By Dan Haag
Nothing prepares you for getting older. One day your sleeping on Star Wars sheets and playing Freeze Tag. The next your getting AARP cards in the mail and shouting at the evening news before falling asleep in front of it.
Aging has been on my mind a lot lately: I don’t heal the way I used to, I find the allure of naps irresistible, and everyone under 30 plays their music too damn loud for my taste.
Still, I’ve got a ways to go until officially becoming a senior citizen, at least on paper.
Mostly, my thoughts have been on caring for elderly parents.
Six months ago, my mother-in-law was in a serious car accident that left her teetering on the brink of death. Though she’s recovered, all of the natural effects of aging have been compounded by near-fatal injuries. In short, she will need some manner of constant care for the rest of her life.
My wife has taken on most of those duties to this point: paying bills, conferring with lawyers, huddling with doctors, getting updates to friends and family. It’s a daunting task and the toll on her has been significant, because there’s a lot of anger and sadness involved in being a caregiver for a loved one. Oftentimes, the person that you know and love is there, but isn’t. Most days my wife comes home, curls up on the couch, and cries herself to sleep.
There’s nothing I can do to help, really. I can’t fix it with a hammer and duct tape; I can’t shout at it; I can’t say something funny and make it go away. Even a hug and a kiss often don’t have the necessary power.
To be sure, my wife’s mother is in a situation she doesn’t want to be in, feeling helpless and broken. Her old life of happiness and independence was snatched away by circumstance. I can’t even imagine that horrible, empty feeling.
Naturally, my thoughts turn to my folks. Both in their early 70’s, they are aging gracefully (no thanks to me, the way they tell it). They eat healthy, exercise, and keep busy. They know life is finite and they do their best to enjoy it while it lasts. “When it’s your time, it’s your time,” my dad has said more than once.
I’ve asked them what their wishes for elder care are and it usually involves some version of me dropping them in a remote area to pass away peacefully. I think they’re joking, but they’ve both worked in nursing homes so they might have their reasons.
They’re not alone, either.
When I posed the same question to a friend of mine, the response was eerily similar but involved Bourbon. Another friend suggested something along the lines of the ending of the film “Old Yeller,” which I REALLY hope is a joke.
As I age, my situation is a bit worrisome because I don’t have any kids. I have no idea who will be making decisions on my behalf should I be the last man standing. It’s a thought that wakes me up around 2 am more than it did when I was, say, 25.
But when I lay staring at the darkened bedroom ceiling during the wee hours, my thoughts always swirl back to one thing: it’s often said that telling someone “I love you” over and over renders the words meaningless.
From everything I’ve seen over the last few months – and with everything yet to come – nothing could be further from the truth.
Keep saying it.
As loudly and as often as you can.