I am the youngest of 6 children.
My parents are immigrants and emigrated from Lebanon nearly 60 years ago. My mom gave birth to me at the age of 42, God bless her. In a way, I felt my older siblings raised me. They introduced me to new experiences, sheltered me from tragedy, and guided my parents in their younger years as they knew more of the English language than my parents did.
My parents never got the opportunity to see their parents age, as they had to up-and-leave their homeland to create a better life for themselves and future family. Whenever my parents would share stories of their youth, it would reignite a spirit in them. We would gather around and listen to their stories, often repeated hundreds of times, and we would find ourselves engrossed in every single one of them.
You could say my life was pretty perfect up until I reached my early 20s. Most of my siblings were married with children, living the next chapter of their lives. My parents had continued to remain strong, healthy, and independent deep into their 60s. I was always aware of this and always expressed gratitude for every day spent with them.
But, on August 21, 2006, our lives took a drastic shift.
Late in the middle of the night, I was awoken by the sound of my father vomiting. I thought to myself: it must be a side effect of the antibiotic he was prescribed earlier in the day for a throat infection. I knew it was more when I heard my mother’s concern, “what is this, what is going on?!”
I got out of bed and walked into the bathroom, where my father stood, hunched over in front of the toilet, with my mother by his side supporting him as copious amounts of blood projected from his mouth. It looked like a murder scene, blood splattered and smeared all over the walls. I thought I was going to faint and started to head back to my room, but as I walked by my father’s room, I could not help but notice the clots of blood all over his pure white sheets. This was merely the beginning of what I never imagined my life would be.
Very long story short, my father required 2 liver transplants. Upon undergoing these surgeries, however, he suffered a brain injury that resulted in significant cognitive deficits and a seizure disorder. After a year of being in the hospital, my father was discharged. When I found out he was returning home, I thought it was right for me to return home and help care for him with my mother. I thought this would only be temporary.
However, my father’s chronic care needs continued for years. Every time I thought about moving, I felt incredibly guilty knowing that my time with my parents was limited and they were both growing older. I also saw my parents, especially my dad, in a different light. I saw his loving side, his angry side, his witty side, and his dependent side. I also knew my mother was burning out, by the last year of his life, she had not slept once through the night to tend to him.
I finally made the decision to move out two years ago, with my parents’ blessing. My father passed away in May 2018 and in some ways, I still feel guilty. However, I believe in his afterlife, he surrounds me and knows how much I loved and cared for him every day.
My mother finds peace and strength in being around her children and grandchildren as often as possible. I am now in my mid-30s and I still call my mother every day. Whether the conversation is two minutes or 20 minutes long, there is always something to say and love to be shared.
While I did not understand it then, I now realize how caring for my aging parents has impacted my life and how caring for your aging parents may impact yours.
Here are 4 Ways Caring for My Aging Parents Changed My Life Forever:
- Caring for my father’s chronic illnesses made me recognize how short life is and to be grateful for every ounce of independence. In my opinion, there is no greater loss than losing one’s independence.
- Caring for your aging parents will teach you to better empathize with others. Eleven years ago, I never knew anyone who was in the same position as myself. Now, I am seeing a growing number of adults caring for their aging parents while also taking care of their own families. I want to say that while it is not easy, it will bring more fulfillment than you can imagine.
- Being able to care for your aging parents today is a privilege, as many parents are outliving their children. Be grateful for your own health, this will give you the strength to endure and enjoy each day.
- Caring for your aging parents will teach you patience. There is no need to rush through life, but rather, relish every moment with those who matter most to you. Find joy in the mundane, redundancy, and simpler things. My father was housebound for 11 years and he woke up every morning with the biggest smile and vitality to begin anew.
Caring for your aging parents will grow your familial relationships.
There will be many ups and downs, but at the core of it all, you know your parents are the glue that keeps you together.