Cross-Country Caregiver

While I managed to escape the too long winters when I moved clear across the country to the other coast, sadly my parents did not follow.

They loved visiting beautiful California, but as they got older and air travel became too hard for them, our visits became more about me going to see them as often as time and money allowed.

Like many of my friends with aging parents, our visits gradually became more about care giving than catching up.

People start falling when they are in their 80’s and 90’s.

Talk of hip fractures, hospice, strokes and assisted living apartments started to overtake our previous fun, silly and otherwise random conversations.

Words like “aging in place” and “palliative care” became my new Words of the Day.

If you’re lucky, you have siblings who you get along with. Brothers and sisters who will share in the care of your aging parents.

But, judging from the experiences of most of the people I know, none of this is going to even remotely resemble one of those happy families in the Hallmark commercials.

Much as we might try to will it into being so.

There is usually one sibling who already lives close to the family home, or who will soon be moving back into it.

No matter your good intentions, you will be seen as “The Interloper”. The one who breezes in for visits like a weekend divorced Dad, bringing gifts and good cheer.

You’re well aware that you’re not there for the daily grind, but will still try to make the best of it, optimist that you are.

None of it will matter.

You will be accused of not knowing what’s going on, while they who are there “all the time” will act the role of The Martyr like they’re trying to win an Oscar.

There is no winning this battle, so best not to choose it.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for people who are only children. Who have to manage and figure all of this out on their own.

Talk about feeling overwhelmed.

You may find yourself seriously wondering if people are meant to live this long.

Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When you are an adult who now needs to wear diapers, “Quality of Life” becomes a personal and philosophical concept to wrap your mind and heart around.

You will do the best that you can, while attempting to keep your work, social life, family life with your own spouse and children and your own home, somehow afloat.

You wonder if you’re a horrible daughter who will surely go straight to hell, for praying that your parents die peacefully in their sleep.

Possibly even while holding hands, or in a final, loving embrace.

None of these things had occurred to me all those years ago, as I was driving across country with my then boyfriend, on our grand adventure and great escape, as we gleefully threw our plastic windshield ice scrapers out the window, happy to see the frigid East Coast in our rearview mirror.