When parents get older, some children assume that with age comes dementia and that older folks must be treated as children. It seems that many children stop treating the elderly as adults and take on the role of parent. In some cases this may be warranted, but in most cases it is wrong. The elderly have much experience and wisdom to share. They may not have the strength and reflexes of the young, but they have gained a patience and wisdom that seemingly only comes with age.
When my father was aging, I worked hard to keep him convinced that he was not old. It seems that when you think of yourself as old, you play the role. When he reached 83, he started saying that he was old – I told him that he was probably going to live for another 30 years, till 113. I told him he wouldn’t be old until he crossed the century mark. If you can convince yourself that you are not old yet and approach life with a positive outlook, life takes on new meaning and you don’t look back so much as you keep looking forward. Dad didn’t make it to 113, but he was young until the day he died.
I never took on the role of parent to my father – he deserved to be treated with all the dignity and respect he had earned throughout his life. We were truly friends sharing life and experiences as they came. As his body wore down and he couldn’t participate in activities that he used to enjoy, I took over those duties and we both accepted what life brought to us with no recriminations and no expectations. He enjoyed doing what he could and felt no remorse for not being able to do more. I did what I needed to do and felt no bitterness or regret for having to do so. It isn’t work or a chore to care for someone you love – it’s a joy to have the opportunity to return some of the love and care you were given earlier.
I found that dad had some great memories that just needed a little coaxing to bring to the surface. He led a charmed life with very few disasters. Most of his memories were pleasant and he was a happy man. If you were going to plan a life from beginning to end, it would be hard to improve on dad’s example.
We started life with dad as the parent and I as the child, but we ended up both being adults and friends.