I woke up with the realization that my parents won’t live forever. For years my mother has said when she looks in the mirror she expects to see me and she is regularly surprised to see a middle-aged woman. My father calls himself “old.” I have always shrugged off these remarks. She is as beautiful and peanutbuttery as I remember. He is as smooth and mahogany and bright as always. Now, though, I see the smile lines in her eyes that resemble her father’s. Now I see the softness in the strong cheekbones she got from her mother and her mother before that. I hear the slow rhythm of his mother’s voice slip out of my father’s mouth. I see Grandma’s fire and approval in his expressions.
Both of my parents have been caretakers for different elders in our family for as long as I’ve been here. I lost two of my grandparents last in 2015. My maternal great-grandmother Elizabeth Shields lived to be 99. She transitioned last February. My paternal grandmother, Kathleen Daise, lived to be 101. She passed on last August. I watched my parents, just as they did in 2009 when my Papa died, take care of all the funeral arrangements, edit the program, communicate with family members, etc. They handle these family transitions with such grace and poise—or so it always appeared to me.
It wasn’t until this new stage of my own adulthood that I started to see the miles that my parents have gone. I began seeing my parents as adults. People who were once children with their own hopes and fears. Human beings who sometimes just wish their parents could step in and make it better. With my new eyes, I can see more of the lives my parents lived etched into their faces. It’s when I saw my daddy’s body shake with grief after singing one last song to his mother at her homegoing service. It is the sigh I can feel as my mother prepares to care for her own mother, who is now suffering from dementia. It is the uncomfortable realization that my parents won’t live forever either. (Even though I’ve been telling them for 20 years that they have to).
There’s another itchy thickness in my chest. The recognition that I am older than my mother was when she met my father. My parents are the ages my grandparents were when I was born. Now I’m the young adult with a bunch of teenage cousins whose diapers I remember changing.
I know what this means.
I’m no longer up next. I’m up now.
I’ve been feeling this urgency for a while. This knowing that it is my turn. Our turn. Now it is time to grab the torch and run as far and as hard as we can: planting seeds for the ones who got next.
In my angst there is gratitude.
Gratitude for my great cloud of witnesses. I am surrounded by the wisdom of Kathleen. The compassion of Elizabeth. The calm strength of William. The cool style of Larry. The brilliance of Mildred. The healing empathy of Simeon. The unapologetic self-exploration of Osalami.
The stay-vigilant-I-got-an-idea-and-now-it’s-complete attitude of my daddy. The problem-solving-find-joy-in-everything character of my mother.
I meditate on these gifts. I water these seeds. I pray I’ll have the beauty and stamina of the generation before me. I hope I make the ancestors proud. I hope my parents know that even though it’s kinda scary, I am running with the torch. I am beyond grateful for all the strength training.