Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

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Each summer, before returning to Asia, I have to say goodbye to my parents. It is an awful ritual. It is increasingly difficult as the years go on. This summer was nothing short of torturous in that my mom and dad are struggling so mightily to live. It kills me to see them in pain.

I wrestle with self-centeredness, by balancing the thought of my mom and dad’s exceedingly dwindling quality of life versus my need to learn from them and enjoy their company. I am often times needing to tell them that I have a really good life and that I am happy. Each year, I find myself playing the loser’s game of wishing that I might see my parents just one more summer. I find myself wondering if I am living a life of meaning if I cannot even take care of my own parents’ basic needs. Each year I try to reconcile my conflicting emotions. “Should I stay or should I go?” Should I risk taking a real pay cut to return home? Can I eek out one more year?

Would I be  an added burden if I finally did decide to return home?

In writing this piece, I think of a quote from Confucius that I read somewhere. To paraphrase, “a man is not a man if he leaves his parents’ hometown before they have died.” This quote slays me each time I think about it, knowing that I have left my parents when they need me most. This quote is especially gnawing in that I feel like I have left my siblings holding the bag.

I am sure that I am not the only expatriate dealing with these thoughts.What helps me is to remember and share the advice my parents sent my way,such as:

“Live simply, boring is good.” “Have a good life, enjoy your time with your wife.” “Be happy is all that I ask.” “Don’t live to help people. That is egotism. Simply live to not hurt others. That is enough.” “Whenever in a hospital, you got to eat.” “There are not a lot of people who have a relationship like we do.” “Life is incredibly humbling.”

What also helps is to organize their lives as much as possible to set them up for survival. I did this with my mom by writing a financial, mental, and physical health plan that is achievable. I aided my dad by showing him all that he can still do, and not tell him what he should do.

Finally,below are ten ideas that help me live overseas while my parents age:

1.Accept that you cannot stop the aging process, even if you are living nearby.

2.Appreciate the kindness and positivity of your parents as they look upon their lives. Listen to them.

3.Thank them incessantly in for all that they have done for you.

4.Empathize with their plight, but do not allow yourself to wallow in pity.

5.Help your parents adapt to technology and accept the tools that are just too overwhelming.

6.Do what you can, whenever and whatever.

 7.Continue to make memories.

 8.Listen to them…just sit by their sides.

9.Trust caregivers and hope for the best.

10. Pay it forward and volunteer to work with the elderly in your newly adopted country.

 

 

 Expat reader, I sincerely wish you luck as you watch your parents age. Off to Hong Kong.

 

 

 

Watching your Parents Age from a Distance, (revisited)

Week two of my visit home continues.

I remain ever so proud of both my mom and dad. Both continue to do exercises so that they can make the most of their seventy-four year old bodies. Mom positions herself by the kitchen sink while we practice stretching and standing. Dad is now with his nursing home therapists transferring from his wheelchair to the shower room chair. This is a major goal in his ongoing battle for greater independence. The two of them are as upbeat as one may expect. They are remarkable in their perseverance.

My mom moves slowly but is as sharp and as funny as ever. She talked with me for over ninety minutes, last night. We had more than a few yucks. Currently, she is looking for a loaner guitar so she can start taking lessons at our local senior center. This has the making of hilarious possibilities.

My dad and I needed a good day. Yesterday was a very dark day for both of us. He told me how difficult life is for him at this time. He stated that he is lonelier now than at any time in his life. Dad loves the company of others more than most. When he is alone, he is truly difficult to witness. He is having a tough time sleeping at night.

Thankfully, He was able to move into a larger room by a window that overlooks a forest. Prior to this, he asked the head nurse,” What…do I have to wait for someone to die before I can get into another room?”

Dad eats all of his “hospital food” placed in front of him. He reminds me each day that when you are in a hospital, to clean your plate. He pushes himself to stay strong. He has long ago surpassed all my expectations so now I just sit with him and congratulate him on all of his successes.

I have never known my dad to ever be lonely. Seeing him struggle with life in a nursing home is quite difficult. He seems not intellectually challenged by his conversations with the staff and residents of his home. Dad is still able to complete a New York Times daily crossword puzzle with ink. Contrast that with contemporaries suffering from depression, boredom and dementia of some sort and you have a brutally tough environment to grow.

To put it simply, my dad needs visitors.

Thankfully, he had smiles for me as I left today. He rejoiced when seeing Tom Watson make the cut at the British Open.

Both of my parents continue to live one day at a time. Both continue to teach me lessons that I will keep forever.

Reader, especially expat teachers, if you have parents that are in the later stages of life, I sincerely wish you all the luck in the world. There are no secrets or hints that can help you. You truly are a bit helpless to affect much change.

Time, understanding and companionship are my only gifts that I can give them. 

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