Time is Precious


Taylor Hartstone

Beth Heritage has accepted the fact that her parents are dying. They are almost 80 years old, so while it is sad, it isn’t surprising. At least not to Beth. She currently finds herself at war within her mind; on one hand she knows she needs to say her goodbyes, but her time is
precious to her and making the almost 1 hour drive to Tacoma from her home in West Seattle is no easy feat.

Her teenage years were filled with parties and parents that turned a blind eye. She was social enough, so her high school career wasn’t lonely. But it’s hard to find the motivation to support your parents when they didn’t pay much attention to where you were at any given time.

Now, at 50 years old, she needs to figure out how to deal with the challenge of her dying parents.

“The current situation with my parents is that my father is actively dying of leukemia. He is currently in the hospital about to be transferred to a nursing home; it doesn’t look like he’s ever going to return to his home,” Beth said. “My mother is very disabled and my father had been my mother’s caregiver. She had had polio as a child and fully recovered – she just walked with a limp. But then there is a post-polio syndrome. It is essentially where the nerves that have had to take over for the nerves that died in the original polio infection literally get worn out. She’s lost mobility. She gets around with a wheelchair and needs help with basic functions. She needs care and her caregiver is about to die.”

Deep down, Beth knows what she wants. She knows her parents aren’t going to be around for much longer and she doesn’t have the time or the resources to care for either of them for the rest of their lives. She wants an easy solution. Dying in your sleep seems peaceful enough; it’s quick and there’s no pain. You probably don’t even know it’s happening, you just feel tranquil. Beth wants that for her parents, but until that time possibly comes, she needs a plan.

“My brother moved in with my parents a month ago and he originally came to help my father care for my mother. But now he’s ended up caring for both of them so he was the plan but now that plan needs a backup plan,” Beth said. “This includes me sacrificing more of my personal time – which I’m not happy about – but I am willing to do so for a limited period of time because I don’t think my father will still be alive at Christmas time.” Although her acceptance may carry some unwanted nuance, Beth has never been one to sugar coat anything. Her time with family is important to her, and leaving her husband and kids for a whole day to help the parents that she has a difficult relationship with causes internal conflict.

Beth was born in 1972, qualifying her as a Gen-Xer. There is a phenomenon within this generation of their parents often not caring where or what their children were doing. As long as they were back by curfew, their caregivers basically didn’t have children for 8 hours of the day.

This had a strong effect on Beth. She didn’t have a horrible relationship with her parents as a teen, but it has seen some drastic changes since they started fading.

“I would say my relationship with my parents has been deteriorating just as they’re deteriorating. The people that need my attention right now are not the same people who raised me. They’re very, very different. But also, being a Gen-Xer, our parents were not very hands-on. We were borderline feral. It’s really interesting that they want more parenting from us than they ever gave us,” Beth said.

This plays a big factor into why she finds it difficult to be at her parents’ side when they need her. There may have been several times she needed them as a child, and they weren’t there.

Beth has driven down to Tacoma several times in the past month to visit her parents. She aids them in the care they need, and spends quality time with them until they get sick of her. She cares, but her own mental health is still important. And while facing the challenge of her parents, she has found herself coming head-to-head with another hardship.

“The biggest hardship is preserving my mental space – my happiness – and not allowing myself to feel guilty because my parents would like more from me than I am actually willing to give. I have teenagers whose well-being is more important to me than my parents,” she said.

“That seems like a cold thing to say, but it’s honest; and I have to align my priorities. As much as my parents want me to make them a priority, they’re not.”

Beth has always been a straightforward person, especially when it comes to her own needs. And in my 18 years of knowing my mother, she always has a plan. Even as her parents were dying, she knew what plan A and plan B would be if their current caregivers fell through.

She builds a plan for others, and then she executes one for herself.

“I plan to stay honest. I’m very honest with my brother and my sister about how much I’m willing to give. I don’t accept the guilt that my mother tries to put on me,” Beth said. Her drives down to Tacoma were filled with music she liked – in order to cheer herself up – and extra movie nights with her family.

Bill and Nina Heritage died peacefully in their sleep within 4 days of each other.