I knew I was a grown-up when I began to look at my parents as people instead of just parents. My childish view of their lives being completely intertwined with everything I did began to change. This metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood did not happen all at once but through a series of events that began when I was about 27. We all want to be someones kid. We want to boast to our mom about how great we are or our accomplishments no matter what age we are. We want to call dad up for some advice or just to hear that whatever is going wrong will work itself out. But, what about when our parents need that same counseling and the feeling of being taken care of? When and how does the role reversal take place?
For me it was the decline in health of my dad's father. My family was so fortunate to have all 4 grandparents alive into their 80's. I was 27 when my first grandfather passed away. At his memorial service I got to hear some of the most wonderful things about him. With these realizations came feelings of great regret as I realized that I did not know my grandpa as well as I thought. Then the sadness for my dad swept over me as I heard about how his dad raised him and how special he was as a father. I thought to myself, my dad just lost his dad. My sadness shifted to the loss my father felt- all the memories he had of growing up and all of the things he learned from his dad. The finality of my grandpa's death weighed in and the see-saw of grief and celebration when someone dies became transparently real. We could never speak to my grandpa again or hear his is sarcastic rants or opinions about liberal politics. It was a signifcant ending in my dad's life, and it was sad.
Being 27 I was able to look at this loss in the perspective of an adult and how I will feel when my parents pass. Hopefully I will be lucky enough to see them live well into their 80's. But, I took away with me the notion that I must know my parents for who they are as individuals now. I will take notice of their funny memories and quirks and laugh with them as much as I can. I will know them inside and out. This includes the story of my mom sneaking out of the house in high school. She was such a good kid that when she got caught her parents didn't even scold her, and her brother and sister were clapping and saying, good for you!
I know that my dad always was and always will be a person who loves to have a good time and has lived the work hard, play hard philosphy. His pockets are full of memories of hysterical times. They're brimming actually.
I decided to throw my parents an anniversary party about four years ago. It was an off-year, #34 because my mom's dad, Pop was very close to death. I wanted him to be there for the celebration so that my mom could have that memory with her dad; they were very close. For a gift I spent about 20-30 hours scanning and collecting photos of my parents and family. I toiled over making a digital slide show for them. Through this experience I ended up receiving a gift as well. While sorting through these wonderful photos I saw my parents lives from when they were born to Halloween costumes, riding their bikes, high school graduation photos, engagement, wedding, and all through the rest of their lives as they became parents, aunts and uncles, and accomplished in their careers. It was an amazing experience and very rewarding to show them the finished product. As the slide show played at the party I fought back tears the entire 20 minutes because my love for them poured out of me. They have had such beautiful lives together and apart. I hope my life is just as full.
The last experience that altered my outlook of the relationship between parent and child was watching my Pop's life end at 89 years old. He and my Nana lived in Florida for over 25 years. As his health declined further and further my Nana's health became affected by constantly taking care of Pop. They had to move back to Rochester. This inevitable change had been brewing for a few years, but there came a point where there was no choice. Their house had to be sold. My grandparents could no longer live so far away without any family. My mother and I went down to Florida to get Pop checked into the hospital so he could be transported up North and into the nursing home. It was one of the most gut wrenching experiences of my life as I heard Pop ask for one more night at home. He knew he would never be back. He would never sit in his favorite chair or live under the same roof as my Nana. He was leaving everything that was familiar to him, and he had no choice. It was the way it was- he was dying. My mom was so strong, but at that moment I saw a little girl having to parent her parent. All I could think of was the memories of days gone by and how this changed my mother's life forever.
Pop died not long after moving up to Rochester. With this loss the fact that times marches on and time is limited embedded itself under my skin and on the tips of my fingers. My thoughts and opinions changed. I no longer felt like a carefree young person who only had to worry about my own life and troubles. A transformation took place where much of my worry surrounds my parents and their happiness and health. I worry about losing loved ones. This is the ultimate lesson. Life is precious, and it cannot be taken for granted. There are some things that matter and so many things that do not. A grown-up sees this lesson and lives by it, abides by it, and never forgets it. Everything can change in an instant. We hear this often but tend to forget the tiny gifts life offers everyday. Whenever possible I take the time to notice the sun shining on my face, the taste of fresh fruit, and laughing and enjoying the company of special people.
Live life in the moment because we never get those moments back.
When did you know you were a grown-up?