On Distance and Aging Parents

When they were little, my sons used to affectionately say my mom was “almost old.”  Now my sons have grown up, and my mom has grown old.

Nine years ago, moving far from home seemed like an adventure.  I thought it would be fun to live in a different part of the country.  I imagined traveling all over the west with my husband and sons, who were 11 and 13 when we moved.  Mostly, though, I wanted to move because the job my husband was offered here would be more conducive to family life.  He’d be at the office less, and home with us more.  That was worth moving 2000 miles for.

I did consider how my moving would affect my mom, but I delusionally thought she would move after I left.  Not to follow me here, but to be closer to her other children and grandchildren there.  My siblings had moved up more than away, living in the more affluent counties of the same metro region.

My mom had been complaining about her house and county from the day she moved there.  With me gone, it would be the perfect time for her to move, too.  She agreed that it made sense for her to move.

Perhaps I was telling myself what I wanted to hear.  I wanted to believe that she would move, that my brother or sister would take over where I left off.

Nine years later, I am still here, and my mom is still in her same house, waiting for me to come back.

She’ll be 79 this year.  She is not in bad health, but she is in old health.  There are more aches and pains; she’s more susceptible to every passing virus, each hitting harder than the last; and her own anxiety causes more and more health issues each year.  She doesn’t want to be old; she doesn’t want to be a burden to her children.

I understand that, but, unfortunately, it means she doesn’t tell her children when she has the shingles for a solid month.  Even when they call and ask, “How are you, Mom?”

Which just makes me worry about her from 2000 miles away.

My brother lives an hour from her; my sister another half hour farther, but they have younger kids and jobs.  Baseball and soccer and swim team and recitals and birthday parties do not leave many weekends free.  They are at a different stage of life than I am, and they have different lifestyles.  (They didn’t hear about the shingles until they were over, either.)

My son lives nearby, too.  Last year, he lived with my mom, which was, for me, a fantastic arrangement.  The only worry I had about either of them all year was that they’d get on each others’ nerves.  I never wondered if my mom was sick and not telling me.

When my son reported that leg pain was affecting her ability to walk, I flew out to spend some time with them.  My mom would never have told me about it, but she appreciated that I came.  After being waited on for over a week, coerced to rest, she was feeling much better and was able to walk without pain by the time I left.

Now my son lives on a campus about 1 1/2 hours away.  He visits her almost every Sunday.  He does her yard work; she does his laundry.  They eat frozen pizza.  He texts me if he thinks there’s something I need to know.

Is it any wonder I love that kid so much?  How many twenty year olds would do that, without being asked?  Don’t think it is because she’s a sweet old granny, either.  My mom has never been sweet.  She’s more likely to tell him he’s getting fat or insult his girlfriend than to ask about his life.

That’s who my mom is.  Getting old has not softened her demeanor.  It hasn’t made her crankier, either.  The truth is, she’s always been a negative and critical person, even towards those she loves.  I can only take it for so long before I need to retreat.  As a child, I escaped into books.  As a younger adult, I just headed home when it got to be too much.  Now, I “check my email.”

When I tell people that I want to move back near my mom, or even have her move in with me, they either look at me like I’m crazy or offer sympathetic remarks about how close they are to their own moms, how frequently they talk, how their mom is their best friend, etc.

The people who look at me like I’m crazy are closer to the mark.

When we lived across town from my mom, we would stop by to rake her leaves, or borrow a video, or fix something, then go home.  She would stop by my house to show me some new thing she bought, or grab the boys for lunch, and go home.  We didn’t hang out for extended periods of time.  However, when I saw her frequently, I didn’t dwell upon her health or well-being in the days between.

That is the part of moving away that I didn’t anticipate nine years ago.  I didn’t realize how much more often I would think about her when I can’t see her, how her well-being would come to preoccupy me.  I never pictured myself obsessively refreshing weather reports when I hear about flooding or tornadoes in her county.

I didn’t realize that instead of traveling with my husband, I’d be spending my summers and holidays back east with my mom and daughter (How else would they get to know each other?).  I didn’t realize that I would always feel torn between my life and responsibilities here and my responsibilities there.  I didn’t realize that it would get harder every year, because she gets older every year.

I didn’t realize that this feeling I now have is not resentment.  It’s love.

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11 thoughts on “On Distance and Aging Parents

  1. This is really beautiful. I’m an 8-hour drive from my parents. I am very grateful my brother is close to them, and now my two sons.
    My dad didn’t tell me he was having part of his lung removed due to cancer until days before the surgery. Not cool!
    I get not making your grown kids want to worry, but it’s just different now. The roles are slowly changing to where we are becoming the caretakers.

    • At least you found out beforehand. My parents rarely told me about my dad’s “procedures” ahead of time. I’d find out when I visited. So I would drive down about once a month (only 5 hours then, but with toddler/preschooler).

  2. This made me cry too. I totally get loving someone despite their faults and despite maybe not being able to live with them. I hope you are able to find a solution that puts your mind at ease. Your son sounds like a wonderful person. I don’t know many 20 year olds that spend every Sunday checking on their Grandmother. He sounds like a good kid.

  3. My mother and my very old and very wonderful mother in law live very far apart. I always feel I’m neglecting my mother in law, but she never complains. But each time I see her, she is a little older, a little sicker, a little more tired. But flying there is so expensive and I simply cannot afford to visit her often.

  4. Ginger Kay,
    Thank you for your kind words on my post this week. I am so glad I came by to visit you in return. We have so much in common re the angst of aging parents. As mine got older, we moved closer home for all the reasons you detail. I understand the cry of your heart and the worry in your soul. Blessings on you as you care about and for a lady whose cold pricklies make it not so easy to feel warm and fuzzy. Our sons are about the same age…and are the same kind of grandson. Even if she can’t say it, I know she treasures him! And, well she should!

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