As the years pass (more quickly now), it's natural to reflect on the past but also on the uncertain nature of the future. I recently attended a "Celebration of the Life" for a woman who was very dear to me. She'd had a long life of some 90 odd years and had been active for most of it, although that was greatly reduced with the onset of macular degeneration which left her legally blind for most of the last ten years. She needed live-in help and lamented her inability to do as much as she'd always done. She worked hard to be positive and in the last several years her memory went, so conversations were quite repetitive and often she wouldn't recognize friends that came to visit.
Death was introduced to my life at an early age and really hit home when my mother died when I was 20 after fighting cancer for several years. I mention that for no other reason than to add a perspective on my sensitivity on the subjects of illness, aging, and death.
Years after that, my uncle became very ill and it took his illness several years to finally take him, as was also the case with his brother, my father. It's natural for children to bury those in the generations preceding them, but it doesn't make it easy. Long illnesses are hard on the patient, but allow family members and friends to recognize and even accept what is coming. Sudden death may be easier on the patient but is abruptly agonizing for those left behind.
Recently, I've been observing several friends deal with aging and even the onset of dementia and alzheimer's in parents and/or a spouse. Day by day the person they knew gets further away, and they slowly appear to be taking on the role and responsibilities of a parent. This, to me, is the cruelest of ends as the challenges that have to be met by the patient and their loved ones cannot be foreseen or predicted, and often lead to the hardest decisions imaginable.
In this season of Hallmark holidays like Mother's Day (May 10), and Father's Day (June 21) we celebrate these heroes of our youth, those who taught us so much, and led the way, with unconditional love. As my generation of empty-nesters are now at the time when their parents need help, I want to share a letter that I came upon this morning from an aging mother to her beloved daughter. I recognize it isn't easy for those in the position of caring for a parent or spouse to embrace or hold on to their patience and understanding - but then all we can do is try ... they did. They helped us into this world, we need to help them out.
"My dear girl, the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don't interrupt to say: "You said the same thing a minute ago"... Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep.
When I don't want to take a bath, don't be mad and don't embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl?
When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don't look at me that way ... remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life's issues every day... the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through.
If I occasionally lose track of what we're talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can't, don't be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you.
And when my old, tired legs don't let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don't feel sad... just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I'll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I've always had for you, I just want to say, I love you ... my darling daughter."
Original text in Spanish; translation to English by Sergio Cadena. From AARP.