Becoming A Parent To Your Parent

I’ve been having waves of thoughts about my future, getting old, and my life coming full circle in certain areas. But I’m not over-analyzing about my age or mortality. The focus is on my mother. Sometimes I look at her and remember how it wasn’t that long ago that she’d spend a few weeks in NY or FL, get the yearning to be in Abuela mode, and then skip out to LA. I used to envy her because, in spite of being a widow, she was continuing to live life. She was vivacious and moving with such energy. Lately, I see her differently. I see her in a way I’d never thought.

Don’t get me wrong – my mom is the strongest person I know. She’s outlived quite a few younger relatives in our family and some of my friends. She’s sat front row at many funerals in the past couple of years and she’s remained steadfast. I wrote about a discussion I had with her about the new year. Whenever I get a feeling of hopelessness or defeat, I remember that maintaining your strength when the world is breaking you down is all in your mind. The thing about that is when you see a person’s pain day after day, it’s inevitably going to effect you mentally.

When we’re growing up, we never see our parents as having moments of vulnerability. I never once thought about helping a parent bathe or my father being so weak that he needed help doing something as basic as shaving. I never thought I’d have to have discussions with my mom’s doctor because she was too weak to do it on her own. That’s my life now though. You’re never ready to become a caregiver to a parent. We see our parents as invincible for so long. For at least 50% of our lives, our parents are solid as a rock. When things in my world have come toppling down, I could fall back on my parents. My mother, particularly, was able to help me navigate some of the hardest situations in my life. Now, I’m constantly leaning on God to replenish my strength so I can do the same for her.

I sat with my mom as soon as I got off the plane yesterday. After her first day in a new cycle of chemo, I noticed her skin is getting paler and the hair she has left is continuing to fall out. Part of me feels like we keep waiting for some profound word or phrase that would soothe me. In that moment though, I just reached for her hand and told her that “it’s going to get better, Ma”. For the first time in a while, I wholeheartedly believed my words.

As our parents get older, they need to lean on us far more than we’re prepared for. It’s important to know that even when you become the “parent”, the responsibility of making sure you’re okay will always be important to them. Even in the role of focusing on my mom being good, she still worries about me as much as I worry about her. While on vacation, I had to stop being selfish and consider that it’s probably hard for my mom to be taken care of by her sons. I would think it’s probably difficult for her to be in a position to trust us to be make the decisions that will shape her golden years.

Taking care of parents is challenging at first. It’s exacerbated if your parent is dealing with some type of sickness. However, going through this experience and being able to share it (even if you can’t relate) is cathartic. This phenomenal post drives home the point that the love we have for our parents forces us to see love through its not-so-perfect lenses. It’s true love that will become the fuel that gets you through 24 hours at a time. On the days that you think you can’t do it anymore, remember all the times your mom or dad cleaned up your vomit, loaned you money that they were saving for retirement, or patched up your broken heart from the person they warned you about.

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