Diana's parents just took off after visiting us for a week. They are in their eighties, and "don't get around much any more".
One thing became very clear--it was folly for us to think they would come live with us. They are both so unsteady that one little patch of ice and it would be hip replacement time. This is both good news and bad news--good news because a week with them makes it clear that this would be a major upheaval for us, and bad news because it's not at all clear how much longer they will be able to live alone, and we are a continent apart from them.
Diana is very attentive, almost hypervigilant, when they are around. Her father was strict, even borderline abusive, when she was a girl. As she puts it, "if he said jump, we were in the air before we asked 'how high?'." Now, with his joints stiffened, weakened by a bout with cancer, wearing diapers, he is a far cry from threatening. But old habits die hard.
Her mom is frail but chipper, and her mind is very active (she is still teaching piano students). A visit to Walden Pond produced five or ten minutes of enthusiastic recall at the dinner table--no sign of Alzheimers. But she is very unsteady on her feet, and she looks like one stumble would break a dozen bones.
Her parents are almost exactly the same ages as mine would have been, had they not died almost 30 years ago. That gives me pause... I remember thinking when I was an adolescent what a horrible old man my father would be. His pomposity would only get worse, I reasoned, and, as he became less competent, his frustration would escalate beyond bounds. He never did frustration well. My mom would have loved the new world of PC's and the Internet, and would have been delighted to see my kids grow up as well as they have. Diana's parents don't have any contact with computers--we talked about giving them an email demo, but it never happened.
So they are off to see Diana's brother, whose wife is fighting liver cancer, and seems to be losing the fight. Two brothers, both of whom look like younger versions of Diana's dad, who live in Ohio an hour apart, and apparently never see each other--their wives don't get along.
Diana's parents seemed so grateful for the time I spent with them, and the things I did to make Diana's life easier. I realized, part way through the visit, that I was being compared with her ex. He is such an easy act to follow! I'm not alcoholic, I can more than support myself in my profession, and I respect, enjoy, and support Diana. And that's just for starters.
What a wound she must have had, as a kid, subject to her father's will, learning that what she wants doesn't matter, that it's not even worth the pain of discovering what she wants because she isn't going to get it. Picking a man who seemed warm, funny, and smart, and seeing him turn cold, emotionally abusive, and self destructive. Being the strength of her family, but still never feeling that she had any real choices except to endure. And, with all the harshness of her early life, her parents have been a tower of strength, fighting for her through her marriage and its aftermath, helping her financially and in many other ways. Their love for each other has a fierceness about it that is strikingly different from the genteel quality of my parents' attraction.
What pain she feels at the diminishment of her parents! And yet it is liberating, too. Perhaps I'm projecting--as sad as it was to lose my parents before I turned 30, it was also liberating. I lost my lifelong excuse for not doing what I wanted to do with my life. There was nothing to do but get on with it.
I hope my own kids can feel that I support them, no matter what. And I'll get out of their way--have gotten out of their way. And that Diana can keep growing into the light after so many years in the shade. What a beautiful flower she is!
Thank you for reading.