It has been three years since your father died and your mother is beginning to slow down. Her eyesight is increasingly poor and she voluntarily stopped driving because she did not feel safe anymore. She finds it harder to maintain her home and you notice that she has lost some weight. She used to be involved in her Church choir and she was a member of the Church women’s group that organized fund raisers for local charities. Lately, she seems to have lost interest in these activities and when you ask her about it, she doesn’t want to discuss it. You are worried about her living alone in that big home and you offer to help her find a retirement home. When you approach the subject, she looks at you like you just punched her in the stomach. What just happened?
Growing older is not easy. Perhaps, when your parents were in their 40s, they thought that when they were older and wiser retirement could be relaxing as they would have the time to play golf, travel or see every new Hollywood movie. Don’t kid yourself. Retiring and growing older may not be interesting and gratifying for long. Your parents may not have the energy to golf 18 holes, or travel may become too risky, depending on their health and they may not be able to hear the movie because of an onset of severe hearing loss! As aging comes upon us, our parents are filled with many emotions that pull them up and down some bumpy hills. They grieve losses more days than not. They mourn regularly as their friends become sick or die. They grieve as their bodies betray them when they try to stand, to walk or to exercise as they used to do. They are saddened as they must say goodbye to their homes to relocate to “retirement communities” or “assisted living facilities”, formally acknowledging to the world, “Yeah, I’m older and I’m not as capable.”
Have compassion for your aging family members. I know that you are worried about their health and safety. So are they. They just may not talk about it because it is too painful to think about. Be gentle and kind and approach sensitive topics empathically. You will be old one day too!