As my parents neared the end of their lives and I struggled with our changing roles based on caregiving and their failing strength, I attended a class focused on mothers and daughters as they age. It was taught by a family counselor who later became a close friend. In one of her classes, she used a phrase that changed my life. The advice was good. I followed it and have never regretted a moment.
She spoke of the critical importance of “keeping current” with our aging parents. She explained it was crucial to speak whatever we adult children want our parents to know and understand before they pass away – to be honest with them and with ourselves. Keeping current implies the possibility of not being able to do it or say it later. As challenges arise, she explained, we need to work together and help one another.
And so I tried to follow her advice, looking for occasions to share my thoughts and feelings with my parents, to tell them I loved them and appreciated all they had modeled, taught and done for me over the 50-some years of my life. I invited them to share their thoughts and feelings about this stage of their lives and tell me how I could be of help. We talked about life and death and what needed to be done. They were honest about their concerns and fears, and I was honest about offering whatever I could do to assist them.
When I saw my mother struggling to pay bills with a tremulous hand that made her writing illegible, I offered to take over that responsibility. She agreed and was obviously grateful to relinquish the job. My dad loved to write and kept a notebook about what life had taught him. He shared it with me.
And when I wrote newspaper columns about how it felt to watch them age and help them, I shared each one with them to get their OK before submitting it for publication. We worked at keeping current together. I think the three of us understood that if you care about someone, it’s important to let them know today by your speech or actions, because you may not get another chance.
But what I have recently thought about is that at its best, keeping current can be a two-way street. It’s a choice we make with friends and family. And by definition it’s a thoughtful process that often takes courage.
Its goal is to achieve a clearer understanding of one another, and the hoped-for side effect is to make the relationship stronger. It’s rooted in caring and honest communication. When my father and I talked about the end of life and I asked him if he was afraid, he seemed relieved to share his thoughts. It comforted me to know that he was not.
It’s not always an easy process but I’ve found it to be satisfying and worthwhile. Before they died, I told my parents what I wanted them to know, and they told me what they wanted me to understand – that we loved, appreciated and would always care for and about each other. And as I age, I’m trying to keep current with my children.
Truth is a powerful tool that can be used to build or destroy. Therein lies the choice. My friend taught me how to keep current and I have chosen to use it to build.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”