I’ve just returned from a 10-day trip to visit my parents. Technically, I was doing full-time “elder care.” It’s hard for me to consider my parents in that way… Elders, much less in need of full-time care.
But at 81 & 88, my parents are absolutely the demographic intended by that word “elder” and they certainly fit the description of being wonderful people who have a lot of wisdom to share having lived three+ decades longer than I have.
But, I’m still their child and they’ve had such good health over their lifetimes that having to provide them with full-time care was a role that I hadn’t had much practice in and I wasn’t sure how it would go, to be honest. I’m used to our usual dynamic: they take care of me, not the other way around.
My older sister (an RN – so handy!) had been in place and caring for my Mom and Dad for the first ten days at home post-rehab following my Mom’s open heart surgery. I was second string.
When I arrived (sick with the plague that is this season’s cold gripping our entire country!) I was weak, jet-lagged and feeling a little out of my element. As my sister trained me in what would be my role as home health nurse aide for the next week or so, I could feel myself starting to panic.
There were so many things I had to keep track of! Showering specifics, medications to dispense (morning and night), doctor’s appointments, a heart monitor to check, household chores, cooking and cleaning, laundry and taking care of their beloved dog, Tobey. Feeling incredibly overwhelmed, I almost started crying. When my sister took her leave the next day, I had one thought: “I don’t think I can DO this!”
But, of course, I could. And I did.
That first day on my own, up at 7:00 am to help get my Mom ready for her shower, I was still holding onto the ridiculous expectation that I would get to my computer at some point. You see, I’d brought a bag full of “important” work that I thought I’d get to, now that my duties of working and being a Mom had been taken off my plate.
I’d even brought a couple of magazines and thought that maybe I’d get caught up on a little Netflix. HAH! When I turned off the light and my head hit the pillow at 11:00 pm that evening I realized something…
This trip had nothing to do with me and what I was hoping to accomplish or get done while away from my usual duties back home.
The only “work” that mattered was being 100% present to my parents.
And so, that bag of important work sat unopened the entire time I was there. I barely checked my phone. I only FaceTimed with my own family once the entire time I was away.
I quickly realized that being the 4th of six kids meant that I’d literally never had my parents all to myself at any point in my life! Wait…that’s not entirely true. There was that one time when I was 7 years old and I’d broken my arm so badly that it had landed me in the hospital for ten days — but even then, I only got to have my Mom with me in the hospital, my Dad had to stay home and take care of my siblings. Plus, I had to share my hospital room with another family, my arm was in traction, and there was a LOT of pain! (And yet, I still remember that experience as one of the best from my childhood!)
So on day two of my stint of full-time elder care, I gave myself over to the day-to-day rhythm that my parents and their care required – and it was wonderful.
Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work. Really hard work. In fact, I came home with a new belief that every person should work a full-week doing childcare as well as a full-week of elder care, so that the people who do this work as their full-time jobs might get the respect and the pay that they deserve. I appreciate these people and their work so much more than I did before!
But even so, it truly was a wonderful experience to sit at my parent’s kitchen table, serve them homemade banana bread slathered with peanut butter for breakfast, measure out their morning medications and then work together as “Team Buckner” to figure out the daily crossword puzzle clues in the morning paper.
The rest of the day might mean getting them both out the door for a doctor’s appointment and lunch (which took several hours longer than you’d think). Or welcoming the OT or PT or visiting nurse as they came and went providing my Mom with specialized care. In between, I would clean the bathrooms, take the pup for a walk, do a few loads of laundry, make a grocery store run… anything that needed to be done, really.
Late afternoon would roll around and sometimes, my siblings and their children (or grandchildren!) would join us for dinner. The evening ritual of medications and getting them ready for bed day would follow and then end with stories from when my parents were young and in full-on parenting mode. A time when they were the ones taking care of us. How humbling for all that these roles had been reversed!
My Mom’s recovery is temporary — she’s expected to make a full recovery. But while I was there, it became apparent that my Dad is no longer able to be independent. And that his care might be more than my Mom will be able to handle long-term.
This visit was somewhat bittersweet as I realized that this might be the last time that I see my Mom & Dad in their own home. That, even though there’s a wedding to attend in the Fall and I’ll be bringing my entire brood home to visit, at this age and stage, six months time can mean a lot more changes.
So I just soaked up every minute of my time with my Mom and Dad. I slowed down. I let them set the pace. I put aside distractions and gave them the things that they had showered me with my entire life: love and attention.
And while I certainly hope that I have several more visits with them in the months and years to come, I’m so incredibly grateful for this time I had with them now. For the opportunity to give back to them a tiny percentage of everything that they’ve given me over the years.
Now I know that not everyone has a family of origin that is the gift that mine is to me.
I have two amazing parents that never let a day pass without letting me know how much they love me. I grew up hearing and believing that I was a gift from God in their lives. I have five siblings that I love, respect and look forward to seeing and spending time with. They have, in turn, all married wonderful people. Those of us lucky enough to have children, have managed to create the next generation of really kind, cool people who are making this world a better place just by being in it.
My parents have been working on this “Legacy of Love” for the past 60 years: creating, sustaining and protecting a loving marriage that has produced six children, fourteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren (and counting…)
They are the matriarch and patriarch of The Buckner Family. And I feel so lucky to be a part of that legacy!
So much so, that when we got married, my husband and I went to town hall and we both legally changed our middle names to “Buckner” so that this connection would never be severed and would be a permanent part of our names. (And in the Hispanic tradition, all of my children legally carry both Suárez AND Buckner in their names…)
I don’t know how much more time I’ll have with either of my parents. And that thought is often more than I can bear. But, the time that I just had with them has filled my heart almost to the breaking point – in a really good way. For even as I did the work of caring for their bodies, my parents continue to do the work of caring for my heart and my spirit. They continue to teach me so much about patience, gratitude, kindness, authenticity and love.
They are the best example of how I hope to live my life should I be lucky enough to build my own legacy of love over the next several decades.
It might seem like this post is a departure from a lot of the other things that I write about pregnancy, birth and parenting… But when you’ve had the great fortune to be parented well, I feel like it’s important to acknowledge and be grateful for all the gifts that you’ve received!
So, thank you Bob & Mary Therese Buckner for being the best parents I could have ever hoped for. I love you more than you will ever know.