No One Ever Tells You to Enjoy Your Parents While They’re Young

When I was a mom of three children ages 3 and under everyone said, “Enjoy your kids while they’re young.  It goes so fast!”  I took it to heart and tried to enjoy each and every day.  When they followed me like ducklings up and down the aisles of the grocery store I attempted to savor the moment. 

What no one said, though, was, “Enjoy your parents while they’re young.  It goes so fast!”  We sailed through our 20s without a care in the world regarding our parents.  We married at ages 20 and 23 and left for the mission field at ages 21 and 24.  At 25 and 28 we took our newborn baby with us to the opposite side of the Pacific.  Sure our parents hemmed and hawed a little bit.  But all eight of Zoe’s grandparents said, “We see your hearts.  We see that you’re called.  Go in peace.  We’ll come visit.”  And visit most of them did.  Especially the grandmas. 

Moms and dads have a way of always being there.  Unless tragedy strikes, they’re just there--stoically waiting on the other side of the ocean.  Out of eight parents and step-parents some were great at writing and calling and some couldn’t find a post office or telephone if their lives depended on it.  But really, they were there, all eight. 

When Mark was 35 his mom was diagnosed with ALS.  Her dad, his Grandpa Joe, died from ALS just years prior, so we understood what this horrific diagnosis meant.  We were in the process of adopting our oldest daughter and due to US immigration policy, our family could not legally relocate to the US.  We were required to remain overseas and love Janet--arguably the best of the eight grandparents--from afar.  Our daughter’s visa came through days after Janet graduated to heaven at the very young age of 60.

Today we’re 37 and 40 and we’re living through the second horrific diagnosis for our parents and this time it’s from the wrong side of the Atlantic.  My 74 years young father has Alzheimer’s.  When we moved to Czech Republic 21 months ago my dad lived on a ranch in the Rocky Mountains.  He was a tractor-riding retiree who admittedly lost his dog everyday due to a slipping memory.  Fast-forward 21 months and I am now my dad’s Guardian and Conservator, he lives in an assisted living facility for memory care residents, and things aren’t going well.  

I didn’t realize it could be this hard as he got older.  I didn’t anticipate his stark independence to morph into total dependence.  On me.  And my family.  From 8,400 miles away.  We are on the wrong side of the planet for this kind of relationship to develop now. 

And so we are wrestling.  Man, are we wrestling. 

I find myself reflecting that no one said “Enjoy your parents when they’re young.  It goes so fast!”  I’ve always anticipated great change in my relationship with my kids who will hopefully grow up and go to college, but I’m blindsided that fiercely independent dads become fully dependent on their fiercely independent daughters.  And honestly, I just don’t know what to do.