I lost my Dad to cancer when he was 63.
I lost my Mom to Alzheimer’s when she was 95.
You could say he was too young.
You could say she was too old.
But you don’t say these things because we simply don’t talk about them.
Losing a parent, of course, is the natural order of things. You are an adult; you bury your parents. And you are supposed to move on.
But do we?
I was 22 when my Dad died. I have spent 35 years convinced he was not ready; convinced he had more to do; convinced my life would have been better had he been here to guide me.
Twenty-five years after my father’s death, my Mother’s mind and personality started to evaporate into an unpredictable mix of confusion, anger, fear and childlike sweetness. As she slowly disappeared, we formed new bonds. As I grappled with the issues of her care, our roles reversed. I became my Mother’s mother. And if that is a cliché, then let’s say at the very least I was her quarterback; her protector; her advocate; her lifeline.
During the last ten years of her life, every time I saw my Mother I was greeted by a different version of the woman who loved me. Sometimes she was funny; sharing stories of the past, wry observations, candid disclosures. Then, as though a switch had been flipped, she was full of rage; angry, abusive, demanding.
And then there were the times she didn’t know me at all.
But whatever version I found, the bottom line was she was my charge, my responsibility, my challenge.
I spent more time with my Mother in the last ten years than in the previous thirty. I was intimately involved in almost every aspect of her life. And each thread of this new bond made her sudden death in 2010 an equally heart-wrenching journey; new, different but just as profound as the grief I have been grappling with for 35 years.
That is the reason I am writing this blog.
Our parents are living into their nineties. We need to talk about the myriad of issues we confront on a daily basis; the stress, the cost, and the exhaustion, as well as the renewed bonds, dependence and discoveries revealed during those final years together.
I will write about the loss we carry with us; the comfort we give each other; the legacy we create for our families.
Our parents are a part of us.
How do we let them go?