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I'm Anxious About My Aging Parents

Photograph by Getty Images

“I didn’t get that. You must have lost reception for a minute,” mom says confidently into the phone. “Say it again.” I’m not on a cell phone, and this is the third time mom’s asked me to repeat myself. I swear I’m not whispering. So why can’t she hear me?

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I repeat myself, telling mom the funny thing that happened to my little one at preschool today. I finish my story. Mom pauses silently for a moment then says, “I didn’t get that. You must have lost reception again.” I sigh the indisputable sigh of a frustrated grown child. “Mom,” I say in an all-too-annoyed-voice, “I’m not on my cell phone!” Embarrassed, she apologizes. I fake another call and tell her I have to go. I don’t hang up because I’m annoyed. I hang up because I’m sad. My parents are getting older, and it absolutely breaks my heart.

If you were to meet my parents, you’d say they were pretty remarkable. At 81, dad still goes to the gym every day and does yoga twice a week. He’s rarely sick and still works full-time. He and mom travel around the world, sometimes for a month at a time. Mom has the energy of the Energizer Bunny, does water aerobics twice a week, and has a remarkably busy social life that includes book clubs, theater dates and 5-star restaurants. She spends a good portion of the year jet-setting between the three states in which her daughters live. But neither of my parents can hear a word I’m saying.

I’m faced with the reality that someday my mom isn’t going to be here.

I’ve never been worried about my dad’s dips into old age. He was always kind of an old guy even when he was young. His hearing’s always been questionable, and his driving has never been stellar. In fact, his family nickname was “Lead Foot Larry” in reference to his deep love of hitting the breaks just hard enough to crack all your ribs.

But it was always him. Dad was always the old man. Not mom. She was always young. There was never a chance she wouldn’t be here.

Now that she’s starting to show signs of aging—at a remarkable 75, I might add—I’m faced with the reality that someday my mom isn’t going to be here. I can’t imagine a life without mom. She’s the center of our family, like a magnet keeping us all together. She sends my kids mail from the Tooth Fairy’s grandparents and never misses an event at their schools. She’s always got the answers. She’s always been healthy. She’s always been there.

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So I’m going to enjoy her. And him. Knowing my parents, they’ve each got 20 more years of trips in them, and I’m getting worried for nothing. But just in case I’m not, I’m going to do a better job of not getting annoyed and being as kind to them as they’ve always been to me. And when all else fails, I’ll blame their aging on my cell phone, even if I’m not on it.

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