In a couple of days, I am going out of town for almost a month with my two youngest kids. No, not on some fancy vacation, although the beach does sound tempting on this 93 degree day.
No, instead I am headed inland to America's breadbasket to house sit for my sister and to take over as go-to person for a little while for mother and stepfather while my sister flies to Alaska to meet her wife, who went up a few weeks ago, and enjoy almost 2 months with her in one of their favorite places.
It has been a rough time for my mother lately. She and her husband still live independently but have come to rely on my sister, who lives less than an hour away from them, for assistance with different aspects of their lives, such as help with shopping and various errands and household duties, and of course, to call on during emergencies.
My mother has rheumatoid arthritis along with osteoarthritis, although the former was not diagnosed until she was already in her 70s. She has faced an increasingly difficult year with pain, lung disease, and a condition with her red blood cells that caused her to have to discontinue her pain meds for a while and undergo frequent transfusions. My sister has been with her through so much, which I appreciate more than I can express, especially since my stepfather has COPD and often has trouble getting around himself. I can tell it is beyond frustrating for my mother at the least.
My brother and I try to contribute however we can from a distance (he lives a few hours from her, and I live about fourteen hours away) while we are busily raising our own families.
My sister's son is past grown, although she has a very busy and demanding job, and my brother's youngest daughter just turned 16. So, I am the only one of us left raising small kids, as mine range from 14 down to 6. I didn't have my first child until I was 28, so this "delayed" start of our family might have contributed to being in this situation at this time in our lives.
I often feel inadequate where my mother is concerned since we can't do much from so far away while still taking care of our own family. We cover the cost of an emergency response system every month and also let my sister know to let us know when she needs something.
However, that lack ends up being more than made up for in the time my husband spends caring for his father, who lost his wife of 40 years last year. She suffered a heart attack after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. It has been a long, hard road of grief and more, and there is still no end in sight. My husband is an only child and does his best to help his dad out in any way he can. It is a much shorter trip to visit him, although still a good part of a day's drive, but my husband does (and we do) it faithfully and often.
There are all sorts of things I can throw in to explain how hard things can be: dealing with special needs, homeschooling, freelancing, my own health issues, and on and on. However, we are doing our best and are happy to do it, occasionally out of a sense of duty but mostly out of love. These are our parents we are talking about, the ones who gave us love, time, money, and devotion as we grew up, went to college, and eventually flew the coop. They loved and still love us unconditionally, and it's natural that we return that when we are able.
I consider it a burden no more than caring for my own kids at home would be. (That means, yes, sometimes it is, but it's one I am willing and able to shoulder.) When a beloved family member is in need, you help out of love because you want them to be comfortable. You want them to be happy.
That's really the lesson I want to pass on to my kids—to care for those you care about. Love is give and take. Sometimes, you give, sometimes you take. If you're lucky, what you get back is almost always greater than what you gave because love is like that: that feeling and knowing that there is someone out there that has your back and is there for you whatever happens. I know not everyone has that, and I'm always grateful that I do.
Of course, there are moments when I feel that I am going to explode because I am so overwhelmed. Worrying about aging parents is usually only one small part of that. It's at those times that I have to stand back and take stock to see what can be put on the back burner until I can breathe again or how I can better juggle what I have. They are times that I remind myself to remember all I have to be grateful for.
It's not perfect, not by far, but if I had to trade caring for my growing children and aging parents against not having them at all, I know which one I would choose.