Aging Parents

I’m not sure I have a lot to say about this topic because my parents didn’t actually age–Mom died at sixty, Dad  at seventy-four, and husband’s dad at sixty-five. But I feel compelled to speak to it because it’s a huge issue for so many Baby Boomers.

I’m watching my friends’ parents age. Dee’s widowed mom is in her early eighties and lives in an assisted living facility. She sits, sleeps, watches TV, and goes down to the dining room for meals and the occasional game of cards. Dee goes to see her several times a week to take her groceries, do her laundry, and check on her. Emily’s dad is a widower, living in assisted living, who sits, sleeps, watches TV, and goes to the dining room for meals. Em goes to see him several times a week to do his laundry, clean his place, pay his bills, and check on him. Natalie’s dad is also a widower, lives in an assisted living, sits,  sleeps, watches TV, but doesn’t always make it to the dining room—he skips meals for naps. Natalie goes to see him several times a week to do his laundry, fill his medication container, and check on him.

Gee, do I detect a pattern here? It makes my heart ache to see my friends struggling with their parents’ aging issues, not just for my friends, but also for the parents. It’s almost as if their roles have reversed. Dee is often frustrated with her mom’s lack of activity and neediness.  Emily worries constantly that one day soon she’ll arrive to find her dad has passed away, and Natalie alternates between feeling guilty that she isn’t doing enough for her ninety-year-old dad and being irritated that he seems satisfied to lie in bed all day. It feels like they’ve all given up on life and are simply waiting for it to be over.

But the overriding theme for all my friends with infirm parents  is “Not me! I won’t be like this when I’m old!” And I believe them because the good news is my mother-in-law—the only parent we have left. At eighty-five, she’s still gorgeous and healthy and strong. Honestly, the woman doesn’t look a day over seventy. She dresses like she just stepped out of a catalog, is always perfectly coiffed, and is still sharp as a tack. She lives in the house she raised her boys in, drives wherever she wants to go, adores her grandkids, her gardens, and CNN and MSNBC—she’s a total news hound. She’s pretty much up for anything, and even took a girly trip to California with me a couple of years ago where she got into wine tasting, tramped all over San Francisco, had a blast on the cable cars, and danced with my son’s friends at their restaurant.

What I wouldn’t do to have her genes! Isn’t there some way to do gene transplants? Probably not…I guess I’ll just have to be grateful that my kid has her terrific genes. And I’m totally onboard with my friends–NOT ME! So I hit the gym, keep my mind busy with work and writing, try to eat healthy, and stay involved. We Boomers are going to be a different kind of elder–strong, healthy, active, independent, and laughing at our kids when they say, “You did what?! But you’re eighty-five years old!” Yeah baby, you betcha!


  • CathyS

    I have a friend going through this right now, with trying to help her mother stay in her home. Even with siblings all working together, it’s a strain.

    Nice blog, Nancy!

    Cathy S from Indiana RWA.

  • admin

    Hey Diva,

    Not sure what Asst. Living costs are, but a lot of aging seniors are going that route here. Not sure about nursing homes either…only that some are good and others not so much.

    It’s “potted plant” syndrome (love that!) that I hope to avoid by grabbing life by the gonads and just living it!

  • Diva

    Okay, is assisted living much more affordable where you are? Cause our old folks downsize to apartments and we take care of them cuz no one but the well to do can afford assisted living here and the nursing homes are a hell to be avoided.

    I agree with your idea (and yay to your mother in law!) that moxie and determination can keep you young while complacency and downright resignation can make you old before your time. I have an aunt who is 60 but has been certifiably elderly for at least five years simply because all she does is moan about maladies and say she can’t do things like drive at night. I want to shake her and say HELLO you will be old and helpless someday but it ain’t today!

    Similarly, my 90 yo grandma stayed young by doing for herself and getting out a lot until she was 88 and had a bad fall. she’s understandably timid now but i kinda push her–go play scrabble with your sunday school class! go eat barbecue! because i’d rather her have fun and get hurt than sit home like a potted plant out of fear.