What is the circle of life?
Six hours of separation!
Everyone seems to know the circle of life. Some see it as a the circle from generation to generation. Others see it as as we progressively age, our role is to take care of our parents. Yet, others see it as an entire ecosystem with slow decompositions crumbling, creating the years of breaking down of leaves to create dirt and humus of the forest floor for new growth. No matter which way you slice it at, at some point we will be taking care of others and we will be taken care of. There must be a coning of terms of this scenario. Not just by you but be the recipient also. This is becoming a painful transition for me. Not because I am growing old. I welcome it. I have been preparing for it. I have worked with many Native elders on this very issue, and feel very, very good about the aging process. My hurdle, my angst, my wall that I fail to climb , that I fail to accept is the distance as an only child I have between myself and my parents. It was coming as slow and insidious as an enlarging strawberry patch. No matter how hard you want to contain the strawberries they spill out farther and farther on your garden. The vines become more and more expansive every year, and the work to contain them is more and more difficult.
I live six hours from my parents, give or take thirty minutes depending on a tail wind, decreased State troopers and what music is in the DVD player. That trip has been traveled by me hundreds if not thousands of times. Being the only child combined with having parents that have been excessively supportive, loving, and emotionally a rock through my past makes my emotional life a “bitch,” to put it mildly. I am not shallow enough to recognize there are hundreds and thousands of others that have it worse. Anywhere from no parents, to abusive parents, or they lost their parents early on in life. Never the less that is not my scenario. Mine is coming to terms with their aging process, and not being there to run to the grocery store, have conversation about the different species of birds in the kitchen window, over a hot cup of coffee, or carry in a load of firewood, and most importantly support them at the physician’s office.
We share these stories with co-workers, friends, and they placate, or briefly listen and say I am sorry and off they go to their own bag of life’s stress, understandable. I do not look for empathy,sympathy or even an understanding. That is not who I am. The best I can do for me is write. I try and write and hope this sparks a chord into someone’s heart. Maybe this will hit home and someone will prepare. Maybe by writing I can make a small difference in somebody else’s life. Six hours, a drive through flat lands of corn, billboards I have memorized like a routine McDonald’s commercial, and rest stops that I feel the employees know me by name.
I explained a few years ago that life comes full circle to my father. Eventually I will be there to take care of them. I did not factor in the drive, the job, the demands of my job and the six hours of separation. Sure there is a resolution. More time from job, burning vacation time and make the trek. It still would not be enough. All of us will come to this time. Even if you are geographically close it still has the demands associated with it.
How do we take care of our parents?
How do we take care of aging parents, and allow them to keep their pride? We respect their situation, make modifications and communicate the process of aging and what it does to them. It is not easy, it is not supposed to be, and at the very least we can learn from the process to prepare for our own aging process. It will be here, as Spring blossoms flowers and as fall drops the leaves from the trees. As seasons symbolize the changing seasons of death and a new beginning, our own lives desperately crawl in that direction. Many times faster than we want.
Recognize the fragility of their ego, the sadness of them dealing with their inability to carry out the simplest of tasks. This sadness can be modified by introducing tasks that are similar. When you get old, you get lonely (PERIOD.) Many times this loneliness will NEVER be voiced. Recognize that, do not shove this in their face, just quietly recognize it. Spend time, phone, letters, one on one time, and small inexpensive gifts. Time, we all want time. Give your parents time. Time to talk, time to bitch and complain, time to reminisce, and time to laugh.
Six hours of separation for me seems like an eternity. When I arrive home it brings a flood of feelings. Good memories of times absorbed by the tress, the fields, the buildings when screams of children dodged red plastic balls in the courtyard of a Catholic school, an abuse by a cousin who took advantage of someone much younger, the wonderful fields of hunting, hiking and fishing with my father. A time when a kitchen was filled with Italian cooking from a mother, that prided herself on her spice rack as carpenters pride themselves on their assortment of nails and screws. She would build recipes that would be engulfed, appreciated, and leftovers stocked in burping Tupperware containers.
The six hours of separation will shorten in time, for the drive will begin more frequently. Anticipation will be great which always seems to shorten any vacation drive. The road side pit-stops will be the same, only the arrival will be met by an ever changing visual scene. The scene of aging parents. As children get bigger when months go by, the aging process gives rise to more wrinkles, a greater difficulty of getting out of the chair, and less time up late, sharing the stories. Weather becomes the number one topic, as if discussing the latest Oscar nominated movie. Weather, the drive, health and those ever rising gas prices. It amazes me to this day how much time can be spent on those topics. I have learned to love it. I record some voices, memorize words, as well as cute old time sayings, and try to engulf the smells of clothes, fire wood burning, and Mom’s food. Someday the six hours of separation will not need to be taken. I am not naive, I am not falling into a depression, I am falling into a reality. A reality that time has us by the short hairs and we need to make the most out of each minute.
Spend time, enjoy the time, see the positives, share the stories of the past. This is SO important. We have lost this part of aging so much in Western society. We need to carry the stories on to the next generation. When the stories are given to me , I have a six hour drive back to share time over and over to not be separate but now to have, “six hours of closeness.”