Please don't tell me I'm "lucky" my parents are already dead. I understand that looking after frail, sick, elderly parents is unspeakably difficult in all sorts of ways I can't imagine - but please don't tell me I should be "grateful" I don't have parents to care for now. Like I've somehow 'got off the hook,' and I don't understand the exhausting challenges of liasing with doctors, social services, care workers and bureaucrats. Like there's a weird pain competition to be won. Like I've already made it to the finish line and I should be celebrating.
My parents never got to see me grow up, get married or have children. That's not lucky. It's horrible.
My mother died 21 years ago (breast cancer) and my father 16 years ago (melanoma). Nursing my parents through cancer was really tough too. The encroaching medicalisation of their lives, the constant worry of tests and results and scans and chemo. Hoodwinking tumours that con you into thinking they've done their worst, they've gone forever and won't come back - only to surge onwards breathing brimstone into bodies rendered too frail to fight them. The slow, subtle role-reversal when child becomes parent to their parent.
Although it seems a lifetime ago, it feels like yesterday. Time doesn't heal; it just makes grief go out of focus. And anything can bring it sharply back again: a photograph, a scent, a memory or just the endless yearning pall of homesickness so familiar to people who've lost their parents too early.
I can't imagine what it's like to care for an elderly parent; my mum made it to 51, my dad 59 - they didn't get as far as old age. I have no idea what seeing them become elderly and dependent would have been like. That doesn't make it better or worse or anything other than it is. It can't be judged as lucky or unlucky. It happened and nothing can be done.
Over the years, a handful of people have suggested my situation is fortunate. They've all been caring for sick parents with appalling, corrosive conditions. Their own pain has made them ham-fisted. I don't think they realise they're envious of something that's equally terrible and that's probably because they're just too bloody knackered to think straight. They also want a grim situation to be over and anything, anything, even death, feels like a better option.
Seeing the horror aging can mean is frightening. When we look at old people suffering, we're looking at what we fear so deeply for ourselves. Faced with the reality of decay and what it means to be dying, people get petrified. And they say things, all sorts of things, to try to make the fear stop.
Nursing chronically or terminally ill parents - of any age - is really fucking hard. It saps you of energy, sleep and pure life force. But if this is what you're dealing with now, please don't let it sap you of your compassion - for yourself, your sick parents, or for others who've already been through the tunnel and come out the other side.