Time is the True Wealth: Thoughts on Life, Death & Aging Parents

by Tammy Strobel on May 3, 2012

{Note: I originally wrote this essay in August 2011, six months before my dad, Mahlon, had two significant strokes. It’s also included in my ebook, Blissful Reflection: A Little Book of Letters. I decided to share it with you because I’ve been thinking about this topic frequently.}

***

“Tammy, have you noticed any changes in Mahlon?”

I took a sip of my coffee and then told my mom, “Yes, I have. Every time I see him he slows down a little bit more. I noticed it on our walk tonight. He kept shuffling his feet and had a hard time hearing me. He’s as sweet, kind, and caring as ever, but I’m worried about him, too.”

Mom looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “I know. It makes me sad. I feel like I’m all alone sometimes. He can’t walk, hike, or even swim very far anymore. I worry about him on the kayak, too. It seems like he can’t navigate it very well because of his vertigo and poor balance. But we can still golf together and we can still do the RV thing every year in Tahoe. I do most of the driving now because he can’t handle it.”

Patience & Love

So far I’ve been incredibly impressed with my Mom’s patience on this trip. I’ve been working on cultivating more patience in my life and it turns out my mom is working on this, too, but she struggles. Part of that has to do with stress. She’s taking on more responsibility in the house. For example, Mahlon can’t balance the checkbook anymore because he gets confused.

You’re probably wondering who this guy is . . .

Mahlon is my step-dad. He’s a big teddy bear with a goofy grin and wide smile. And he’s getting older. He’ll turn 69 in November.

It blows me away how fast time goes by. As time has passed, his health problems seem to be getting worse. Over the years he’s had heart surgery, a few knee surgeries, back surgery, and a lot of other little procedures. Every time he’s gone under the knife, he’s had some kind of mini-stroke and all of these little strokes have affected his physical and mental state.

Part of the reason I decided to spent a few weeks in California is that I’m worried about Mahlon. Mahlon means the world to me. He met my Mom when I was in 6th grade and they got married right before my freshman year of high school. He’s been an exceptional parent. He always seemed to have the best advice and has constantly encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

We’re all Dying

It’s not fair. I know that we’re all dying, some of us faster than others. But it’s hard to watch a person who was so active slow down more and more. For instance, last night at dinner Mahlon’s hands were shaking so badly he could barely lift up his soda. It scared the hell out of me. I’ve noticed other changes, too. He doesn’t seem to laugh or smile as much and that’s concerning to me.

As the baby boomer population ages, we need to support them—not just financially, but emotionally, too. A recent article about Alzheimer’s disease noted that 5.2 million Americans have the disease and by 2030 the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will grow by 50%. I’m worried that Mahlon will be part of this population.

Parting Words . . .

I’m not making a whole lot of money this year, but I do have time and time is true wealth. If I was working a traditional job, I probably wouldn’t have taken this trip. For me, having this time with my parents is worth a whole lot more than $50,000 a year. It’s made me think long and hard about how I can support both my mom and dad as they age.

As the baby boomer population ages, I think a lot of people my age are going to be asking similar questions. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder.

How can you support your parents as they age? How can you help them lead happy lives even in the face of debilitating health concerns?

If you know someone who is a primary caregiver, what can you do for that person? Is there a way you can ease their worries?

***

A lovely reminder  . . .

Make Time, a lovely course focused on making the most of your time begins on Monday, May 7th. Registration is open.

1 Frugal Portland May 3, 2012

beautiful, and moving. you’re right, you have more than money.

2 amanda May 3, 2012

Thank you for sharing, Tammy. My mom drives almost 5 hours every two weeks to spend usually 4 days with her mother, who is almost 89. Helping her with her bank accounts, getting rid of piles of newspapers, making sure she has all her medications. It pains me to only see her once a year or so, since I spend very little time in Texas since I’ve left. But the more she deteriorates, the more going to see her when I’m home is my one priority.

The thing I do for my mother is to listen. I am her phone support, the one who reminds her to rest when she needs to and to try to relax. My grandmother is often obstinate and can say things that are hurtful when she gets confused (dementia is setting in). So reminding my mother that she is doing everything that she can, and that making sure she is taking good care of herself is the best way to support someone else is how I try to be there from a thousand miles away.

3 Heather May 3, 2012

This is why I am studying to be a geriatric massage therapist. It feels so good to help people feel good themselves, and sometimes touch like mine is the only caring touch they get (not just medical procedures touches). I love how my small talent can mean so much to that population. Blessings to you, Tammy.

4 farhana May 4, 2012

Thank you for sharing. It takes two 10 hr plane ride a 10 hr lay over for me to see my parents. It gets all the more harder when you have kids and I worry as my parents are getting older. My mom was at the hospital for months because of dengue fever and I couldn’t go :(. I feel so alone sometimes without any family here.

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