puts an image of my own possible future in my head. I don’t like the image, in part because I don’t have children, which means I probably won’t have the type of support my parents had from us or my friend’s mother has from him and his siblings.

It seems like everybody I know who is over 30 has kids, but when I think that through, I realize there are several people in my friend circle who do not. Sometimes I ask them if they regret that. Some are childless by choice, some by circumstance. My situation began because of circumstances, mostly short-term failed marriages, and eventually by choice. I don’t regret it but I do wonder how life would be different if I had become a parent.

Still holding hands in their 80s
The decision to move my parents into a nursing home came ten years ago. Medical and financial conditions played a role and the timing was such that we moved both parents in at the same time, which fortunately meant they could share a room. Dad died there two months later and Mom lived there nearly five more years. Mom’s quality of life there was not all that good but one thing that kept her spirits up at least a little was my sister’s nearly daily visits that whole time. That was a hell of a burden for my sister, but she rarely questioned it and it really was her choice. She lived ten minutes from the nursing home, so that helped reduce the inconvenience a little bit.

I wasn’t nearly as supportive, at least with regard to time. I live 1200 miles away. I could have visited more often, but I didn’t … maybe got there once or twice a year. To this day I feel guilty about that. Let me stop you before you remind me that I was supportive in other ways; I know I was, but it doesn’t reduce the guilt all that much. My parents and my sister did not do anything to make me feel that way; the guilt is self-imposed.

As with most things in my life, I look at this as a learning opportunity. Since the death of my parents, I have become more sensitive to the needs of other family members and friends. I provide whatever support I can, emotionally and sometimes financially. I don’t do these things out of guilt, I do them because that is who I am. I was always helpful to people but have become more so as a result of these life experiences. I don’t say that here to gain praise; I say it to share what I have learned and to encourage you to learn from my experiences and take actions in your life while you can.

Parents are teachers, whether they try to be or not. Their obvious lessons help us stay alive and healthy. If we become parents, we teach our own children some of those same lessons. If we do not become parents, we may still have the opportunity to teach others or maybe the chance to provide advice and emotional support to a younger friend facing tough choices about his parents.

Sometimes we even wake up in mid-life and realize that our parents still teach us long after they are gone.

1 comment:

Linda V. said...

I love that picture of your parents. It speaks volumes of the love they shared for each other, and for you and your sister. What a wonderful legacy.