PARENTAL VISITS AND THE ART OF LETTING (THEM) GO
Author’s note: This was originally written in 2018 when I reflected on my parent’s visit to the United States in the realization that they will not be around forever. Considering how all of our lives have changed with Covid-19, I wanted to reiterate the importance of family and how we cannot take our loved ones for granted. Now is the time to draw strength from your memories. We all must have faith that there will be future get-togethers in a safer world. Yet we must also realize that we may never have that opportunity again. There’s no time like the present to tell your loved ones (family and friends) what they mean to you. Of course, I’d appreciate if you read this first, then start making those calls…
A few days ago, my parents – visiting from Germany – left my driveway in their rental car to go to the airport.
Three weeks earlier, they had arrived. The main purpose of their visit was to house and pet-sit for a week while my husband and I went on vacation. It was my parent’s birthday gift to my husband. No pricey pet sitter needed; money saved – it was a generous offering which we gladly accepted. The other two weeks were meant for day trips and relaxing.
I picked them up from the airport, and once we got home, it felt like two teenagers had moved in (not late sixties/early seventies something adults). Mobile phones were whipped out, then a tablet, a video camera – what was the Wi-Fi password, and what was taking me so long to share it? Within ten minutes, my parents were settled in with their electronics and quite content with messaging the outside world. Life returned to normal.
A trip to the store ensured cases of beer and tons of meat would sustain them at my residence for one week (6 cases of Milwaukee’s Best; so much for German beer snootiness). Lessons were given on pet survival and house maintenance.
Our vacation week flew by. We came back to a clean home and content pets and parents. The beer had lasted, and there were no food emergencies. The only downside was that I had returned from my tropical vacation with a cold. It was good that I had scheduled another week of vacation to spend at home with my parents. Nothing says I love you more than sharing your germs with your next of kin. I moped around them for a good two days before my husband disclosed that we had a half bottle of cough syrup publicly hidden away in our hall closet with the many other already expired chemicals accumulated over the years. Soon, I was on my way to recovery, but then, Mom started to lose her voice and gain that annoying persistent cough which prevented my parents from taking their newly acquired rental car on exciting day trips as originally planned. They were stuck at my house. When Dad also started coughing toward the end of their stay, I lovingly said it was a gift to remember me by.
The morning of their departure, we sat on the couch not saying much. After three weeks, everyone was ready for some space. At the agreed upon time, we schlepped the luggage to the rental car, hugged, thanked each other, and braced for the hardest part.
There I stood in my driveway, 46 years of age, watching Dad enter the airport address into the navigation system while Mom tried to retain composure over her facial expressions. The car was put into drive and quietly took off. I watched Mom’s hand give the wave as the car continued down the road. Then, suddenly, I had the urge to run after them, to rip open the car doors, drag them out, and hug them tightly just one more time. I was ready and willing to bawl my eyes out in front of them like a baby whose favorite toy had been taken away.
And then they were out of sight. Clearly something was wrong. I felt like an abandoned child. Or had I just abandoned them? The emotion was so raw and hit me so hard: I was feeling the real possibility of the very unimaginable loss of my parents for the very first time!
I do not have many visits left with them. Their generation is next to perish (and holy cow, then it’s mine). How could that happen? I am a huge part of them, and they are the roots that tie me to this earth. To come to grips with an inevitable end is not fathomable. Sadness overtook me.
I am not prepared for such a loss.
Is anyone ever truly ready to lose a parent? Most everyone loses their parents at some point (and let’s face it, you hope it’s them first and not you for many reasons). I have friends who no longer have parents. My husband lost both his parents within months of one another and a brother just prior to them. And while I felt for him and my friends, I came to realize that I had not been able to truly relate what such a loss meant. But standing there in my driveway, I started to grasp the meaning. Guilt rushed in. Guilt for not realizing that pain in others; guilt for realizing that time is limited; guilt for thinking that family and fish start to stink after three days. Guilt for wanting some alone-time while others no longer had the opportunity to soak in every minute of their parents and to make life last longer for them. Guilt for selfishness, which I knew my parents would understand and had experienced themselves. But the larger emotion was unimaginable sadness and empathy which rushed in, crushing my heart.
Parents are what we take for granted. Parents are always there. As you age, you can ask them all kinds of questions about your own health; and you will, because aging sucks, and you want to know if others have suffered before you. Parents may not say much, but their mere presence says it all. They can be mean and hateful, loving and accepting; and everything in between. But deep down, all humans want to connect and be part of something.
Family is that connection that gives you identity.
Parents have lives and have lived lives. Do you know your parents as individuals? Can you imagine that each of them had their own set of dreams for themselves and their children? Parents sacrifice, and children may never realize just how much. Parents are you.
I look back and wonder what things I should have said during my parents visit. I can come up with a hundred sentences, easily. But I barely got out five. I also realize that I don’t have to necessarily say them. I know my parents share that deeply rooted feeling of togetherness, thankfulness, and love. My tribe is not an outward emotional one; we are strong, stubborn, and independent. Words sometimes ruin the quiet which bonds because we know who we are; the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, sometimes when we speak, the bluntness of the truth can ruin an otherwise perfect moment.
While I spent the rest of the morning cleaning my house – and dear Lord, what in the world were they spitting into my sink – and intermittently crying over the (future) loss of my parents, I was able to convey to myself that I am lucky for the many visits and good memories. Not everyone gets that. I am hoping for many more to come.
There are millions (I kid you not) of photos and videos that my parents took over their lifetime, so that they can relive special moments (and a gazillion un-special ones, but who’s to judge).
My memories of them will give me strength today and on the day that I will physically lose them. But I will not be prepared, and I will fall to pieces.
I have hopes that Father Time is gracious and that he allows me and my parents the opportunity to strengthen our ties to ourselves and to Mother Earth for many more years. As individuals, parents are our greatest source of identity. And it is unfortunate that as a human race, we are ignorant to acknowledge that we came from the same origin, failing to identify with our larger purpose.
It is not about money, status, or looks. When it comes down to it, it’s about human connections. It starts with your parents, and we need to venture out from there to understand ourselves as individuals but also as part of something bigger.
Thanks for reading! I’m Petra, and I’m an Equalizer.
I tend to write about women’s rights (or lack thereof). That doesn’t mean I’m exclusive to that subject matter. In general, I love to write about the things that connect us as humans.
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