“I always thought I’d have a house with a front porch swing. Seems like such a simple thing, but it just never happened.” This is my mom talking. I’m listening and nodding. Today is my parents’ 48-year anniversary and my dad is sitting across from her in one of those awkward hospital recliners that are apparently supposed to be comfortable enough to stay and visit your loved one for hours. She’s been in the hospital for the past few days recovering from an injury and I’ve spent several hours listening to her reminisce about life. In doing so, I can’t help but assess my own life.
Life is fascinating — how nothing seems to change day-by-day and yet when you look back a decade, a year, or even a few weeks, so much is altered. It can drag on daily as we find ourselves needing to “waste time” and yet looking back it passes in a blink and we’d do anything to regain that wasted time. Now, sitting with the two of them, observing as they interact, it becomes glaringly obvious that it is time to help them transition to the next stage of their lives.
Currently, they live independently, alone. But over the past year, my brother and I have watched them mentally and physically decline and become less and less able to clean, cook, drive, etc. My dad wants to move to assisted living. My mom, who is at this moment bedridden, refuses. This part of being a child of aging parents is one I’ve read about many times as well as talked with friends and professionals. I’m sure many can relate that when you’re actually faced with it yourself, it all feels a bit overwhelming.
Growing up my parents were (to me) invincible people. They both worked full time as well as volunteered; Had active social lives; Were stylish and friendly and everyone in town knew who they were. They never missed an extracurricular activity that any of us five kids were participating in and they somehow managed to make time to take us on adventurous summer camping trips. They were equally as active when my kids were born and they became grandparents. They lived only a few blocks away and all of my children have fond memories of spending endless time at grandma and grandpa’s house.
But — nothing ever stays the same.
I sit quietly and listen to them as they talk about life over the years, about plans for the future, and notice that frequently they make comments like “we never did do ____,” or “I always thought there’d be time for ____.” I’m feeling humbled and can’t help but realize I’m being clued into some sage wisdom, albeit unintentionally, but nevertheless I’m taking notice.
There have been many articles written about the top five regrets people have as they age and/or recognize they have little time left to live. They are:
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
I wish I traveled more
I wish I’d stayed in touch with friends and family
I wish I’d been more honest about who I am
I wish I’d let myself be happier
I look at my parents sitting here struggling to carry on a conversation with each other and wonder which, if any of these, resonate with them. I think about my mom’s statement of her desired porch swing. It’s such a simple thing really. For whatever reason, it just never happened for her. When I ask her why, she says, “it was always going to be ‘one of these days but it just never actually came.” I think about the above in regard to my own life. How many of us work jobs we hate or too many hours? How many times I’ve passed up travel or various experiences because … I’ll get to it next time, later, another time, etc. How many of us keep people in our circle who are toxic to us and in doing so are unable to really be our authentic selves? How much delaying things for ‘one of these days’ keep us denying ourselves opportunities for happiness?
My parents are elderly now. They are seemingly happy, but definitely struggling mentally and physically. If any of us are fortunate to live to a ripe old age, one day we’ll be where they are now. In the meantime, I ask, what are we each going to do differently so we are not faced with the top five regrets of the dying and can instead say, “I lived as much as I could, for as long as I could?”
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a Clinical Sexologist and divides her time between Palm Springs, Calif., and Salt Lake City. She can be reached at: [email protected]