Watching my Parents Get Old

My phone rings.


Hi Tom.

It’s my father. He’s at home now after spending the day at the rehab center with my mother. He calls all the time. Whenever the phone rings I expect to hear his voice coming out over it. It’s a baritone a lot like mine. But he sounds like an old man and phone calls take a long time. He’s always rambled. But now it also takes him a long time to get stuff.

Yeah, dad. I know. If you need a ride, call Uber. Do you have your iPhone? Just push the button on the app and a car comes. Have you figured out how to check your voicemail? I left you a message. Didn’t you listen to it?

My mother fell and hit her head on the pavement while she and dad were washing their car about a month ago. She ended up in the trauma ward with a brain injury and then in a Hillcrest rehab center. Early on, she’d lie in bed for a long time, not wanting to get out. She looked tired.

If my parents’ old age was a movie, this was the wrong screenplay. Mom was the one who was supposed to be healthy and with it. She was supposed to outlive my father and we’d eventually have to find some assisted-living place for her. No rush though. Irene will do just fine for the time being. But what if she isn’t the stronger one? What if dad isn’t the first to go?

The rehab center was clean. Four stories tall with dark wood floors, lots of light and a friendly Philippino nursing staff. There were days my mother seemed her old self. Other times she had that defeated look of a woman in a nursing home.

Dad was at her bedside every day. He made her get up and sit in a chair and not just lie in bed. He made her eat, spoon-feeding her when he had to. Sometimes I would go over there to watch the Padres game on TV.

A few days ago, my mother finally went home. Suddenly she was able to get around by herself. She had a walker but she abandoned it in less than 24 hours. This wasn’t what I expected. In fact it was a little weird, as if that whole infirmity thing had been some kind of act she had been putting on.

Is she back to her old self? When people get old, things never really get back to normal because age continues to wear away the person you know. It’s not a matter of whether they’ll become infirm but how soon.

On a recent night my wife and I were on the sidewalk in front of our house, seeing off some friends who came for dinner. My kids chased their car as they drove away, and as they were running down the street a neighbor came up to us and told us he had bad news. The son of a couple who live on the street had died. He was in his 20s and was their only child.

When old people die it’s natural and expected. When kids die it’s a tragedy. All you can do is pray for the first and not the second.









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