Coping With Sick Parents

"DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."
Death Be Not Proud-by John Donne

One day we'll all wake up and find out that mom or dad have died. It is an uncomfortable reality...dying. For most of us it doesn't matter what our spiritual beliefs are, the loss of a parent is hard. Be it at 16 or 60 it can be a very profound experience that impacts the rest of our lives.

Since no one has figured out how to email, Skype or receive blog posts from death it carries a certain weight of finality. There is a reason it is called the final goodbye. And maybe that finality and sense of loss is why it can be so hard to deal with sick parents. It is that underlying fear that one day mom and dad won't be there.

I remember when I was in grade school there were a few kids who had lost parents. It didn't make sense to me. At ten years old I couldn't conceive of a time when my own would be gone. It just wasn't real. In the years between then and my graduation from college there were a handful of losses. But it still seemed impossible that one day it could happen to me.

That changed a while back. When my father had a major heart attack and teetered on the brink it became very clear that things were different. Thankfully he survived, but it was close.

I won't forget what it was like in the hospital. The beeps and whirs of the machines and the knowledge that a ventilator was helping dad to breathe. That was really the moment when I realized that he was truly human. It was rough because I really had come to realize how much I leaned upon him.

Maybe it wasn't daily. I didn't need him to tell me how to do my job, raise my kids or lead my life. I had already learned the basics from him. Still, there were always little situations that would come up. Most of the time I knew how I intended to handle them, but it didn't mean that I didn't want to talk it out.

It is kind of funny. Every day my children come to me and ask to watch as they show me what they have learned. What that moment in the hospital taught me was that I still like doing that too.

And now here we are several years later and I find myself in discussions with more friends about sick parents. Some of them have lost their mother or father, in some cases quite suddenly. And in others they find themselves in a position in which one or both of their parents have become quite frail and or ill.

Intellectually you know that these illnesses are a sign that their journey may not be much longer, there is only so much sunshine left in the day, but emotionally it is harder to get prepared for the twilight.

It is a bit disconcerting, these talks about parents with John and Kim or Mike and Michelle. It was only yesterday that they were telling me about the new guy/girl or the great job they found. Then it became stories about kids and family vacations. And one day the new topic entered, mom/dad are sick, they are dying, what are we going to do. How am I going to explain it to my kids. They were so strong....

In the distance I hear a school bell ringing, marking the end of school. There is a loud rumble accompanying it. It is the sound of a thousand kids running out the door and heading home. A door slams and you can hear the sound of someone saying "Mom, I am home."


cruisin-mom said...

thoughtful post...unfortunately, I was one of those kids that had a parent die at 10. It's something children shouldn't have to know. And, yet, as you say, even if you are 50 and your parent dies, it still hurts, and profoundly affects you in ways you cannot imagine.

Jack Steiner said...

I can't imagine what it must have been like for you.

The Babka Nosher said...

I was six. I don't know the reality of having a father in my life b/c I barely remember him. On the other hand - for me it isn't as much a loss as an absence. When my mother dies (g-d willing not for many years), it will be devastating to me.

cruisin-mom said...

Jack, I wrote about my father's death and it's affect on me on the 40th anniversary of his death, Jan. '06. so I won't reiterate here. Babka nosher, I'm sorry about your dad...let me know if you ever want to talk.

Jack Steiner said...


That must have been hard at times.


I remember reading it. It was very nice.

Anonymous said...

I've buried both of my parents, so I have experienced everything you describe here. It sucks. All you can do is enjoy every moment that you have with them because, inevitably, you will be separated.

Thanks for contributing this post to this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Modern Sage — Practical Living Blog. The Carnival will be live tomorrow, so please stop by and peruse all of the wonderful articles submitted this week!

Michelle said...

Your post really brought the tears on, let me tell ya. My uncle just passed away two nights ago from a massive heart attack. We weren't all that close, but it still makes me think about my own parents more, you know? Especially since my parents are in their 70's, and my Dad has Alzheimer's (early stages), and my Mom has a lot of chronic pain issues along with hairy cell leukemia (which is under control at the moment, thank goodness).

Sorry to blather on, but your post just really made me think about it all over again. And thinking about my parents mortality is not something I really like to do, not something any of us likes to do, as you point out...a fact of life that we all wish we didn't have to deal with... :(

Jack Steiner said...


Thanks for that. The carnival was good.


Sorry to hear about your uncle.

sasap8708 said...

I was almost 3 years old when my father drowned, he was fishing. He didn't know how to swim. My mom was on the shore watching as he took his last breath. I am 20 now , my mom is starting to get sick. She isn't in the best of health.

Jack Steiner said...


Sorry to hear that.

Unknown said...

I lost my mother when I was 11 years old to a brain tumor. I'm 34 now and I can honestly say that the long term effects are profound. I have recently started therapy to help me deal with losing my mother. Recently my beloved 76 year old father went in for a routine cardiology exam. Two days later he was in the emergency room after suffering a heart attack. Ever since losing my mother I have had this heart wrenching fear of losing my father. Especially at times like this.

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Robert,

I am so sorry. I can imagine that it really must be hard during those crazy moments.

Anonymous said...

Death to me is the biggest disappointment and frustration I have ever felt. Growing up till I was 14death was always at the neighbors' we never had anyone die. But then my grandmother who was living with us died, 6months later my uncle died, 1year later my father died only two months after that my aunt died. my mother's closest sister and our favorite aunt. We have never recovered from all that. My mother has suffered three strokes and now she suffers from heart related disease. I can barely sleep. sometimes i think it is my fault.

Pallywood Posts

 I think a bunch of the posts about Pallywood that have been written and or linked here have to be updated. Probably a bunch of bad links, k...