Present Tense

Going home….


As I was flying home from Michigan earlier this week, I pulled out my iPad and jotted down my thoughts on visiting my elderly parents.  I’m going to post it unedited because it’s more immediate and honest.  I suspect that many of you can relate to living far away from family members.

I went home to visit my parents for a few days.  They’re 91 and I try to go back to Michigan for a visit every chance I get.

Going “home” is always bittersweet for me; now more than ever as my parents are fading away and it makes me feel so distant from them.  I know I should be more patient and affectionate, but instead I find myself doing just the opposite.

I think it’s a protective mechanism from the pain that I know is coming when they pass.  Plus, I just hate to see them so frail.  My mother, in particular has undergone a bit of a personality change that I find particularly distressing.

She’s obstinate about nearly everything (perhaps I’m looking in a mirror?) and I know it’s because she feels as if she has very little control over most of her life and a control freak like me can certainly relate to that kind of loss.

However, she seems to have accepted the inevitable and talks openly and honestly about not being around a whole lot longer. My dad rages against her decline by nagging her about her health and making sure she makes it to all of her doctor’s appointments.  On the other hand, my mom fantasizes about throwing out all of her medications and seeing what happens.

Death is the end of all of our stories; I often wonder if we fear it more for ourselves or for those we leave behind.  My dad has often said that if my mom dies first, he wants to follow her as quickly as possible and I have a feeling that is exactly what will happen.  He can’t bear to be without her.  They’ve been married for over 70 years.  I don’t think he fears death as much as he fears life alone.

I can’t quite conceive of that kind of devotion, having never had children and having lived an independent and autonomous life, even though I’ve been married for over 20 years.  My husband and I don’t share that kind of symbiosis, even though we live a fairly isolated life together in the mountains.

So, I could easily pull out the old standby excuse that I haven’t lived up to my parents example or expectations.  Lots of us like to blame our parents for all of our shortcomings, but it’s so lame.  My parents set a great example for us on many levels and they raised us like little birds that got shoved out of the nest before we were of legal drinking age.

I’ve stubbornly rejected their traditional lifestyle, while ignoring the fact that they raised us with the tools to do just that.  I was never steered toward any particular lifestyle, other than independence and common sense and decency.  The most that they expected from us, is that we think for ourselves and figure out how to pay our own bills.  Everything else that I imagined that they wanted is self-imposed.

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.  ~Maya Angelou

April 22, 2012 - Posted by | Musings


  1. This is fantastic. Really hit home. Haven’t read one of your blogs in a while. If they’re all this damn good, gonna have to check out your thoughts more often 😉

    Comment by Karla "KKL" | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly and honestly Jane. You are right, many of us in ‘our’ generation are in the same spot you’re in. Having already lost my dad, I’m dreading the loss of my mother. I have also lived far away from my parents since age 19, and have not been in the position to see them more often than once a year. We talk on the phone, but when I actually see my mom, the time that has passed has taken it’s toll. I know that my two children will probably be thinking the same thing about me. It’s life, and life goes on… Thank you again and keep on being you. It’s who they want you to be!

    Comment by Shari | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  3. Definitely hits home. Thanks for sharing what many of us are going through/feeling. My parents are 81. I would love it if they would move here so I could spend their twilight years with them. That probably won’t happen. When I see them, I am surprised that they move slower and tell the same stories. My dad will be lost if my mom goes first and probably feels the same way as your father. They have been married close to 60 years and are the most loving couple I know — It seems they even kiss each other when they are just leaving the room! Sickening sweet but beautiful — I must have missed that lesson! Thanks again Jane

    Comment by Carolyn Noroski Stillman | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  4. That was very touching and heartfelt Janie!!! It made me cry. We are so lucky we have had our parents in our lives for such a long time (67 years for me).

    Comment by Marsha | April 22, 2012 | Reply

    • It almost made me cry, writing it on the plane…

      Comment by janelondon | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  5. This is beautiful, and as are all your posts, thought-provoking. Loving one’s parents is the easiest and hardest thing to do; and seeing their decline raises so many emotions and feelings. I love the Maya Angelou quote; I would add this: your parents really are your “home” – it’s not the “place” to which you go…it’s to them. How wonderful you have the means and desire to see them as often as you can in these later years. They were with you at the beginning; you’ll be with them at the end.

    Comment by francescaamari (@francescaamari) | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  6. Thank you Jane for being so honest. As my parents aren’t as old or shall I say as young as your parents, that is my fear of getting older as it is one step closer to them leaving me. Makes you put things into perspective. What is important and what isnt. Thank you again!

    Comment by Janell | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  7. That was very touching…I just returned from visitng my folks during spring break and often want to leave the minute I arrive!! I love them dearly but they’re only in their mid to late 70’s and have been pretty sedentary for quite some time now. We’ve offered numerous airline tickets to come out and see us (only a 2 hour flight) but Mom is terrified of flying, so there they sit. Their relationship has deteriorated with little to no communication between them. Dad has all but retreated to his numerous computers, laptops, cell phones, the internet…while he left my mom behind and when we send stuff through email, she has to ask him to let her see it or print out some pictures!! I can’t blame it all on my Dad cause Mom even admits that she’s not really interested in learning new technology at this point! They’re everything I don’t want to be with my husband if we reach that age of our lives and maybe that’s what makes it so hard to visit them?… I truly feel that I can’t go home anymore…

    Comment by Becky B. | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  8. My heart goes out to you. I work with the elderly on a daily basis. I sometimes wonder if I do it because I did not have a chance to do it for my own parents. I am 56 and my father has been gone for almost 31 years and my mother for 29 years. Although I envy you for having had your parents for such a long part of your live, I do not envy you having to go through the adjustments of the later years with them. I know it is hard from what I witness daily at my work. My father would have been 99 next Saturday. It’s so hard to imagine what he would have been like at that age since he was 68 when he died. Thank you so much for sharing your heartfelt feelings, Jane.

    Comment by Kathy F. | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  9. You’re right. The timeliness of this does hit home for me. I’m going back to Ohio this summer for the first time since my dad died 7 years ago. My mom has some pretty serious health issues going on as well. Every time I commit to being “a better daughter,” I pull away instead. Unintentionally, subconsciously, but surely. Thanks for sharing, Jane.

    Comment by Debbie R. | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  10. Many, many similarities Jane. Thanks for being so bloody honest.

    Comment by Tim | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  11. Hi Jane – thanks for the reflective post. My dad is 82 and my mom will be 80 this year; she has been in a nursing home (actually a very nice new one) for almost 3 years after a stroke left her unable to walk. What’s I’ve noticed lately is that she can no longer be happy or supportive about anything in my life. When I mentioned we were going to Dillon for 3 days over my 13-year-old son’s spring break (and because of tough economic times this was going to be our first psuedo-vacation in about 4-5 years), all she could say is “Well I haven’t been on a vacation since the stroke.” Many times she said this to me and never once did she relay that she was happy we finally got to go somewhere and enjoy a few days or wished us a good time. This happens with pretty much every scenario – how I make money with my websites online (“I don’t know what you do or how in the world you make any money), that my son enjoyed playing basketball at his middle school (“Why doesn’t he play the piano anymore – put him back in lessons.”), we need to re-do our sod (“I don’t get to enjoy my yard anymore so you don’t need to worry about it.”), we went to dinner at our neighbor’s house (I don’t get to go to my friend’s house) – EVERYTHING! Even when I go visit her (about once a month), all she does is complain and tell me why she’s unhappy with me.

    So … I don’t tell her much anymore. We have 4-minute conversations about the weather and what she saw on TV, and that’s about it. I don’t think this is uncommon for elderly, but it is so sad. This is why people pull away; like I feel myself doing. Trying to forge a new path according to “You teach people how to treat you.” I’ve apparently taken it from her (not wanting to rock the boat) and I’m now trying to calmly teach her how she may treat me. It probably won’t make a difference, but worth a try.

    Geez – betcha didn’t know you’re now my counselor! Sorry to ramble so long. I have enjoyed you on the radio for so many years and you all make me laugh every morning. Keep it up!

    Comment by Jodi | May 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Jodi – I think your mom is using a round about way to ask you to help her. She wants to get out and do something again. She may feel disconnected. Is it at all possible for her to get out to see her friends some time with you? Or can you take her out to eat? She may not know how to just ask you these things and is just hoping you will catch on when she comments that she doesn’t do those things any more. Another thing that could be going on is depression. I see it a lot where I work. Many of the elderly are being treated for depression.

      Just a couple of thoughts and I don’t know if they are even close to right. You know your mother best.

      Comment by Kathy F. | May 3, 2012 | Reply

      • Hi Kathy,

        Thanks so much for taking to time to reply. Yes – during the past 3 years we have gotten her out. My sister (who lives much closer to her) learned from the PT how to transfer her in and out of a car. However, after my mom kept complaining that it hurt her (which I don’t doubt it does) and my sister’s back deteriorating, we don’t do that anymore (I physically can’t do it either). We’ve scheduled the handicapped city bus and the nursing home bus for her numerous times, but she complains about the way the driver(s) handles things and frequently she gets motion sickness. Plus, whenever we take her to a restaurant, she complains about the food or service. It’s just never-ending. So that option is running out. I’ve encouraged her friends to go see her, but that has dwindled. She actually has been on either lexapro or zoloft, but just the minimum doses. I may inquire about increasing the dosage. It’s just a scenario where I don’t see much hope anymore. I’m sure I’m not alone. I think I need counseling – know any good counselors in the Denver area? 🙂

        Comment by Jodi | May 4, 2012

  12. Hello all – enjoyed all the comments about this post. As we ALL get older and watch ourselves become our parents and our parents become our children – I have discovered a wonderful book – actually given to me by a friend going thru the same situation:
    The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss by Nancy L. Mace, Peter V. Rabins

    This is an invaluable tool to understanding aging; not just Alzheimer. I know it’s been a wonderful resource in helping me understand what my parents are going through as they continue on their aging journey; not to mention some insight into what I will be going through – totally helps you change your perspective and helps you become much more patient and helpful w/your parents’ changes.

    I hope you’ll all get a copy – after all – it is true – you do become your parents’ parent at some point. But the trick is not to let them know that.

    Good reading!

    Comment by Big Sis | May 6, 2012 | Reply

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