This is a topic I've wanted to blog about for a long time now, but I haven't been able to find the words. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about it - we're talking mental contortions here - so to write about it was waaaaaay too dangerous. In fact, fair warning: If you're also struggling not to think about your own parents' aging and eventual passing, read no further.
This most recent trip home has forced these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. My dad and I took Little M down to Peoria to visit my grandmother, whose health is failing. Um yeah. The inevitable gets pretty hard to deny on a long trip like that. I know my father is struggling to come to terms with what's happening to his mother and I know I'll be in his situation in about 25 years - if we're very blessed. And as the years don't seem to be slowing down any (quite the opposite), it pains me greatly. I find myself multiplying: "See him 3x a year for 25 years = 75 visits and he's gone..." "If he's like grandpa... 20 years of health... 60 visits until he's suffering..."
I hate, hate these thoughts. I hate them so much that one of the only thoughts that makes me feel better is "okay by that time, I've only got another 30 myself..." That, and "Matthew will probably have a kid by then... maybe..." And finally, "But I'll keep them with me, in my home... no nursing home for them... so we might have YEARS left together instead of just visits!" Yes for me, this is the issue that comes to mind when people refer "childhood innocence." When you're a child (at least, a lucky child with a good childhood), life seems to stretch into eternity, and you're not haunted by how short it is. People say "Life's too short to ________" and you wonder what they're talking about, since math class seems to last about five years. Your parents have no gray hair, no wrinkles. Every 4-5 year span seems to be its own lifetime, so it's like you have at LEAST 17 lives yourself and your parents have 10 more as well. But then you finish up college, your twenties fly by, and all of a sudden you're a parent yourself and your own parents are in their sixties. And you know the coming years will only fly even faster...
Am I crazy??? I really don't know but I'll be interested to see the responses to this blog. I *know* there are others who struggle with these thoughts and I have to wonder how much of it comes down to living far away. Pretty much every friend I have in Boston ends each visit with their parents feeling they HAVE TO move back home, but can't. One of my very best friends struggles with these thoughts about her dad, even after having lost her mother during her college years... so it doesn't seem like my perspective on how bad it will be is that far off from reality. And I know that it "happens to everyone" - that doesn't make me any happier about it; if anything it makes me more sad.
I don't know what to do with these thoughts, really. I try so hard to just not ever think them, and while that works during the day, I find myself waking with a start at least once most nights in a panic as I realize just how little I see my parents each year. I feel like I'm basically in denial during the day, and my defenses are down at night and reality strikes. During the day I somehow know that because it's inevitable, it's not worth thinking about. But at night my mind says "Wait, it IS that bad!!!"
I know there are many people out there - at least, many women - who simply would never live very far from their parents. I would definitely be one of those women if it were just my career on the line. But we don't really have that option with where my husband's career is taking us. I would never ask my husband to downgrade his career just so we could live near our parents. And if I were the breadwinner, and I were training at MGH, I'm sure I wouldn't want to downgrade anything either. Medical research is very political... connections are important... pedigree matters a great deal... my husband is at the very top of his game and we've both sacrificed an enormous amount for him to be there. Thus it seems impossible: How can I ALWAYS live far away from my parents, for the rest of their lives? But... somehow, it *does* have to be that way.
How about the afterlife? Any comfort there? Well sorry to say people, but no. I'm a Christian and while I think it's fair to say that Christians do not know, even Biblically, who is and who isn't "saved," the reality is that almost anyone I'd turn to for spiritual guidance probably, if they're honest with me, thinks my parents are damned. So the "Good News" doesn't do much to ease my anxiety. Luckily people hardly ever mention damnation at funerals... funny, isn't it?
Anyway, I wish blogging about this would give me some resolution but I find myself headed off to bed still dreading what thoughts the night might bring. I actually think I'm afraid to go to bed anything less than exhausted because I'm trying to avoid waking moments that harbor these thoughts... and so I stay up too late. I guess the question I'm left with is:
Am I crazy, do I need to see a therapist, or do a lot of other people struggle with these thoughts? and,
If you struggle with these thoughts, what are your best remedies?