Nothing Prepares You For Your Parents Getting Old And Sick

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 
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Without getting into too much detail, one of my parents became sick this year. It is something that will get better, thankfully, but in the midst of it all, I have found myself wholly unprepared for this stage in life. The stage when I’m not only providing care for my still-young children, but also making decisions and caring for my aging parents.

The stage when the worry of trying to be there for someone who lives far away is all I can think about. The stage of trying to navigate the health care system on behalf of someone else who doesn’t always advocate for themselves.

As a health care professional myself, it was mind-blowing how unprepared I was for this stage. I’ve worked in hospitals for years. I’ve seen thousands of people on their very worst days, yet I wasn’t ready to be there myself. I wasn’t ready for the fear, the uncertainty, and the unusual role of being in charge of what happened to the people who were supposed to always be okay. My sister and I found ourselves going through a mourning of sorts, for that blissful stage when we didn’t have to think about our parents’ day-to-day activities. If you’re there in that blissful stage, be thankful. Please, be thankful. It can change fast.

For us, it all happened very quickly, and now we feel like the adults in charge. I don’t want to be in charge of talking to doctors, arranging care, worrying about safety, driving all over the country, being a grown-up. I don’t think I ever felt like a grown-up until just now.

We are lucky (and thrilled) that things will get better, but for now, we are in the trenches of caregiving. Every day is unexpected and tricky because our parents weren’t prepared either. Things were just supposed to truck along forever, right? Normal and unencumbered and worry-free. Until they don’t. You always want to believe that you will be healthy. Until you’re not. You want to believe that you can take care of yourself forever. Until you can’t.

I’m so grateful to have a sister to go through this with, but it can still feel isolating. Nobody prepares you for this because nobody knows how it’s going to go until you’re right there. It’s surreal.

So if you’re in the trenches with me, just know that I see you. I see you talking to doctors, preparing food, arranging house cleaning, sending flowers for those who are also stepping up to help when you can’t be there. I see you trying to figure out how you’re going to coordinate child care, so that you can see to parent care. Because you want to be the one to do that. They were there for you, and now you need to be there for them. I see you massaging your parents’ legs to get the swelling down. I see you stroking your mom’s hand when she’s scared. I see you trying to make a joke about all of the crazy things that bodies do, just to see them laugh. I see you driving down the road, taking the five minutes alone to cry just a bit before you have to step up again and be strong. And happy. And positive.

I see you. You’re amazing. And you’re not alone.

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