Thursday, November 22, 2012

Aging parents and anxiety

My dad needs a liver transplant.

He is the caregiver to my mom, who is battling the degenerative muscle and tissue disease scleroderma.

I'm watching it all unfold, helpless.

Reality sunk in on Thanksgiving Day.

Scents of sweet potatoes and turkey breasts filled my parents' home, carrying on as business as usual. I can't help but admire them, knowing our life as family is going to change greatly and continues to change rapidly.

But this feeling of bleak days ahead, mixed with touches of their personalities and the memories of togetherness during the holidays, is something I couldn't shake.

It was a pair of jackets my dad gave me. Shoes I was asked to try on and keep if I wanted. Scrapbooks of my brother, Trent, and myself as students, athletes, confirmands, a writer, a soldier -- sons -- were handed off. Paintings of my mom, brother and myself that were composed by a Korean artist my grandfather had hired while he was in the military after lending him photos of us as infants sent by my beautiful young mother were let go.

Scaling down to make way to move into an independent living complex. That's the reason behind my parents' reduction of most of the things tied to our family history -- a history that made me and defines me.

It's difficult to say what's next. My parents' offer their ever-present stiff upper lips. I selfishly sense more anxiety. Worry can't be tossed off when you're hugging your dad when he cries thinking about the possibility of dying too soon. Worry also doesn't go away when your mom says things such as "It wasn't supposed to be like this" through tears.

Strength needs to replace the anxiety, worry and fear. That's what defines us as a family and what I'm probably most thankful for this Thanksgiving.