Caring for Our Parents: The Burden and the Beauty

by Shawna Bethell
Originally Published: 

Unfortunately, Hallmark doesn’t write reality TV.

Six months ago I, too, left a quirky little hometown, though not the one I grew up in. Instead it was the one I had moved to, started a career, and made friends in. It was high in the Colorado mountains where the characters ranged from artists to ex–gold miners to a retired CIA operative to Pisco Sour–drinking, guitar-playing snow scientists.

It was a helluva fun ride.

Then, as in Hallmark movie inevitabilities, my mom somehow aged, and I moved back to a rural midwestern town replete with meth labs and rusted cars. To say it hasn’t been that hazy, golden-edged picture that we see on television is an understatement.

But it is a story that’s plays out again and again for those of us in The Mid: Our parents are aging and need help. We put our lives on hold and return to the fold, trading beer drinking with our arty friends for gaining a certain fascination with all the goodies in the Dollar General store because it’s the only game in town. We watch our savings dwindle because restarting a life at 48 years of age is slow and costly. We adjust to watching our parents live with pain and confusion and are forced to wonder if their maladies are the ones we—as their beneficiaries—will carry in our own genes.

Before I left the mountains, a woman I barely knew sat beside me and said, “Who knows? This could lead to something really beautiful.” Because we hear about the bonding and reconciliations, and they are beautiful, as we realize the pains of childhood and family drama simply don’t matter as much now. We survived it. And now it’s time to try and be kind to our parents, the ones who may not have always been kind but did their very best with what they had been given themselves.

We get a glimpse into what it must be like to look ahead and see a continued weakening of our bodies, to understand that we only have a few years left to live the life we were handed. We listen to the stories of their own childhoods, their romances, their joys and sadnesses. We see individuals instead of parents. And, being the age now that they were then, we understand a little more.

So though we are frustrated and a bit scared for ourselves, we don’t resent the time. We sit with them on Saturday evenings and watch those Hallmark movies and reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show, the ones we once watched with our grandparents while our still youthful parents went out on the town.

We find a pleasure in the past, those minutiae we had forgotten while living our own lives. Their memories are our own, after all. And we’ll do our best not to get angry when they still tell us what to do … like how to hard-boil an egg or shovel snow, as if we were still 10 years old. It’s what we do now, for this time anyway.

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