Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Aging, up close & personal July 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:59 AM
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MORE AND MORE I am experiencing the difficulties of watching a parent age. My husband likewise along with many of our friends.

Bodies are failing, memories fading, personalities changing as our parents move further into their eighties. I feel at times a profound sadness in all of this. Yet, I understand from an intellectual perspective that this is the natural progression of life. I feel in my own body the changes that occur with advancing age.

I want to turn back time to the days when Mom took care of me, to the days when my father-in-law would walk into a room. Roles are reversed, mobility now diminished. Walker and wheelchair. Dinner in a care center dining hall. BINGO and rare days out.

If I would allow it, melancholy would seep into my thoughts in their presence. But I shove it aside, replace it with a smile and encouragement.

On a recent visit with my father-in-law, I observed my husband pick up a toy truck and fiddle it in his hands. Before him rested his dad’s vacant wheelchair. I snapped a few quick photos with my smartphone because I saw something in that moment. I observed a depth of sadness my quiet husband would never share in words. But it was there, lingering in the silence, in the flood of sunlight through spacious windows, in the sparse room made homey by a recliner and a collection of replica small-scale vintage tractors and trucks.


TELL ME: Are you in a similar place of watching parents age and decline in health? What are your thoughts and how are you coping?

Note: My father died in 2003 at the age of 72. Randy’s mother died in 1993 at the age of 59. His dad remarried. My mom did not.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


41 Responses to “Aging, up close & personal”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    My dad died after a series of strokes, at the age of 64. And though he did well in therapy and bounced back after each stroke, we were fortunate that he went quickly after the last stroke. Mom is doing well, though she gets around slowly and cannot do near what she used to (she and I have a similar “tough” work ethic). She’s good to communicate now, and allows us to help. She’s been good to encourage me and offer advice when she sees my unease at slowing down. It is a good thing that most of the time we are all allowed to ease into these changes. The best advice I ever got from people who were aging was to travel and do what you want to do and see what you want to see now… don’t wait – for your body may not be able to, even at the ages of 50’s and 60’s. I understand now that I’m there.

    • That is great advice. Now that my husband has 20 vacation days (instead of 10) we can perhaps travel more. Not distant because of finances, but at least in the Midwest.

      Your mom sounds like one strong woman. Just like her daughter.

  2. I am experiencing this and it reminds me that life is too short. I am glad we moved because family is closer now and living in a warm state year round may mean them moving here so we can take care of them in the near future. Last year was a tough one – with three uncles passing and my best friend lost her mom who was like a mom to me and then her fiancee lost his mother. It is especially hard when someone passes that is in the prime of their life and are experiencing cancer or heart disease. They are now angels watching over us and keeping us safe. Take Care – powerful photo 🙂

    • I am sorry for the multiple losses you have experienced in the past year. But thankful that you now have family nearer you. You have such an incredibly loving heart and spirit.

      Thank you for appreciating the photo. Even though it could be better technically (if shot with my DSLR and not my smartphone), it is, as you say, powerful.

    • I think the hardest part about aging is remembering them when they were vital and active. Especially when you see the fading and declining. When I was younger I truly did not appreciate taking care of my grandma when she lived with us, so I changed my mindset when my nephew came into my life at 18 and become a caregiver for him. I also learned from those experiences that you have to take time for yourself so you do not feel like someone is a burden and harbor resentment towards that person simply because you need a break.

      • Taking time for yourself is vital and I’m glad you mentioned that. I think about how my husband has cared for me the past eight weeks, without complaint. I’m at the point now where my recovery is such that I don’t need his help nearly as much.

        Good for you to care for your nephew. What a loving and compassionate aunt.

  3. Audrey, this is such a well done piece of writing. It hit me right in the gut. With my last birthday, I am starting to pay more attention to my loved ones aging around me. It’s a hard thing to watch. I love Littlesundog’s advice. Live for the moment, while you can! Something we all need to take to heart!

  4. pkpm519 Says:

    Amazing emotion in this photo, Audrey. So glad you caught it. Captures the wistfulness and the sadness of watching a parent age and fade away.

  5. Valerie Says:

    What a beautifully captured moment on camera. So poignant!

    Both sets of our parents have passed away. We are the older generation now.

  6. Go Grandma Says:

    Not yet but I worry it’s coming soon and I live far from them. Thanks for sharing such a tender moment.

  7. arlene Says:

    What a touching post.

  8. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Your husband looks very deep in thought. It’s funny I was just think the other day that I’m not that many years off from outliving my father. Mom’s health isn’t what it was before Brittany’s passing. It’s sad!

    • I didn’t ask him what he was thinking. But I expect about his dad. Randy is now nearly two years older than his mom when she died, so I understand what you are saying about your father. He died incredibly young. I am sorry.

      Loss of a loved one in such a tragic way and at such a young age as your beloved Brittany can take a major physical and mental toll. I pray for the blessing of peace for your mom. And for you. Blessed be your sister’s memory.

  9. melirey96 Says:

    While reading your post it just made my heart feel pain and sadness. I have experienced this with my grandparents, watching there life decline. I lost my grandmother in Dec 15, 2015 on her birthday and then my grandfather eight months later. I spend every moment with them and as I did I saw things and prayed for them to live longer, to be healed but something told me there lives were coming to an end soon. I did not like it. I have always been very close to my grandparents, all three of them. I have my other grandmother left who turned 83 earlier this year and she is advancing into the Alzheimer’s stage, it is very heart breaking to see her this way. I wish I could snap my fingers and make her healthy again back to her old self. I miss her. I miss our conversations. She barely talks now and when she does you can barely understand what she is saying. It only worries me about my parents when they reach that age. I only pray that they can live longer and hopefully not inherit the same illness.

    • How wonderful that you have had such a deep and close relationship with your grandparents. But that can make their deaths even more painful. I am sorry for your loss of these grandparents you loved.

      Aging is sometimes a difficult process. It takes great strength to age and to watch those we love age. I sense that you hold that strength to be there always for those you love, even through the challenges of aging. Thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Jackie Says:

    Rick and I too are experiencing this natural occurrence of aging parents, while all 4 are still alive 2 have dementia and a third recovering from a recent stroke. They all still live at home….for now. We can see that it’s taking a toll on the more healthy spouse, but they are holding to their vows for now “until death do us part”. It is hard on us kids in so many ways, but it feels like and honor to care for them now as they age. I have a feeling things are going to get much harder in the next year, sigh!

  11. Beth Ann Says:

    Having just visited my mom this is a very real post to me. In fact I have a post coming up—big surprise, right? It is difficult but I am grateful that each visit I am able to have glimpses of happiness with my mom and am able to still communicate well with her even with memory loss. It is truly bittersweet.

  12. Rosalie Quale Says:

    Beautiful piece Audrey! I’m so glad Dad got into a private room and has space to have personal items around him.

  13. In my mid-fifties and experiencing the same. I want to tell younger folks to savor their time and make memories – with their family and friends – especially their parents. I just started a blog about my time with my mom – mostly so that I have a place to write it all down and if someone else gets encouragement, then that is awesome. Thank you for your post!

  14. katefonte Says:

    It is a terrifying moment when you realize that your parents are getting old. I suppose I got stuck and remember my parents as they are 10 or 15 years ago, strong and vibrant. I live far away from home and I only get to see my parents once or twice a year mostly a short visit. I did not really notice that years are passing by, but when I accidentally look closely at my mom’s face during one of my visit, reality hits me really hard. I started to be my observant, the way they walk, move, talk and do things as they putter around the house.
    Now, part of my daily life is to check on them, make sure that they take their maintenance, bring them to their regular medical check-up and send them money for emergency cases.
    I pray that they would live longer so that I will have more time to care for them and show them my love just the way they raise me and supported me through the years.

  15. Audrey your post “Aging, up close & personal” says it all very well. My wife and I saw both our parents through the different aging stages and now we are in it ourselves. People don’t think they could be there, but if you live long enough you slowly get there. You surely get there, without party hats! My wife is suffering from some dementia, it is hard to understand and deal with. My body has been declining for decades, I’m only here by the Grace of God. My body is well used up but He still gets me going each morning. As you say, seek happiness, think positive. We will stay in our apartment, until the end, hopefully. We spent 30 days in the care center, in a semi-private room, my bill was $11,500.00, my wife’s was more because she has better insurance. Is it any wonder insurance premiums are sky high???

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