The “Firsts” that Mean Your Aging Parent Grows More Fragile

As we watch our parents age into older elderhood — the period when they dramatically slow down and require additional support — we often observe that a situation changes. Suddenly we notice, for the first time, that an activity that used to be easy — and often much-loved — becomes too difficult to accomplish.

IMG_0859When my husband’s mother  — a stroke survivor — moved from the south to live near our home, we discovered that packing a suitcase had become too difficult — a first for an individual who could not wait to travel. Once she moved into her new apartment we quickly got her connected with a bridge club, but soon discovered that the game had become too difficult despite years and years of playing cards.

A first with my parents occurred when I brought them to my house for the Christmas holidays a few years ago. They had not visited me — I live about 100 miles away — for a year or so, and I discovered much had changed over those 12 months. Going up the steps to our second floor was a big deal, and they were disoriented at night in an environment that they perceived as unfamiliar. These problems had never occurred before, and I realized that they needed the comfort of their own home. It took me a while to process the notion that they would never visit my home again.

Then there was the time when my husband’s mother told us to return all the library books because she did not want to read anymore. That was a first because she had participated in book clubs for decades. So we realized something had dramatically changed. Recorded books proved to be too difficult to operate, so we began to read aloud to her.

A friend told me how her mom stopped wearing favorite pieces of jewelry, telling her daughter that it was too hard to put on the necklaces. Another friend described how her mom always made a favorite recipe at Thanksgiving, but one year, her mother could no longer do it by herself.

For adult children each change indicates that a parent’s activity — sometimes one that is much loved — is no longer possible. It’s heartbreaking to watch fragility increase and abilities decrease. And although my role, as an adult daughter, is to create workarounds that may allow my parents to continue to do some of the things they love, my ideas are not always successful

If you are like me, you mourn each time you identify, for the first time, something that is no longer easy or possible. And if you are like me you mourn because you are watching your parent’s well-lived and rich life constrict bit-by-bit.


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