How Your Relationship with Your Parents Change after They Get Older

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It’s the 10th day. I’m standing by a hospital bed at the intensive care unit, feeling helpless, listening to the beeps of sophisticated machines.

I’m staring at the weak and feeble body of the woman I have known all my life – my mother.

Every so often I catch myself making nervous glances at the vital signs monitor, observing the change of numbers displayed on the screen.

I touch her warm hands, bruised from endless IV drips and pricking of needles. She opens her eyes and grins at me, displaying a fine set of teeth. Although she’s nearing 80, Mum hasn’t lost the sparkle in her eyes, and the oh-so-sweet smile that could charm us over and over again. Despite being heavily drugged by a daily dose of antibiotics, she maintains her wit and humour, never losing her radiance.

Today she looks exhausted. “I want to go home, I’m bored”, she sulked. I take a deep breath, and whispered softly to her ears, “soon, very soon.”

I hate lying to Mum. I hate not knowing how long she needs to be hospitalised. I hate thinking that in a couple of minutes the nurses will ask me to leave as they need to get yet another blood sample from Mum. I hate hearing her groan in pain. I hate the fact that it’s her fourth hospital stay within a period of less than 2 years.  

My thoughts were interrupted by the frail voice of an 87-year old man. I look over at Dad, who was bending over to kiss Mum’s cheek.

The lovebirds in Hong Kong

Dad has mild Parkinson’s disease and at times, slow in speech and movement, but there he was, being strong for the love of his life. Dad was murmuring words of encouragement to Mum, whilst gently stroking her hair. The beauty of their relationship brings warmth to the icy cold room.  

When you’re in a hospital watching your loved ones in pain and agony, you’ll have several moments of reflection. As for me, I’m continuously reminded of life, and how surreal it can be. We look forward to receiving news about the birth of a new born, and the progressive milestones of babies – their first smile, first word or first step – but we cringe when we talk about growing old, growing sick and what more, sharing stories of death.

I guess it’s pretty normal for humans to feel or react this way, but we mustn’t deny the fact that this is the reality of life. Instead of running away from it, we need to reflect on stories concerning the sick and elderly – however heart breaking they may be.

Despite the weak conditions of my aging parents, I must say that their presence has given me new-found energy. I can vouch for this because I have lived through it, and I’m lucky enough to still be living through it.   

I have happy memories of my childhood. However, as a teenager, I grew up appreciating the advice of my friends a little bit more than that of my parents. In my mind, my friends understood me better.

The lovebirds in Nami Island

Back then, I felt that it was cool to label my parents uncool. I just didn’t appreciate the little things my parents did. Instead, I took them for granted day by day.

Little did I know that one day – like today – I’d be missing such moments with my parents – as simple as eating a meal together, going out for a drive together, or even having conversations together.

I used to regret not spending enough time with my parents when they were still fit and able to do a lot more things. But in life, one shouldn’t sit and cry over his/her griefs, instead, one should be strong enough to pick up the shattered pieces, and build up stronger bonds of relationship in order to move on and create new, beautiful memories.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think the relationship I had with my parents changed, or in fact, blossomed, as my parents got older.

It could have happened during one of the frantic ambulance rides with Mum or Dad to the hospital. It could have happened when I saw how difficult it was for Dad to get the words out of his mouth to form a simple sentence, and how painful it was to watch him feeling upset with himself for not being able to do so. It could have happened when I observed the blank look Mum gives me when she couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast that day.

Whichever the situation may be, when that moment comes, you take a second look at your parents, and it finally dawns upon you that they are old, tired, and unable to do the things that they used to do with you.

Today, I want to do so much with them. However, there are days when my parents don’t have any appetite to eat. They have mood swings. They get depressed. They get tired easily, or they just want to lie down and sleep. There may even be days when they just don’t feel like having any conversation with anybody. In short, they become ‘difficult’.

And this is where, we, as children should not ‘shut down’ like how they did. This is where the change in our relationship with our parents really take place.

Mum became wheelchair-bound following a mild stroke in 2011, which was about the same time Dad’s Parkinson’s disease became more obvious. But instead of losing faith in life, my parents and I decided to re-live life – and that was what we did! We travelled to different countries – sometimes as many as three countries in a year – re-living the travelling days when my parents were much younger and fitter. The difference this time around was that they just had to sit back and enjoy the travels whilst I customise the travel plans to suit their physical conditions and needs.  

Winter escapade – Istanbul

Because Mum loved shopping, we re-lived her shopping moments. I remember pushing Mum on her wheelchair with bags of purchases on either side of the wheelchair handles, and more bags on her lap! Whether it was amidst the scorching heat of the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, or walking several kilometres along Istiklal Cadessi in Istanbul’s freezing cold winter days, or pushing through the crowds at the jam-packed Thamrin City shopping complex in Jakarta – we made it happen. Although my hands and feet hurt through the entire ordeal and that I had to sacrifice the places or shops I’d prefer going to, every time I watch Mum’s face glow with joy and delight, it brings warmth to my heart.

Shopping amid scorching heat – Bangkok

And because Dad loved eating, we certainly re-lived this. I would scour the internet for restaurants that serve the food of his choice – and this could be Roti Canai and Biryani Rice from a small Mamak restaurant in a lonely street in Phnom Penh, or an upclass Halal BBQ grilled beef restaurant in Gangnam, Seoul. The pleasure of watching Dad savouring the food in front of him cannot describe the happiness I feel within me.  

Durians by the roadside – Jakarta

Today, I want to do that all over again, to travel the world together like old times; but their physical and medical conditions don’t permit them to do so. Even though they’re currently unfit to make any international travels, their needs are now customised to local travels or even a day out at the park or at a Mamak stall – just so we could create more memories. Because of this, I’m thankful to God that I still have the opportunity to spend precious moments with my parents.

Diamond wedding anniversary celebration

Instead of ignoring your elderly parents, and allowing them to ‘slip away’, we should get involved and try as much as possible to do the things that we used to do together, and better still, to do other new things that will create more beautiful moments and more memories to cherish.

As you get older, the struggle gets real. Therefore, I strongly feel that we need to focus on these three basic things for a relationship with our elderly parents to really work.

One – Respect:

Respect their boldness and bravery in facing their daily challenges.   

Two – Tolerate:

Tolerate their weaknesses and inability to do things on their own.

Three – Appreciate:

Appreciate every little moment together; and cherish everything.

This is my story. I experienced – and am still experiencing – the bliss of a beautiful relationship with my elderly parents, and I want you to feel the same way with yours too. So what comes after we respect, tolerate and appreciate? We continue to love, because doesn’t love come naturally?  

For more articles like these, read 4 Important Life Skills My Mom Taught Me That Still Matter Today, and Staying Under One Roof with the In-Laws. Pros and Cons?

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