Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Missing But in Action

I've not added an entry in a month. Too many obstructions, like getting out seasonal cards, making a trip to VA, preparing for the BIG LUNCH on the 25th.

However, my trip to Virginia was a lesson many sons and daughters of aging parents need to heed.

I volunteered to drive my frail cousin to her new home near Leesburg. Her daughter, unable to fly to Mississippi every time her mom needed someone, found an apartment near her home in Vienna, and the dread of leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar was enough to keep my cousin delaying for 12 months.

M's problem is one faced by innumerable older people who have to leave their homes. She had lived in a 4 bedroom, 3 bath home chock-full of furnishings and accessories that took 3 days to pack into the largest van I've ever seen. In the apartment complex, as the men unpacked, M began to fret. Where to put this, that, that over there? What to keep, what to move to daughter's basement? For hours the moving men worked steadily, men with patience and compassion for this little lady, until a path was made from one room to the other.

My job was to help M unpack boxes and make some semblance of a home for her. Be her companion for a week. We talked about family history, rehashing old stories passed down from parent to child, asking and answering questions about each of our parents. Her mother was my dad's oldest sister in a family of seven. We cleared family rumors, recalled visits as children...all those things that cousins talk about.

Within a few days M realized that once I left she had no friends and only her daughter, busy with her own life, to call upon when she needed company. An overwhelming grief and aloneness hit. I promised to call her often, visit her yearly on our way to New York. She may never feel comfortable, and this apartment will serve as a way station, a resting place until she dies. That thought alone made her feel her life shortening, although the average family age for passing is some 10 years away. There, in a strange conglomeration of apartment buildings she felt OLD. Yet, she has been one of the busiest, feisty ladies I know. She could do more in one day than I could accomplish in several.

No son or daughter in his/her prime of life rarely understands that one's own life must be put on hold when parents age. Not wanting to but needing to lean heavily on the only people these elders know, their children, comes unexpectedly. The parent cries out for a companion, listener, cook, traveler, and driver. How difficult it is to recognize that one can no longer do simple tasks without supervision. The stove becomes as dangerous as a loaded pistol; preparing meals alone becomes crackers and cheese one day and soup the next; making up the bed too much trouble, all the while one or more television sets blare in every room to dull the silence. Time is the propeller for accepting this new role in life.

I'm aging now with no need to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar. I hope my own children will find time to be my friend and companion.

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