When parents live into their 90s, they are very much alive as they observe, with deep sadness, the many friends and family members who pass on ahead of them. Moreover, there comes a time in the aging adult caregiving process when elderly parents can no longer travel, so an adult child takes over the responsibility of connecting with others when there is a death. Now I am now the one who attends any funeral that is not local.
Last year I represented my parents at two memorial services, and both involved extensive driving time and overnight accommodations. The year before there were three.
Upon my return I always take the time to tell my parents about each service, the hymns, the homily, and the friends or family members who attended. I usually share the program from the service, but it’s not an easy task. My parents are interested and engaged, but they are also sad. They want to know all about the events, but they often become emotional, thinking about how long they have lived and how most of the people in their family generation and their social circles have died. Thus I find I am telling them about memorial services while simultaneously comforting them.
Last weekend I attended the funeral of a gentle and thoughtful neighbor, about the same age as my parents. He had lived in the apartment next door and often sat with them in the dining room. He, too, had a daughter who visited frequently. Since he was my parents’ neighbor, I arranged to take them to the funeral at a nearby church.
Usually they are the ones who become emotional at memorial services, but last weekend it was my turn to feel tearful. I could not get over the feeling that I was attending a dress rehearsal for my two parents, and the thought moved me to tears several times over the 60 minutes. The hymns selected were some of those that my parents want, and also the scriptures.
It’s not that I worry about the process — long ago my parents attended to all of those details. No, it’s just that I unexpectedly confronted the fact that my parents are at ages when they will eventually pass on — maybe not too far apart from one another — and it’s challenging to come face-to-face with that notion.
As I pulled myself together, my mom, as if she could read my mind, reached out and patted my hand.