Those of us in our late-thirties to mid-fifties, sandwiched between two uncontrollable generations – one that won’t listen and one that can’t hear – are the tweens who really need help. Especially now as we approach that truly unsettling part of life that cannot be avoided, no matter how much we drink…when our parents, and their peers, start dying.
Older relatives are getting sick and this brings sorrow, anxiety, questions, and about a million other issues. Unless we get hit with Zika, or brain trauma after watching presidential debates, the generation before us will likely go first.
What does this mean?
It means that the people who have nurtured us all our lives, loved us from the time we were born through that unfortunate period where we insisted on wearing blue eyeshadow, are going to need us to care for and nurture them.
It means that the tough-as-nails dad who scared our dates every weekend is now getting fragile and requires our help to get up from the table.
It means that the people who taught us right from wrong, how to parallel park without cursing, and the importance of never mixing beer with liquor, will be gone someday.
It means that our heroes are fading away and it’s hard to watch.
It means we’ll soon be in charge.
It means that someone should convince my mother to clean her dresser because going through that underwear drawer after she dies is not on my personal Bucket List.
The idea that one day our parents will no longer be available to offer guidance, advice, or hard-earned bits of wisdom leaves us heartbroken. Are we ready to take on the job of heading up our families?
Are we ready to say goodbye?
But that’s the least of it. What happens as they start to slip away? Who’s going to pay all the bills and wipe everyone’s ass? Who’s going to decide when to sell the house? Do we even have the ability to hold their hands and stay silent? Who’s going to help dad walk around the neighborhood and keep everyone in line?
Will we even have time to mourn?
These thoughts hit me at the weirdest times. For example, when I walk through their garage, I think about it and cry a little. I look around at 8 luggage sets, 350 different kinds of tools that seemed like a great idea after one too many This Old House episodes and a dozen too many beers, the Deep Purple and Pink Floyd record collections, old SCUBA gear that hasn’t fit them since Carter was in office…and I usually say out loud, “This will all be mine one day.”
That’s right. Mine to clean, mine to sort, mine to decide which to dump and which to sell, mine to list on eBay, and mine to donate all the money to some charity because neither of my parents would think to leave me an inheritance to fund future therapy sessions.
And my siblings’ lectures 8 months later about how I did everything wrong and how mom seriously should have put them in charge? All that will be mine, too.
Inside the house is no picnic either. My sister recently asked me to fetch her yearbook, which is under one of the beds in mom’s house.
I told her I don’t look underneath the beds in mom’s house because I don’t need a) Christmas wrapping paper from 1975 or b) nightmares.
Another concern? I’ll be the one to take care of these people as they become more and more difficult.
If I didn’t laugh about all this, I’d curl up in a fetal position and never get out of bed.
When older relatives grow even older, the qualities that have annoyed us since adolescence don’t just suddenly disappear. Remember all those reasons we moved away? How they bring every discussion back to themselves and their pinched nerves. How they make faces when we suggest there is life after veal. How they watch Law & Order around the clock, with the volume set at JETLINER, and can’t tell us a thing about the plot.
These quirks don’t go away when they get sick. Relatives don’t get handed a diagnosis and turn into a collection of saints who actually let us finish a sentence. We don’t just wake up one day and all of a sudden find audible digestion adorable.
We still get annoyed. And feel guilty on top of it.
But when that happens to me, I think about that garage. I visit and hold hands and sit through Law & Order without complaining. I do everything I can to ease suffering and make everyone laugh – for free.
And I think about how my kids will one day listen to my stories, tolerate my opinions, ignore my old record collections and wrapping paper and wipe my ass.
That makes walking through a cluttered garage just a little bit easier.