“I hadn’t seen them in their natural habitat for a long time.”
In her 2014 graphic novel, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, cartoonist Roz Chast writes about becoming her elderly parents’ primary caregiver. The “moment of truth” comes when Chast travels from her home in Connecticut to visit their Brooklyn apartment for the first time in almost a decade. Although she was accustomed to seeing her parents a few times a year, these visits always took place in Connecticut.
Of this first visit to Brooklyn, Chast writes, “I hadn’t seen them in their natural habitat for a long time.” The visit was a pivotal event for the cartoonist: the apartment showed signs of neglect, and her mother and father were noticeably frailer than she had previously realized. As a friend of Chast’s remarked about this particular phase in the aging process: “Things are okay until they are not.”
Every holiday season many adult children experience a similar pivotal moment as they see their elderly parents in their “natural habitat” after a long absence. It can be a challenge to use such a visit as an opportunity to help older relatives and friends make life-saving adjustments without putting a damper on the festive holiday spirit. Here are some suggestions:
- Realize that watching your parents age can bring up feelings of distress and grief. Resist the urge to use hyperactivity to stuff your feelings.
- Be respectful of the ways in which other family members, friends and neighbors may be helping out. Acknowledge what they are doing right.