These holidays we went to see my parents. The long haul flight across the ocean should have foretold the changes we would encounter.
Things are constantly changing when we are not immersed in them. Change is inexorable for all of us, only we don’t notice it as much when we live through it.
I think the greatest realisation was the fact that my parents are getting old. OK, so it’s not that I don’t know how old they are (although for years my mother kept her age a top secret), but rather how being old has changed them. I had prepared myself for the worst, so that meant it was a relief to see I was off the mark, but reality was still a shock.
When you are growing up, initially your parents are your heroes. They not only know everything, but they can do no wrong.
In the teen years, the worship slowly changes to: “You can’t possibly understand!” as if we were never young enough to have faced the same things. (I am old enough to think the teenage emotion is overdone, but not old enough to disregard it.)
In our twenties we dismiss them as people who are too conservative and cautious and lack understanding of the modern world.
We rediscover them in our thirties and seek their wisdom, this time fully understanding that even with all their faults they are impressive people and can teach you a lot.
And then it reverses again as they reach their eighties and they begin to need your help. In Mum’s case, she was a successful lawyer when a stroke put an end to her working career three years ago. She moves about and she is still as smart as she ever was, but she gets tired quickly and easily. There are days that even getting out of bed is an effort. In Dad’s case he still looks physically fit, but Alzheimer’s reared its ugly head about five years ago. We’ve been lucky because it seems to have settled somewhere between: ‘I forgot what I asked you thirty seconds ago to – I still know who you, your husband and children are’.
Miss Dee became my father’s anchor and motivation. She is the youngest grandchild and he doesn’t get to see her very often. If Dad was feeling lazy and didn’t want to get dressed, we just had to tell him that he was having lunch with Miss Dee and therefore needed to look his best. My mother was delighted. In some obscure way she feels responsible for his lack of drive.
Initially being the centre of attention not just for my father but also from her cousins and everyone else was great. Miss Dee often complains about being an only child and for years she requested a sibling. However, a couple of weeks into the holidays, that attention became a bit too much. I suddenly had a teen who wanted to be left alone, didn’t like the new food routine or having to spend all the time with relatives.
I tried to explain that it might be the last time I saw my parents, but I think when you are that young immortality applies to everyone, so I wasn’t getting through. I wanted everything to be perfect for my parents and I was getting frustrated with my inability to communicate this to Miss Dee (I know, perfection was never going to be possible, but it was an emotional time for me).
I asked DH to have a chat and see if he could make some headway. He reported back that evening saying that he’d only been able to listen patiently to everything she was feeling, but had not made any headway. So I was surprised that night as DH had a shower, having Miss Dee come into the room and apologise for her behaviour. I gave her a hug and told her it was OK but also asked what we could do better in future. She shrugged her shoulders and said that talking it all out with her Dad had made a difference.
I remember the times when I could do that with my own father – to some extent I still can and did especially with my mother on this trip. I am grateful for that.
I hope that for Miss Dee, this is the foundation of long conversations to be had. Conversations that don’t need to lead anywhere other than understanding. Because that’s what families are for. Whatever life brings.