The lives of a friend’s parents recently changed when Hurricane Ike came through their Texas neighborhood and left mass destruction behind. Because I live in California, I am usually distanced from the impact hurricanes have on the lives of millions who live in various parts of the country. (Fires, of course, are one of the enemies we face in my neck of the woods.)
During a recent conversation I had with my friend, he told me about how he has spent six of the past ten or so weekends traveling to Texas to help rebuild his elderly parents’ home along the water in southern Texas. In hearing the details, it struck me how lucky his parents are to have a grown child who can come to their rescue in this way.
As I thought about this further, I recalled a moment at my grandfather’s funeral in which his son – my uncle – talked about what it was like nursing my grandfather in the final months prior to his death. My uncle, a stoic man who rarely expresses emotion, spoke openly about the paradox of the situation. He explained that people often think helping a sick and aging parent is purely altruistic – that it helps only the sufferer. However, my uncle spoke about how this experience was life-changing for him and how it was incredibly healing to be able to help his father in such a dramatic way.
There is an old expression that says “the best way to help yourself is to help somebody else.” This is one of my favorite expressions – one I try to remember every day. I think about my friend rebuilding his parents’ home and the pride he feels when he said his extended family will cook Thanksgiving dinner this year in the brand new kitchen he and his brother have just finished.
Real life stories such as these are ripe with life lessons. I felt proud of the goodness of my friend, and believe that caring so deeply for his parents makes him a better, stronger man. It’s predictable – and yet still crazy – to think about how things change with your parents as all of you get older. It reminds me that changing roles later in life with our parents makes us all better and wiser people. The changes allow us, the children, to learn how to truly give back, and it allows our aging parents to learn how to receive love and guidance from the very individuals they loved and guided from the beginning. Life is perpetually crazy and exciting because it truly is always changing.