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Senior Correspondent

Relationship-Building With Your Parents While There is Still Time

A year ago I had a post that offered some ideas on how to make the relationship between you and your adult children better as you journey through your satisfying retirement. If you missed it check it out here. A reader suggested I take a look at the changing relationship between us and our elderly parents.

Over the past year I have experienced this shift in my dealings with my dad. Mom died just about a year ago, leaving him alone for the first time in over 63 years. The family had real concerns about his ability to adjust to life without her. For over six decades his life had been completely centered on her and her happiness. If I ever needed a model for a loving husband I only had to look at him. But, what would happen after the object of that devotion was no longer there? Would he become depressed, withdrawn, and simply wait to join her?

The answer has shocked us all. He has maintained his lifelong positive attitude. At almost 88 years of age, he continues to live independently, sing in two different choirs, read at least a book a week, participate in family gatherings (like last weeks Thanksgiving dinner), maintain a clean home, and develop a routine for shopping and laundry.

More to the point of this post, his relationship with me and my wife, Betty has deepened. We have become the human anchors in his life. Certainly not in the way he interacted with mom, but he cherishes our visits. When we have lunch with him every Saturday at the retirement community dining room, he always refers us as his "very special friends" to the hostess. He saves newspapers and magazines he thinks we will enjoy.

He has become comfortable with turning over virtually all of his financial matters to me. I always tell him what is going on and what his broker suggests, but he trusts me to handle his estate so the assests will be there for his three sons. While he still likes to write checks to pay the monthly fee to the retirement community, everything else is my responsibility. I had begun to be his financial ears and eyes a few years ago, but the degree to which he has turned control over to me has accelerated since mom's passing.

Never a talkative soul, he has slowly begun to initiate conversations and ask questions about other family members. Trust me, that is a big change. While mom was alive he was perfectly content to simply sit and listen. And, until the last few visits that remained his style. But, suddenly, over the last month or so he has initiated conversations about political and world events, asked how certain family members are doing, and whether I think his beloved Phoenix Suns will play again this season. If I mention something in passing, a week or two later he will ask a logical follow up question.

He has begun to limit some of his activities. Daily walks around his neighborhood are rare due to back pain that was caused by lifting mom in and out of bed and wheelchairs for almost two years. Of course, I've asked him to see if a doctor could help, but he has decided not to pursue it. He drives very rarely and has announced that when the car battery dies he will give up driving (no, I'm not planning on leaving the lights on to speed up the process). He is thinking of dropping out of the choir that is part of the church that he and mom attended. It is almost 15 miles away and the trip is tiring to him.

I do worry that his world is closing in on him. Unless we are visiting or he has choir rehearsal, his days are spent in a lounge chair reading and napping. He watches the news at dinner time and every Phoenix Suns game (when they are playing). Otherwise, he has expressed no interest in watching movies or listening to music. He has steadfastly refused to learn to use a computer but does carry a cell phone I purchased for him whenever he leaves the house. The community in which he lives offers all sorts of social activities, both on campus and off. But, he is uninterested. Even so, he seems happy and content. His short-term memory is pretty spotty but he writes everything he must do in a notebook that operates as his calendar. He has yet to forget any appointments or paying he few bills he still likes to handle.

To watch him handle the greatest loss of his life with grace and maturity has been both surprising and gratifying. To have him begin to slowly open up and converse is a treat. Just a few months shy of his 88th birthday, I'd say dad is a blessing in my life that continues to amaze and please me.

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