About a year and a half ago my mom had a rather abrupt transition to a skilled nursing facility and my dad had major heart surgery. My parents are getting old. On the one hand I am keenly aware of how lucky I am to still have my parents around, but that doesn't negate that fact that watching their decline is difficult. There is nothing special or unique about this situation, or even my experience of it. Universally, we all deal with the loss of parents in one way or another. My heart aches equally for people who never had parents, people who deal with abrupt and sudden loss, people who face debilitating or fatal diseases at young ages and for those who are witnesses to the slow, quiet withering that comes with old age. There really is no win for anyone. My personal experience is the strange dichotomy of feeling blessed to have my parents around for so long and the long drawn-out heartbreak of watching their decline. I don't know that I will ever completely come to terms with who they are becoming versus the vibrant, giving people they used to be. I want these people to be around forever and I know that they won’t be. As life advances, the moment of saying goodbye after a visit and knowing that with each visit your time grows shorter, leaves a heartache that is difficult to reconcile.
My mom is a woman who has always created. She created confidence in her music students, she created theatrical productions, she created fantastic parties for her kids and was always crafting, knitting and creating for everyone she knew. Now there is a much simpler beauty to her creations as she quietly glues cardboard ornaments or carefully knits a small hat from her nursing home chair. My Dad, a once physically strong "do-it-yourselfer", kept a roof over our heads, problem solved creative technology solutions for things around the house (before they actually existed on the market) and made audio recordings of every orchestra concert I ever played in. Now he has difficulty navigating a cell phone and struggles to walk from the house to the car.
I watch as my children unconditionally love these wrinkled, weathered people and realize they will only know them in this faded way. They will never know the woman who directed operas or the man who almost single-handedly built the house we grew up in. They will only know these kind, withered, slow moving people that give them stuffed toys that they won at bingo or who quietly sit with them at dinner.
As my parents whither I am often overwhelmed with many contrasting feelings all existing at once. So I am doing what these once bold and passionate people raised me to do. I'm creating. Creating is in my blood. It's been passed on to me by these two frail people and passed down through generations of artists and creatives on both sides of the family. Someday, if I'm lucky, my own creativity will be reduced to small, frail, simple moments. If I'm lucky, someday my children's children will know me as a kind, wrinkled, frail soul who makes them small crafts and gives them candy.
And so I watch my parents' quiet decline. And I know it's a privilege to witness. But that doesn't make it any easier.
© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.