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Swift: Lessons learned from watching parents age

Tammy Swift, columnist

Brain bleed.

It's such a scary term.

When I heard my dad had fallen and was rushed to the emergency room for crushing headaches, that was alarming enough. But it was even worse to hear that the injury to his head had caused a bleed in his brain lining.

He received minor surgery to alleviate the problem, and he is recovering nicely. But the calls about health issues, injuries and falls have become more frequent over the last couple of years.

In fact, I suspect aging is my lesson of acceptance to learn in 2017. Not only are my joints cracking and protesting, but my little 12-year-old dog runs up the stairs a little slower every day.

And now ... this.

It's hard enough to watch any loved one age, but it's arguably even more so when your parents have always been strong, independent and healthy. My dad has long been a bundle of energy, shimmying under trucks and scrambling up ladders like a young boy.

Both of my parents have lived clean, active lives. They never smoked, only drank socially and always traveled with a "vitamin case" that looked more like the Queen Mum's steamer trunk.

They live in a small town, so never grew reliant on the unhealthy convenience of fast food. In fact, I've always been amazed at Dad's dietary discipline — especially considering their freezer is filled with Mom's kuchen, bars and caramel rolls. (Maybe it's the same logic that keeps Parisians from visiting the Eiffel Tower. You figure that you don't need to; it will always be there, right?)

For at least 15 years, their morning routine has consisted of drinking a foul-tasting cocktail made from a supplement powder sold to them via what suspiciously seemed like a pyramid scheme. We all rolled our eyes when they talked about it, but they did seem to enjoy benefits like lower cholesterol and stronger joints after taking it.

But as time marched on, even their magical, chalky-tasting elixir no longer worked. Mom's years of running up and down stairs to wait on inn guests caught up with her, and she wound up with knee replacements in both knees. She developed macular degeneration — an especially unwelcome guest for someone who worked for years as a professional artist.

Dad has cardiac issues — not because of the usual blockages or plaque, but because one chamber in his heart doesn't work as it should. Now he has a pacemaker. He also needs knee replacements, but doctors don't want to operate because of his heart. His mind wants him to participate in the Olympic trials; his body wants him to take a nap.

But that's what aging is. It is an acknowledgement that you will have to let go of some things or, at least, do them differently than you did in the past. This isn't easy for anyone. As you lose the ability to do things you've done all your life, some grieving is inevitable.

Yet, I'm always impressed with how my parents handle this. Sure, they worry and fuss a bit, but they carry on. They keep moving forward with the same determination and level-headedness they've had their whole lives. They are still grateful to be living in their own home and doing what they can every day.

It could be worse. They could have dementia and not recognize their children. They could be unable to live independently. So they will carry on — and worry about those bigger issues and scarier possibilities when they come to them.

It's proof you can not only grow old gracefully, but gratefully.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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