When you are growing up you never think you will one day lose your parents. They take care of us when we are little, they battle with us when we are teenagers, they pay for our college education, they guide us in making major life decisions, and they love us unconditionally. We just always assume they are going to be there forever, making everything ok when the world treats us badly.
But, that is not the way it goes. They can’t stay around forever. One day you wake up and they are older, fragile, and becoming more dependent. Roles reverse as we now have to take care of them and help them live with dignity. With old age comes illness, forgetfulness, doctors, hospitals, weakness, and pain. It’s hard for older children to watch, hopeless and helpless to do anything about it, as it takes over the body and mind of what used to be the independent and strong person we grew up with.
My father was a very strong man. He came here from Sicily in 1953 and worked most of his life in construction. His hands were huge. He rarely got sick and never missed a day of work, even if he had a fever. Then, one day, he was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 73. The news was devastating to me. I cried and grieved as though he had just died. He had his operation and they removed the tumor, but he had to wear a colostomy bag and he hated it. But, he recuperated and took care of himself in no time at all. He was so strong. He had a good year, then cancer came back again, but it was at the opening outside the body. The doctors removed it. He had another good year. Then there was another recurrence, this time the tumor was attached to the bone inside the body. There was nothing they could do but give him medicine to control the pain. He suffered, got thinner, and wasted away right before our eyes. We put him in a hospice because they promised they would control the pain. They didn’t. He died in pain because they were afraid the dose of pain medication required would have killed him.
My mother was a strong willed woman and as sharp as one can be intellectually. She was a stay at home mom in every sense of the word. She was shrewd with finances, rarely sick, and the very epitome of the matriarch of the family. One day my brother took her to the doctor and explained some things that concerned him. The doctor told him she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Another kick in the gut. My mother had always had a very sharp and active mind. Now she was going to lose it to this insidious disease. The doctor gave her medication that was supposed to slow down it’s progress and other pills to keep her from getting agitated. Well, she started having hallucinations, becoming more and more forgetful and difficult to handle. She became paranoid. We wanted to keep her at home as long as possible so we hired someone to be there during the day while my brother was at work. She drove the woman crazy. Then, one day she fell in the house. She was taken to the hospital and from there they sent her to a nursing home/rehab. She was there about a year. She kept telling us she wanted to go home, but she needed round the clock care and wouldn’t get it at home. My brother went there every day to make sure they were doing everything for her that they were supposed to. If you don’t visit often, they neglect those patients for the ones whose family visits. One day my mom has a stroke. There is nothing they can do, it’s not a bad stroke, but it prevents her from swallowing food. They want to know from us what they should do. We tell them to keep her on the IV because it keeps her comfortable, but no food tube. They tell us it will be a few days, but it ended up being 5 weeks. She was comfortable, she still knew us and my brother took time from work to be there all day, every day. Then, the IV wasn’t helping any more. They took it off and gave her something to put her to sleep. She never woke up and passed on, in less than 24 hours, peacefully in her sleep.
I miss them both so much. I never thought about their passing on at all until confronted with it head on. They were both so active and healthy until they got these devastating diagnoses and then deteriorated pretty fast.
Old age can’t be avoided, we just never expect it to come so soon, for it to take our parents and then for it come for us.