If my parents were still alive they would celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary November 25. Sadly they died when in their 60s (that’s age, not anniversary years). Dad was 66 when he died in 1965 and Mom was 63 when she died in 1971. Contrast that with my friend Carol’s dad who died earlier this month at age 88. Carol and her husband looked after her dad for six and a half years following his head injury from a traffic accident. They even moved in with him across the street from me and also managed to maintain their out-of-town home. I don’t know how they did it and I have only admiration for them both. I also don’t know how or even if I could have done it if by some miracle Mom, at least, would have survived her brain aneurysm. Dad with his cancer spanning almost seven years (including two remissions), is another story.
I was a very immature 22 when my Mom died and I remember thinking just after my then fiance and I rushed her to the hospital via ambulance that I didn’t want Mom to be a vegetable. Despite surgery, she never came out of her coma and died five days after the aneurysm.
Carol and her husband are a few decades older than my 22. But their situation and mine raises questions. Which is the better life scenario?
In my case I missed the stress, time, etc. of having to care for an ill or disabled parent. I didn’t have to go through the “put mom in a nursing home or care for her at home” question. (I’m ruminating on that question for me – for in the future – way ahead in the future, I hope.) The downside here is I missed having my mother around living to an old age. Sixty-three isn’t old. I have to say that as I’m getting there myself. And I miss her still. Sometimes I think her spirit is around and she is trying to guide me. I say “trying” because I don’t always listen too well. And Dad? I still miss him too. Every time I go to Toronto’s Union Station or ride trains I especially think of him. As some of you may have read in previous posts, my dad worked for the CN (CNR as it was then known when it had passenger service) and Mom, Dad and I used to ride the rails for our summer holidays to visit family and friends in southern Ontario and Michigan, plus touristy trips to Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. In my memoir I write
“Board here for Guelph,” he [train official] says and checks our passes dangling from Dad’s hand. “Uh huh,” he says and grabs the suitcase and duffel bag from Dad, lifting them up onto the narrow wedge between train coaches. “Watch your step, little girl,” and he takes my hand until I’m standing on the square footstool at the bottom of the stairs.
Dad is already ahead of me and he reaches down for my hand. The metal stairs sound like tin beneath my feet and I am thankful I don’t have to kneel on them. We need an usher because Dad now prances up and down the aisles, checking out the seats. I can’t see any difference in them. They’re all the same pale powdery green with a plastic bib draped over the top of their backsides.
“This one will do,” Dad says, pointing to one on the right, a few rows in from the corridor. He flips the back and now two sets of seats face each other.
I sit next to the window and place Darlene on my lap. Mother plunks herself down beside me and straightens the hem of her dress. After Dad places the big suitcase on the seat across from Mom and lifts the duffel bag onto the overhead rack, he sits down across from me.
“You’re going to ride backwards, Daddy?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, but he seems distracted and keeps looking up at the overhead rack. Then he stands up and gives the duffel bag a shove, but it’s already up against the wall.
“These racks are too small,” he says.
(Excerpted from “Riding the Rails with Dad” Chapter 7 from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)
But that was back in the 50s and early 60s. Now, with both parents dead and seeing my friends and others caring for their elderly parents, I understand the paradox of our situations. There are good and bad points for each. Probably the best way to deal with either is to accept it. If your parents are elderly and living (even with dementia) be grateful they are still living. If they died younger, be grateful they may have missed the difficulties of living old. I say “may” because my dad suffered through cancer before he got old.
Count your blessings because there is a lot of elder abuse going on today. Next week’s post will go into this aspect of aging.