The Circle of Life

My 15-month-old son Luke, whose first four teeth starting sprouting when he was 11 months old, now has three more teeth coming in, allowing him to eat more chewy foods. He will literally try ANY food—and loves almost every food he samples, from guacamole to chili to steak—so feeding him is increasingly fun.

He started walking a month ago, first stumbling a few steps, his face flushing with pride. When he’d fall, which was often, he’d shed no tears, for he’s “tough as nails,” as my sister-in-law noted. He’d simply push himself back up and continue on, walking, then falling, walking, then falling, and now he’s a pro.

Within the past week, he’s started calling me “Mom.” Actually, it’s either “Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom” or “MomMomMomMomMomMom”—most often shrieked.

On Sunday morning, my son Patrick discovered his first loose tooth. Almost every friend his age has lost multiple baby teeth, so he’s been desperate to join their ranks, rather than, from his 6-year-old perspective, lag behind in development.

On Sunday night, right before bed, he said, “Mom, look at the ridiculous amount of hair on my arm.” I explained that growing more hair on his body is yet another sign that he’s growing up. (He also wears size 10-12 clothing because he’s so tall.)

My 15-year-old stepson has his Learner’s Permit, and my 17-year-old stepson has his Driver’s License and his first job.

All of these accomplishments are celebrated, as they should be, for while my husband and I may sometimes mourn the ease or joy of our sons’ earlier developmental stages, being a parent is about preparing your children to be independent.

And what I learned last week is that being a child of an older parent is about not only helping your parent as he or she loses independence, but also about personally mourning the loss of the parent as he or she had been.

My father, just 69 years old, has been diagnosed with an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, Mild Cognitive Impairment (Dementia), Parkinson’s Disease and depression.

He has trouble swallowing, so he’s limited the foods he’s willing to try and also the people around which he will eat. He’s lost 70 pounds.

He has difficulty walking, getting out of bed and lifting himself up from a chair.

He falls often.

His speech is difficult to understand.

He has Parkinson’s Mask—immobility of his facial muscles—so he has minimal facial expression.

He can’t drive.

While all of this would be difficult for any man—and any child witnessing it—his condition is intolerable to him—and me—because of who he was and is. My father was a star athlete. He was a revered, award-winning coach. He was a successful businessman. He was and is the ultimate hard-ass, to be blunt. Now he is cognitively, physically and emotionally disabled—yet his dementia is mild enough for him to be fully aware of this.

And unless something unexpected happens, the rest of my father’s life will be a progression toward increasing dependence, of which he’ll only be free in death. So I’m already mourning.

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