Growing up my daddy was my hero. He was a pilot in the Air Force, so he looked even more heroic to me in his flight suit, driving off in his blue Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to fly jets in the morning. Or in his white mess dress uniform for a formal event with my gorgeous, stylishly dressed mother by his side. They were a couple to be reckoned with, and my Mom perfectly played her role as an officer’s wife.
I’m 62 now, and my parents will both be 90 in September. As almost 90-year-olds, they are doing pretty well. My Dad’s Parkinson’s is definitely getting worse and my Mom has moved into the Memory Care unit in their retirement community because of her progressive downward spiral with Alzheimer’s. I am so incredibly grateful to have them in my life still.
She looks terrific and is physically healthy, but she has no idea who I am when she looks at me. I want to think she knows me in her heart. But just like she did on my Dad’s side so many decades back, she uses her charm to fake it until she makes it. And when it comes to having her picture taken, her body automatically moves into the three-quarter modeling pose. Somewhere in her disabled, rattled brain, her old talents haven’t died.
There’s a lot of sadness watching your parents age in some pretty scary ways, but also goodness. My Dad, the ever-stoic Swede, now says I love you every time we say goodbye. And Mom, the ex-fashion model, still comments, both positively and negatively, on how I look. She continues to not like my hair color but in a questioning kind of way… “So, your hair is red? Do you like it?”. She now finally speaks her mind and sticks up for herself.
Like so many women, especially from her generation, she put all of her efforts into supporting her husband and family and putting herself last. She never liked change yet moved all over the world 15+ times. I will never forget when Dad had that realization 12 years after he retired, and we talked about how terribly she acted a few days during each time we moved, yet no one understood why. I wish I had.
At this stage of my life, our roles have somewhat reversed. Should I have understood this is a natural progression? Perhaps.
I struggle with Dad. It’s much easier being the “parent” to Mom than to Dad. This situation reminded me of when my girls were teenagers, and I had to find the right balance of making sure they were doing what they needed to but not treating them like children.
Watching your hero in pain, depressed, scared, and missing his wife and his old life is heart-wrenching.
To get thru this, help my parents, and at the same time, take care of myself, I’m working on acknowledging that all relationships change over time, and I need to learn how to adapt with acceptance, honesty, deep respect, and true trust. And talking with family and friends is so important.
And just when I thought I was in a better place, I got a call last night from the retirement community’s medical staff because he had fallen, and they were taking him to the hospital. After a CT scan and many other tests, it was determined the fall was caused by his Parkinson’s, as well as the fact that he had barely eaten all day and was dehydrated (but enjoyed a cocktail). Luckily, he’s ok after getting in his own bed at 3:15 this morning, and he’s taken full accountability for his decisions, just like a good teenager would! Oh, Dad!
By Andrea Bjorkman
CEO & Co-Founder Find Your Fizz