My Parents Are Getting Older And I'm Not Ready

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Cavan Images/Getty

I have been going through life blissfully unaware that time is passing. Sure, I see my children getting older and experiencing new things and I am eager to see them face these new challenges. My parents are always around for these new experiences and I am so grateful to have them there, but it never really occurred to me until recently that my parents aren’t as young as they used to be.

I had to take my dad to urgent care not too long ago. It was nothing serious and he is fine, thank God, but in that moment I had a realization: My parents are getting older. And I am not sure that I am quite ready for that. When you find yourself filling out forms for your dad that want to know what medications you take and if there is any family history of disease, you take pause. That person who towered over everyone with his tall stature and who could do anything with his hands and who was always there when you needed him … when he needs you, it feels kind of funny.

Your parents are there to take care of you. They are the ones who have the wisdom and the knowledge. Your parents are the people who bring you chicken soup when you are sick and take your newborn for the day so that you can sleep. It is those people who host Sunday dinners for the whole family and have the house that will always be your home. They are the glue that holds your whole crew together. You never want to think that time is fleeting. It is too difficult to imagine life without them. So you don’t. And then you find yourself at urgent care, and your heart starts to break.

My parents aren’t old; they are in their late-sixties and early-seventies. They have a lot of life left to live. This situation isn’t imminent. No one has a terminal disease. But I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone. Both of my grandmothers lived well into their nineties, each almost reaching 100. My dad’s dad was in his eighties when he died. He lived a good, long life. But my mom’s dad was only 56 when he died. I have always tried to ignore that, never wanting to face the fact that there could be something there and that my mom may not be 100 years old someday. Just typing that sends tears streaming down my face. I am not ready.

I look at pictures of when we were all younger and there is a marked difference in everyone’s appearances. But, I don’t feel like my parents look old. Again, they aren’t super old, but they aren’t young. I mean, maybe I’m nuts, but when we were kids, grandparents were old, right? They all had gray hair and they wore old people clothes and they just sort of settled into old age. I won’t let my mom do that. The second she says something in the Alfred Dunner collection looks cute, she is immediately redirected. There will be no elastic waistband culottes on my watch!

In fairness, I don’t have to try to keep my mother young. She does that on her own. She is extremely involved in her 10 grandchildren’s lives, exercises regularly, eats well, and socializes with her friends. My dad could more easily be swayed into the senior citizen lifestyle than her, but she keeps him from getting too old too fast. Don’t be fooled, however; as much as they want to be around as long as they can, there is no denying their silver citizen standing. You bet your ass anytime there is a discount available for anyone 65 or older, they’ll gladly show their birth certificates. As my father would say, “Hell yes I am getting the discount! I’ve earned it.” And I suppose after 72 years, he has.

While I want my parents to be around forever and to be spry and light and active, I sometimes realize that I am pushing them too hard. At 42, I can start at a baseball game at 8 a.m. and be on the move from one thing to another until 8 p.m. My mother is my sidekick and with me all of the time, but she will sometimes say, “You don’t want to believe it, but I am getting older. I get tired.” She’s right — I don’t want to believe it, but I have to respect it. That is a struggle for me.

I want to enjoy my time with my parents. And I am not going to say, “While I can.” That sounds depressing to me. I am just going to enjoy them, period. I will never turn down an invitation for dinner or to come over and swim in the afternoon. I will take my mom with me to Target and laugh as she tries clothes on over her clothes and asks me how they look. I will stop myself from becoming frustrated with them when they can’t figure out a new technology that seems so simple to me. I will listen intently when they tell me stories about their younger selves, knowing that they are the only ones that can tell those tales. I will cherish a long hug and a kiss on the forehead, and my very favorite, “I love you, Coll.”

I hope that my parents live to be 100. If they do, they will be able to see their grandchildren grow up, get married, and maybe even have a great-grandchild or two. They are the best parents that I could have ever asked for. They are a testament to true love, sacrifice and hard work. My mom and dad mean the world to me. Every day that we have together is a blessing and I am going to soak them up. They were there when I needed them, and I will be there for them until the day they no longer need me.

I know that one day I will have to say goodbye. But I am not going to think about that now. I’m just not ready … but then again, is anyone?