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Sunday, March 7, 2010: Family Karma


      Age is finally catching up with my parents. They will both turn 88 this summer. Each year that passes finds them attending more funerals, acquiring more doctors and specialists.  Still, they have continued leading a remarkably active life, at least until more recent years.

        We, their three children, watch our parent’s decline---so slow at first that we did not think of our parents as aging (our memories simply preserved them as an ever present fact in our lives, always there for support). We watched friends lose parents and marveled how well our parents were still getting around.  It was only when my parents reached eighty-five that the slow downhill slide picked up speed. 

          My parents’ bodies began reminding them of advancing age. My mother became frustrated that she could not get as many errands completed by day’s end, that she no longer was throwing her usual holiday parties for the neighbors or filling her everyday life with a steady stream of company or group activities. She spent more time resting between attempts to throw herself into the old life style; she noted this difference and resented the implication. My father frowned at knees which now betrayed him, which could not be depended on to carry him effortlessly up stairs or on long walks. This year, though embarrassed, he became resigned to actually using some of his carved walking canes, collected from small town art festivals through the years.

         Both of my parents have been in the hospital this year, though not at the same time. Each is terrified of losing the other. It is my mother’s turn in the hospital this time and my father is beside himself. I drive up to be with him, to give my sister a break. Now that the doctors have the blood clot in my mother’s leg stabilized and my father can anticipate having her back home in a few days, he sighs, confessing his early anxiety over and over as I sit with him at their winter apartment.

          I have listened to each parent worry about the other’s health in recent years. Both are realistic enough to know that the day will eventually come when they will be parted, but—luckily---the time for saying final goodbyes is not yet here. They greet each other at the hospital grateful to still have each other’s company, to have children close at hand.

        Our family for years scattered in pursuit of individual jobs and interests. It now pulls back on itself. My parents left their South Carolina winter home to move back up north, nearer to family. My sister found them a place in a senior apartment complex a mile from her home, so she could swing by on the way home from work and check up on them. My brother (who bought his own property on Beaver Island when my parents were still in good health) has now taken on the responsibility of opening up my parent’s summer home on the island and getting them settled in. This year he will spend two months on the island, checking in on my parents, helping with repairs, and getting my father back out fishing (an attempt to keep Dad busy). 

          I will be the one to make shorter visits: to give my sister a break during the winter, to come up and do Mom’s gardening at the island, to spend time visiting and helping while the option still exists. My new husband simply nods when I tell him I will need to spend more time with my parents as they grow less independent. Somehow we will work our own activities around family needs.

       This weekend reminds me that we all carry ‘family karma’---patterns of relationships, basic approaches to life and life’s challenges. One sees the patterns in how members clash or maneuver around individual preferences and needs, in how members come together in celebration or gather round for support.

         This is not the personal karma based on individual decisions, but is just as interwoven in how the future plays out. It is the karma passed to future generations, showing up over and over in a myriad of ways that children and grandchildren respond to family, friends and strangers. And while an individual may create his or her own future, it is amazing how often one falls back into these habits of the past, these family patterns so engrained in the psyche.

        I know there are families that do not have this family closeness, this tenderness. I am grateful, as my siblings and I approach that strange transition point where parents and children reverse roles, that we three children will not see this change as a burdensome and dreaded obligation but as a warm and loving opportunity. This is our family karma.  For now, we prepare for my mother’s release from the hospital, happy my parents will be reunited in their own home, pleased to see them content in each other’s company.

Posted on Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 09:21PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

Indeed, you are lucky to have such a close family, and parents who obviously love each other so deeply. But I understand that fear and unease when the realization suddenly breaks upon us that the day we have to take care of those who took such care for us is now here.
March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaria

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