Last week I wrote about protecting and managing my parents’ money, but I didn’t write about the heartache involved in taking over the task.
Money management isn’t a problem. I know how to help my parents financially. It’s my parents’ health that keeps me up at night.
My dad was recently diagnosed with advanced-stage esophageal cancer. In theory, thinking about death can be good for us. In reality, it breaks my heart to watch my dad face a terminal illness.
I sat in the doctor’s office as the oncologist delivered the news about my dad’s health. I listened intently, asked questions, took notes, and wiped away the river of tears that dripped between the cloth folds of my COVID mask.
When I got home from the hospital, I hugged my husband and sobbed onto his shoulder.
“I regret not moving sooner,” my husband said in response to my grief. I felt the same way and cried so hard I couldn’t speak.
The truth is, we wasted a decade living in a house we never should’ve purchased. It’s easy to say we should’ve moved earlier, but for a multitude of reasons, we didn’t.
Every time a house popped up, I’d send them to look at it. “How does the lawn look? Is the street busy? Do you see any kids?” I’d ask. A few hours later, my dad would happily take photographs and report back.
My dad couldn’t wait for us to move closer. He would’ve raced across the county to find us a house.
Settling into a new home should be a joyous event. We received the keys to our new place last month, but my dad hasn’t been well enough to see it.
It feels so cruel and unfair.
Spending Time With Those You Love
As I hugged my husband, I replayed the word regret over and over in my head. Then an unexpected sense of peace passed over me.
“I wish we moved sooner,” I said as my voice trailed off, “but I’ve also spent a lot of time with my parents.”
My mom and dad never missed a chance to see my newborn son. They continued that tradition for eight years. They drove to our house at least twice a month until my mom became too ill to visit.
Some people hate their parents. They harbor animosity over sibling favoritism and other childhood traumas, but that’s not me. I enjoy my parents’ company and love them deeply. They know that just as clearly as I know that they love me.
As I sat beside my husband, I reflected on the last twenty years and replayed the highlight reel of interactions with my parents in my head. As I thought about them, I contemplated the balance between money, time, and life.
Life is fragile, I know. I’ve experienced medical hurdles that forever altered my outlook on life. Face death, and you’ll reconsider spending the rest of your life in a cubicle.
My own medical experiences radically altered my life’s trajectory and forced me to reevaluate my options in favor of a new life plan. They helped me squash the stereotypical definition of success in favor of one that is meaningful to me.
When I started saving money, I did so for safety and security. But as I piled pennies in the bank, I didn’t fully comprehend the goal of time freedom.
I haven’t been able to do everything since I left my career, but I can do so much more of what I love with the people I love. When I became a stay-at-home parent, I bought time with my children. It turns out I bought time with my parents too.
We Never Have Enough Time
I am deeply aware of how much time I’ve spent with my parents. Do I wish I had another 100 years? Of course, I do.
But when those years ended, wouldn’t I still feel like I didn’t share enough of my time with them? Do we ever feel like we have enough time with the people we love?
Does this knowledge prevent me from sobbing whenever I think about my dad’s health? Unfortunately, no, but it does provide me with some peace of mind.
Those Moments That Seem So Insignificant
It may seem odd, but I rarely take photographs of my children on their birthdays. I take thousands of photos of their smiling faces throughout the year, but when this particular milestone arrives, I forget to capture it.
Between the party planning and festivities, I fail to snap the shutter while they blow out their candles. For the first few years, I felt guilty for missing the moment. Then I realized the most remarkable moments rarely happen around big occasions.
When I think back on my childhood, I can picture the table where we ate dinner, brushing my mom’s hair, or waiting for my dad to throw me into bed before he tucked me in each night.
When I replay the highlight reel of my time with my dad, I don’t picture holidays or birthdays. I think of all of those small, seemingly insignificant events that contributed to our lives.
I think about the way my dad answers the phone when I call or the stories he tells. The way his pitch changes when he’s excited or the way he provides levity to everyone he knows.
A Little Bit Sad
“All humans are aware of death. So we’re all a little bit sad,” Eleanor says in The Good Place. I am more than a little bit sad. I’m devastated, but I am also grateful for the time I’ve spent with amazing parents I love.