When my parents died, I realized that I was in many ways representing the most senior of generations in my small family. Thankfully, we still have my one older cousin, Sandy, but there are no other “senior” members left. However, I was fortunate to have married into a new family on my wife’s side, with my second marriage a few years ago.
We recently visited her parents, staying in their new condo, and spending intimate time together. I found this particular time brought out a plethora of emotions largely because my boys didn’t travel with us, allowing attention to be focused between the four adults.
My in-laws had recently moved into a truly beautiful new-style retirement building. To use the word “retirement” is to demean the charm and luxurious amenities this building and its services provided.
The first exposure I had to aging was visiting my grandparents in their nursing homes. This was in the sixties and early seventies. Basically, they were housed in rooms for two, the place smelled of a mixture of antiseptics and bodily fluids, and it felt like a warehouse for people to await their demise. Those memories are strong and uncomfortable.
Fast-forward some decades when my parents could no longer live on their own and we found what was about the best assisted-living facilities available — ten years ago.
It was better than those nursing homes, however the smell was still there to a small degree, the staff was hit-and-miss, and the food was dreadful. I spent far too much time fighting with the management of the two facilities my parents were in over conditions, the food, the poor staff, and other considerations. I supplemented my parents lives with regular care-packages of food, trips to favorite restaurants, and as their health would allow, excursions to the movies and such.
These were very tough times for them and, in many ways, equally difficult for me. I was in the throes of a difficult divorce, had to sell and move from the beautiful home we’d lived in, and was quickly becoming the sole 24/7 parents to my boys. Being an only child, my parent’s care fell solely on my shoulders.
My boys were too young to help much until the short year after my father died and my mother was widowed. We moved her to another assisted living home closer to us and my older son somehow had the heart and concern to be her regular companion. I still fought the good fight with the management of the facility in which she resided but my son seemed to have more patience than me in simply giving her the love – time really – of being with her.
When my mother died, I felt a mixture of extreme grief and guilty relief. I also realized I was now the senior member of our by now even smaller family.
Marrying my wife brought the opportunity to become part of a larger family. At first, both my older son and me resisted to one degree or another. We were polite, we were respectful, but it wasn’t “our” family and the recent losses seemed too fresh to just accept and love these new family members.
My wife had the same choice, really, when she joined my immediate family and yet she chose to embrace the boys as well as she could from the start.
Eventually, I got caught up in not only the drama of my new family, but the heart and soul of the individuals. My in-laws each faced health hurdles early in our time together and this brought back those memories of all the time my late parents had surmounted surgery after surgery, illness and setback after illness and setback. Now, however, I could offer emotional support to my wife but only had to drive her to the airport since she was the point-person to handle it.
A family dinner, on this recent trip, subtly revealed the joy of my extended family – even when you simply get lucky and marry into it. We went to a Chinese restaurant with an aunt, cousins, kids, and the newest member of the family, a baby boy.
I had the pleasure of seeing my two young – cousins-by-marriage – grow from little children to bigger children. One has blossomed into a young lady who was now happily nurturing her new baby boy cousin. Seeing these three kids, along with their mom, grandmother, and my in-laws was quite joyful. I snapped endless photos and really did begin to feel – again – part of a larger family.
Maybe my tiny family wasn’t so tiny anymore? Maybe I was part of the generations that were continuing via my new extended family. Maybe I wasn’t the senior member of the family as I once had thought. Maybe I was now part of a bigger multi-generational family.
This was my new reality. And while I continue to miss my own parents, I am blessed to now have loving in-laws, and various other family members through the blessing of my second marriage. Lucky me…