Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Part One: My Parents’ Final Years

2002: The Ravages of Old Age

The ravages of age were familiar to me. My elderly aunts and uncles had passed on. Listening to my parents describe aches and pains in their seventies, I had myself realized aches and pains of middle age in my forties. Getting up in the morning could be slower than before. Mom and Dad had fought arthritis, cholesterol, and weight issues since their fifties and were pretty careful with their health. They would work long hours at events in town supporting the volunteer network. They slowed down in their sixties and I began to monitor them more and more during this time. There were clues that their visits to the pharmacist were becoming more serious by the sheer volume of medications they were on. Mom had lactose intolerance and debilitating colitis: a stress-induced diarrhea. She was an extreme worrier, and it resulted in her having to wear adult diapers when driving a long way or going to church or choir practice. The smallest stress would send her off to the toilet. Dad was taking eight pills a day, a polypharmacy situation that put him at great risk.

Mentally I had already looked ahead to the last chapter in my parents’ lives after my first husband’s mother developed lung cancer. She was a heavy smoker, so it was not a surprise. I read all I could at that time and began to understand the philosophy of Elizabeth Kübler–Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I had developed such strong bonds with my mother, I knew we could honour the past while accepting the present. I could foresee that time coming, as my parents began recognizing and showing signs of the aging process. Slowly they began giving up the physical activities they could no longer manage: mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, raking snow off of the roof, stacking the cords of wood they needed for their wood stove, and so on. They began to hire people for those purposes.

Dad found caring for his precious garden much more difficult in his seventies. His knees were ravaged by arthritis, he was in pain, and needed much more sleep.

I, too, was beginning to prepare for the last chapter in my life. I had always been an active member in my teachers’ federation,[1] serving as executive member, secretary, treasurer, and branch president. I enjoyed trying to give something back to my profession. I took student teachers under my wing and mentored them while contributing articles to educational publications and planned and presented workshops on curricula, special education, and technology. Finally, I joined a professional organization (Ontario Association for Supervision in Curriculum--OASCD) and began doing work with this provincial group to help plan workshops and organize conferences. It was exciting work, planning, preparing, and facilitating the professional development opportunities so crucial in the field. I took the principals’ course in order to find new challenges beyond the classroom. It was rewarding work and gave me great joy.

I had been divorced for ten years. This kind of time commitment gave me a purpose, especially as my children found their own friends and their own interests. I was content to carry on with my personal and professional goals. One December, I met a special man. The week we met, we were scheduled to visit Mom in Muskoka. She told me to bring this dear man. Imagine driving five hours in a car with three teenagers. He is not a tall man, and I am not a tall woman. My children are fairly tall, and when we would stop on the way for a bite to eat, we looked like a peculiar family. But the visit was a success. After a busy spring and summer, we became engaged.

Brian, my second husband, is a delightful man. He was in the middle of a successful business career, with much responsibility related to the transportation industry. He has an open heart, a genuinely honest disposition, and is loved by almost all. I adored seeing him take off for work in his business suits. He looked like the businessman he was at the time. His generosity extends from the financial gifts he made to my struggling children while in university, to the generosity of spirit that moves him to do Meals on Wheels in his retirement in this community. My mother always called him “a pet”!

Mom put off her surgery until after our wedding in 2002.

(Terry Hrynyk)

[1] The federation became a union in 1997.

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