Boomers share many common issues. If we are lucky enough to reach our 50s, 60s and beyond with one or both parents alive, caring for aging parents is likely to become one of those issues.
Aging parents can be both a blessing and a heartbreak; as the children of them, we sometimes feel as if we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, even when our parents are healthy. And when the tables turn and you are the one taking care of your mom or dad, it can be a profoundly sad experience knowing that your parent is simply not going to get better. It is the rare instance that a broken hip or cancer doesn’t signal the beginning of a downward spiral.
The Sadness of Decline
In my case, it was a terribly difficult time when my mother got older. It was demoralizing to see her, a once vibrant woman who loved life, succumb to illness and confined to a wheelchair. She was truly a remarkable woman and loved life so much that she refused to take anything but the red-eye across country — up until the age of 87! She just didn’t want to “waste the day” traveling.
Even with the sadness, I have to say it was truly an honor to be able to be there for my mother, and I consider it a blessing that we had time to say goodbye. I didn’t have the good fortune to have that experience with my dad, who died suddenly of a heart attack on my 17th birthday.
Thinking back to this period of my mother’s decline, I realize it was the most stressful time of my life; the sleepless nights, the anxiety and jumping up when the phone rang.
Recalling a Wonderful Life
But one thing stands out as a time of joy and gratitude for both of us in those last few months: Tthe time we shared going through my many photo albums, both the physical ones and the ones on my laptop.
I would bring them over to her nursing home, put on her favorite Frank Sinatra music in the background and watch her eyes light up as the music played and her sheer delight as we would go through the pages. We were able to relive the highlights of our lives together; it was a very special time.
Having been a Pan Am flight attendant and single until my late 40s, I was lucky to have had some great travel time with my mother. We took full advantage of my travel benefits, which took us to many places around the world — Europe, Asia and South America among them. We reveled in reminiscing about these special times while looking at the travel photos.
There were also pictures of family holidays, visits with her well-loved grandson and events and places that touched her life. Looking at all of these led to lively conversation and took us far from the nursing home walls.
Even with the bit of dementia she had developed, the pictures and music brought us both to a level of happiness and a place of gratitude.
We said a lot of “I love you so much” and “Didn’t we have fun?” To hear her say “I’ve had a wonderful life” was everything to me.
Bringing out all those good memories was truly a celebration of her life.
Grateful for Beautiful Memories
In sadness, there can be great beauty. I miss my mother like crazy, and I believe I always will. But I am forever grateful for these beautiful memories.
When it comes right down to it, all we have is memories. You don’t have to travel or go far away to make memories. It doesn’t have to be a cruise or an exotic locale; it can be as simple as a Saturday matinee or a Sunday brunch. But make those memories, and take the time to reflect, laugh and document them. You’ll be so glad you did.
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