You made that promise to your mom or dad a long time ago. You promised them that when the time came, you would be there to take care of the surviving parent as they had taken care of the one you are losing. What you were thinking was that you wanted to give them what peace you could; it worked, they relaxed, reaffirmed their love for you, and soon after that, they passed. Now the day has come and it’s time to adult-up and keep that promise or break it. You know what it will mean to keep it; you can’t even imagine what it would feel like to break it. Your friends and advisors tell you that you are crazy, that you don’t have to keep your word. You know better. What you didn’t know was how it would change you. You never even imagined the lessons you learn taking care of a parent.
“If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
You might be the same person who wears those precariously tall heels, or turns you baseball hat around backwards when you drive, but you are indeed changed by the experience. It changes your character. You might fight it, and the changes do come slowly, but you do change.
When you are a caretaker and you do it as a profession, you get a degree in gerontology or maybe healthcare admin. But when you do it for a parent out of love, you get the training on the job. You learn to give haircuts, you learn to cook things that you might never eat yourself, you feed and wash them, and at times, you are just their companion. Yes, at 90 people still need companionship as much as they did at 30. Most of all you learn some important life lessons. Here are a few of them.
The small things are important
Older people care more than younger people are capable of caring. When you spend your time around elderly folk, you just learn that the little things in life are important. When you care, you go the extra distance without looking for payment. It is what makes you care about life. You don’t even feel like you have done anything special. You learn to listen, really listen. They have something to say and there are so many things that they have seen that you may never see. If you are the balance sheet type, there is so much more that you can gain by listening, compared to the cost. It can help both your personal and professional life.
Human things are important things
If you are a millennial, you are probably good at technology. I am not saying you are a robot… but you might be. We all text, we send emails with emoticons, and we know how to use those fancy apps to chat. Do you really know what to do when you come face to face with another human being? No phone to stand between you means that you have to touch them in some other way. If that describes you, then you just might be one of those people who are insensitive to the rest of us humans. Being around living people, interacting personally with them, gains you loads of stories and examples of life experiences that you could never pay for. The hugs along will make you value people more than your iPad.
If you keep it up, you will find your social skills improving, your dependence on technology fading and your relationships developing because of the different you.
Life takes “grit” to survive
A 90-year-old—really any senior—will share their struggles with you. I get it, you, too, have a lot to get through in your day, from looking for a job to raising your kids. When you listen to what older generations endured without complaint, you come to realize that life is a struggle for us all. It takes “grit” to get through it. They can teach you that there are days when just getting up is an accomplishment, and from that little success, a great day can be built.
When you think about it, elderly people you meet today have all successfully dealt with the threat of nuclear war, and many the Great Depression. Some of them even participated in saving the free world in WWII. Most of them managed to get married, raise kids, have decent careers (some magnificent) and still remain good human beings even if they are a little bruised from the wear and distance.
Do you see that they are actually living proof that regardless of how self-indulgent or hard-working you might be, you have the opportunity to thrive. Rock bottom or not, you can pull yourself up and build a life to be proud of. Yep, you have challenges they can’t imagine, you have student debt, a world in turmoil, but they, too, had challenges and many of them had never been seen on the face of the earth (think atomic bomb). How many of those kinds of challenges are you really ready for?
So, my thought for you is that you can learn that life is a struggle for us all, so do like they did and go out and fight with grit and substance every day.
If you learn that single thing from your elderly parent, you can build yourself a strong lovely life just like they did.
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.