Since then, she has made it a point to visit her parents at least twice each year and it's been even more frequent this last year since my grandmother had a stroke.
As the average lifespan has increased and as people are having children later in life, those of us in our 30s and 40s are faced with planning (or providing) care not only for our parents but also our grandparents. This creates a great deal of stress by itself let alone when combined with child rearing and career and financial stress. In an ideal world, we would all have the emotional fortitude to manage these situations with grace. Unfortunately there are often legacies of abuse and mistreatment in families and it is not unusual for those patterns of interaction to be repeated as parents become increasingly dependent on their children or grandchildren.
One example of this happened in my extended family. I had a great-aunt who harbored negative feelings toward her mother and, perhaps in retaliation, put her mother into a nursing home before it was really necessary. This effectively cut her mother off from all her friends and social supports. Twenty years later, her son did the same thing to my great-aunt. It's a sad story and I sincerely hope that her son and his children are able to break that legacy, but it is unlikely unless the family members speak open and honestly about their past hurts and make an effort to reconcile.
A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He has since recovered and is doing well, but that bout with cancer definitely shook things up. As scary as it was to face my dad's mortality, it ended up being a really good thing for our relationship. We were able to talk about the disappointments we had each experienced in our relationship. He explained some of the decisions he made when I was young and that helped heal some of the resentments that I had held against him. Although I don't wish cancer upon anyone, I do hope that every family has a similar opportunity for healing.
Most people, when faced with their own mortality, will begin a life review process. I say "begin" because there are plenty of people who start thinking about their lives and then shove all those thoughts and memories back where they've been hiding. Life review certainly isn't for the faint of heart. This process involves a review of past decisions, a look at whether lifestyle lines up with values, making amends where necessary. The hard part is figuring out how to come to a place of peace over the things we regret.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, there seem to be waves or common themes that bring people into therapy at any given time. Dealing with aging parents seems to be the theme so far in 2013.
If you are experiencing any of the things described above, I hope that this post lets you know that you aren't alone.