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Caring for our Parents

Posted 5/30/2016

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  Today is Memorial Day, an especially good day to think about our veteran parents and our non-veteran parents, too. My father was a career Army officer, and he took Memorial Day seriously. The flag was always hung, and he made sure to talk with us about the meaning of the holiday. He died of lung cancer in 1978, a very long time ago, and he almost died on the 4th of July. Instead, he hung on in the ICU for almost a week, giving us all time to gather and reminisce and thank him and promise him we would watch out for his beloved, our Mother and would all be fine. My mother in turn promised him that she would always love him and never be a burden to their children. I was very fortunate to have such fine parents.

  My father's illness lasted only six weeks from the time of diagnosis, Memorial Day weekend, until his death. He never left Walter Reed, so there really was never a need nor an opportunity for physical care taking. There was plenty of opportunity for emotional caring, and I am still proud of my family as I remember those painful weeks.

  When my mother died in 2004, the circumstances were very different. She had stayed physically sturdy, but was cognitively irreparably damaged by a surgical disaster. . There was some time for care taking on all levels, and the years have quieted the pain of the difficult moments and memories.

  I know I have been in a tender reverie all day, thinking often of them both, and I offer you this lovely poignant essay from The New York Times:

After a Cancer Diagnosis, Reversing Roles With My

By Steven Petrow

If anything about my mother was conventional, it was the smoking. Like many of her generation she smoked
early and often, and I swear she waited to light up until we were hermetically sealed in our family’s Ford Country Squire. My brother, sister and I hated it — we tried over and over to get her to quit. She made some attempts:
Patches and gum, even hypnosis by a Russian. She had some short-term successes, but soon enough I could smell the smoke on her breath or see the burnt-out butts hidden in her desk drawer ashtray.
The last time I begged Mom to quit, she shot back with a stern rebuke: “I very much appreciate your concern,” followed by an expletive. The message was clear: Mind my own business. Indeed, Mom has always been “spirited.”
From both ends, ours was not an easy relationship.
Four years ago, at 80, Mom wound up in the emergency room after she passed out in bed; her carotid artery
was 90 percent blocked. The doctor ordered a routine pre-op chest X-ray and found a mass that turned out to be lung cancer. “Did my smoking have anything to do with this?” Mom asked the handsome cancer surgeon, almost flirtatiously. “Yes,” he told her. “Then I’ll quit,” she said. And that, finally, made her stop, once and for all.

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