We have choices about the story we tell as our families age. When I was doing some research on the literature available to support the aging, multi-generational family, I found the material woefully (and I do mean W-O-E fully!) inadequate. I kept coming across first-person stories that in describing their synopses began with “suddenly, my aging mother who lived across the country, needed assistance” or “unexpectedly, Dad wasn’t able to take care of himself anymore”. REALLY?
As a culture we seem to have a peculiar denial that allows us to ignore the changes that are typical across the lifespan? For example, we know that new parents need support and time to adapt to the demands of their infants, that teenagers will go through particular behavioral changes as they assert their independence, that college freshmen often gain 10 pounds their first semester.
We have analyzed and quantified and reported on changes across the lifespan — until we reach a “certain” age. I guess after the “empty nest” the Golden Years are supposed to manifest and the rest is all an easy listening, waves-crashing-on-shore-at-sunset relaxing life to be enjoyed. You know, where your greatest challenge is Erectile Dysfunction (and they have several pills available for that now!)
Parents don’t “suddenly” or “unexpectedly” age anymore than babies grow “suddenly” into toddlers or school-aged children “unexpectedly” become teenagers, yet we ignore these changes until the need arises.
I strongly believe that “failing to plan” – especially in the case of our parents – “is planning to fail.” Unless you are a fan of crisis and drama, you really want to start thinking this through now – while your children are little, you are still talking to your siblings and your parents can start making “back up plans” for when one or the other becomes temporarily indisposed. These conversations are so much easier to have and are much more empowering all the way around when had before someone is in the hospital.
The first step to that planning process is to get through the fear that your parents are aging, and that this means you and your lover will eventually age too. Teach your children how to communicate with you later by modeling good communication with your family now. I pray that this New Year brings open hearts and health and safety for you all!