A few years ago, my grandmother passed away pretty suddenly. She had been in somewhat ailing health for years, but she was still well enough to take care of herself at home, handle her own grocery shopping, and so on.
The last time I saw her, I was struck by her frailness. My grandmother had worked at a maximum security prison for many years. She was a tough woman, the type of person who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone. She was stubborn as a mule when it came to taking care of herself.
To see that strength slipping away from her slowly over the final years of her life was a bit painful. I would visit her and see her putter around her kitchen slowly, preparing herself very simple meals. That spark of stubborn independence was still there, but it was softened.
When I think of my grandmother, I recall this period in her life, but it stands in stark contrast to the vibrant woman I knew throughout my childhood.
One thing I will remember about my grandmother’s final years, though, is how my mother stepped up to the plate to take care of her. She called her multiple times a day as she got weaker and stopped in daily to visit her. My uncle even moved in with my grandmother near the end of her life.
My mother and grandmother together showed me that the most valuable thing to have in the final years of your life is people who care about you.
This, of course, brings me around to my own parents.
I’ve seen them quite a lot lately, and the little signs of their decline have been difficult to ignore. They’re getting older. They’re nowhere near as fast as they once were and simple things that used to be normal to them wear them out.
My father used to have boundless energy for his various hobbies and side businesses. Over the past several years, his garden has become smaller and smaller and his commercial fishing exploits have come to rely on people he’s hired to assist him with it.
My mother is hobbled a bit with a knee that needs some surgical repair. She does an amazing job keeping up with her grandchildren, but it doesn’t take much observation to see a wince of pain here and there from her.
During my early adulthood, I was fully confident that my parents were fine. They had always been like rocks to me, completely able to take care of themselves.
Now, I’m beginning to see that changing, and I’m now realizing that my parents are going to need me in new and different ways in the coming years.
The thing is, it’s not money they really need. It’s time and attention and love.
They need someone who will call them up regularly and visit them.
They need someone who will help them connect with their grandchildren.
They need someone who will help them get their affairs in order.
More than anything, though, they need someone they can talk to who is actually listening to what they are saying and cares about it and takes action based on it instead of brushing them off as another duty to fulfill.
When I was a young child, my grandfather lived with us for a while near the end of his life. One evening after my grandfather had fallen asleep and I was working on a jigsaw puzzle with my father, he told me that when you’re young, the parent takes care of the child, but when you’re old, the child takes care of the parent.
That transition has been happening over the last several years. It’s been a slow one, but with every passing year, it becomes more and more real.
In a very real way, I am a part of my parents’ retirement plan. They invested so much in raising me, and now I can do a lot of things to help them in return.
If you know someone who is in the September or November of their years, give that person a visit or a call. Ask them if they need any help with anything. Drop by with a bag of groceries and make them a meal. You’ll be surprised at how much something relatively simple for you can mean a great deal to someone else.
If you’re worried about someone you know who is getting older, there is no better way to help them than with a little bit of time and attention and effort. You don’t have to give money to make an enormous difference.