I am very fortunate that both of my parents are still alive. Unlike everyone else I know in my generation, I have not had to weather the grief of losing a parent, or to do the work of executing an estate and finding new homes for the possessions accumulated during a parent’s lifetime.
My mom is 90 years old, living independently and comfortably in a retirement community, still driving. She spends more time napping than she used to, but she is an avid reader, participating in at least two book discussion groups, and she volunteers at church, goes to exercise class, and cooks dinner for my husband and me when we visit. We have visited a lot since my diagnosis, because I have gone regularly to the major hospital in her city and the comprehensive cancer center in another city near her for biopsies, scans, and consultations. We know where the sheets are for the hide-a-bed couch in her living room, and the three of us sit together in the evenings watching Jeopardy and the 10 o’clock news and reading our books.
My father is 92 and lives with my stepmother, a dynamic woman who takes the lead with home maintenance, travel arrangements, and all the logistics of living. While he’s not as physically active as he used to be, his intellectual life is as busy as it ever was. Dad goes to the gym and he also is still driving. He lives a full day’s drive from me, and we make it a priority to visit three times per year. He had a serious health scare last winter, almost dying from pneumonia. He has now recovered and looks well, and is enjoying life with his trademarked version of realistic optimism.
Our most recent visit to my dad was in late October, and one day my dad and I found ourselves sitting on the opposite side of the dining room table. I looked up and saw him looking at me with a sweet, sad smile on his face. I said to him, “Dad, we’re on the same page these days, aren’t we?” When I saw my mom a week later, we talked about this as well. All three of us know that the end of our lives is not imminent, but it’s in the foreseeable future. It’s a factor in the decisions we make. It’s why we never see each other without at least one long hug, and never miss a chance to say “I love you.” My lifespan has accelerated and now I stand with my parents, living the life we still have with as much curiosity, optimism, honesty, and joy as we can.