Sunday, November 29, 2009

Watching Dad Grow Frail

I've spent much of the past two weeks in Virginia, helping my family after my 89-year-old father fell and broke his arm. I took four days off work the first week, then returned, with my wife and daughter, for a few days around Thanksgiving.

One of the defining experiences for many of us in middle age is seeing our parents grow old, frail and ill. It rattles me to the core because my Dad was such a strong provider and protector of the family while I was growing up.

Both my parents are suffering from early dementia or Alzheimer's, which is evident in the disappearance of their short-term memory, and their inability to really follow through on any task out of the ordinary. But they still love seeing their children and grandchildren, know who we are, and reminisce about the past.

Dad's fall, and the cascading problems that have ensued from that, have finally allowed us to force on my parents 24-hour home health aides, who are being accepted by my folks. It's a great relief for my brother and me; my brother lives near my parents and has devoted a huge amount of time to helping out, which has me concerned for his own health and well being. Unless my Dad shows lots of improvement, which often doesn't happen at his age, we will need to find a facility that can care for them both--the 24-hour help at their house is great but in the long run unaffordable.

On the way back home, we swung by one of the art colleges my daughter is considering attending, Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore. My son spent Thanksgiving on the west coast, visiting with his biological family (both my kids were adopted). I'm glad my son is in touch with his biological family, I think it is good for him; we also can see how some of the volatility that bedevils our son is also very inherent in his birth siblings as well. (My daughter, born in Korea, doesn't know who her birth family is.)

Needless to say, I haven't had much time to train or work out. Seeing my Dad's growing frailty really reinforced for me the importance of staying in shape, to keep the quality of life as high as possible for as long as possible.

My three month stint at my new school is about over. I'm now seriously considering going back to my original martial arts school, where I still have a lot of classes paid for. I've learned a lot at the new school, particularly in the weekly private lessons. And the sparring is very much in control, which as a resident of the late middle ages I appreciate. It's a lot less expensive than my old school as well.

However, it's mostly me and a bunch of teenagers in class; they're nice, but not my friends--I have many friends at my old school. The workout isn't as intense as I used to get at my old school. And I can't wear the black belt I earned at the old school at the new one.

I'm planning (and we know not all plans work out) to continue getting up early and hitting the inexpensive and convenient gym at my office before the day starts, four days a week, for cardio and weight lifting. Then I'll attend martial arts classes two or three times a week. If I feel comfortable sparring at my old school, I'll do that; if not, I may continue to spar at the new school, and go to the old school for the exercise and camaraderie (and maybe for grappling).

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