What I’ve Learned about Life while Watching My Father Age

blog about ageing

By Troy Headrick

I’m an American educator who spent nearly two decades living and working abroad—in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Though this period of my life was a wonderful adventure and provided me with the opportunity to have many life-changing experiences, there was a cost.  Except for the short trips home each year, I became something of a stranger to my family, all of whom live in Texas.

I am especially close to my father, and when I left the United States for the first time back in the mid-90s, he was a young and vibrant man.  When I returned to Texas in 2015, he had aged a lot and had had a number of health scares.  Then, about a year ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after he was taken to the doctor because he started becoming unstable while walking often to the point of falling.

I’ve long believed that our biggest challenge in life is finding a way to come to grips with the ageing process and our mortality.  Every time we look into the mirror, we see the most aged version of ourselves.  The face looking back at us, though a familiar one, reminds us that our time on this earth is limited.  It may make you uncomfortable to read what I’m about to say, but we are all dying at this very moment.  Death is the only action we will ever take that moves us across the threshold that separates being from nonbeing.  And ageing is the word we assign to the journey that takes us to that threshold moment.

By the way, if you are interested in ageing and death and dying, may I suggest that you get copies of Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, the great practitioner of what we now call stoicism, and On Death and Dying, the seminal work by Elisabeth Kϋbler-Ross.  (I’m just about forty pages or so into the latter and I cannot stress enough how fascinating the Ross book is.)

So I read what the great minds say about ageing and related topics, and I watch my father age and move toward his end.  I’d like to finish this blog with a few lessons I’ve learned (about life and ageing and such) while observing and interacting with my father.

First of all, my father is a natural born philosopher and is ageing “artfully.”  Ageing is not something that everyone does well, but my father does it beautifully.

First of all, he often openly talks about the fact that he knows he is deteriorating and moving toward nonbeing, and he always emphasizes that he accepts what’s happening to him with no sense of bitterness or frustration whatsoever.  He says, in that quiet and calm voice of his, that what is happening to him is natural and not to be dreaded.  He often involves me and other family members in these conversations because he wants transparency.  And he wants to involve all of us in this process.  He understands that his coming demise will not only affect him; it will affect us all.  So why not involve us in what is happening to him now as a way of helping us prepare ourselves for what’s to come?

He also focuses not on what abilities he is losing but on how lucky he’s been to have lived such a wonderful and exciting life.  He tells us that he is satisfied and even overjoyed by the time that’s been allotted to him.  I have never seen him feel sorry for himself or act depressed.

My father studied the fine arts and has always been an artist.  Though he isn’t as physically strong as he used to be, he spends a period, every single day, doing something creative.  He hasn’t given up on his dreams of making beautiful things.  And why should he stop dreaming just because his hands quiver a bit while he works?

Writing this blog has not made me sad.  It has made me happy.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend these past few years talking with my father and making up for lost time.  And he has taught me so much recently.  For that, I’m am eternally grateful.

I’m curious what sort of reactions you’ve had while reading this blog about my father and the important lessons he’s taught me.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.

62 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned about Life while Watching My Father Age

  1. That was beautiful and I am so thankful your dad is sharing with you all the things he is! Transparency is beautiful! I did have a tear form while reading but only because more of us should be like your dad when it comes to aging. 🙂

    1. Thank you. I got a little emotional writing it, actually. After I finished I realized that I left one thing out. I think his behavior–of being so calm as this is happening to him–is because he wants to serve as a role model about how ageing should be accomplished. He’s showing us a good example that we can emulate when our times come. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Your father is setting the greatest example for his family. I’m sorry that he’s moving closer to his time, but I’m very glad you’re able to spend time with him.

    If you’re interested in finding out more about how we deal with death as opposed to other countries, or even some of the now, non traditional aspects of post mortem care – I cheerfully direct you to The Order of the Good Death. They’re whole reason for being is to help people grieve and celebrate a person in the way that works best for them. Caitlin Doughty has written three books – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, about what it’s like working in the business, From Here to Eternity -how different cultures experience death, and Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs – questions kids have about death. Her YouTube channel “Ask a Mortician” is a great source of information.

    1. Yes. After I finished, I realized that I left one thing out. I think his behavior–of being so calm as this is happening to him–is because he wants to serve as a role model about how ageing should be accomplished. He’s showing us a good example that we can emulate when our times come. I thank you for the book recommendations. And I thank you for being so regular when it comes to reading and writing such good comments. I always look forward to seeing what you’ve thought about my pieces. Take care…

      1. You’re too kind. Your Dad is made of awesome – I’ll be keeping you and your family in the (non creepy) “loving thoughts” part of my day.

  3. No one prepares us for watching our parents age and fail at the end of their lives. I don’t know which is worse, watching them physically succumb (as in your father’s case with Parkinson’s) or mentally succumb (as in my mother’s case with Alzheimer’s). Either way, we must do everything we can, cherish every moment we have and pray they are at peace in dying and thereafter. May you find comfort in your journey.

    1. Thank you so much. The fact that he is so calm and happy helps all of us. In fact, I should have included that in my piece. I think he is partly trying to demonstrate how ageing can and should be handled. He’s literal demonstrating it for us! I am sorry to hear about your mother’s Alzheimer’s. That seems to be one of the cruelest diseases around. Thank you so much for reading and leaving such a nice comment.

  4. A great example, and the good news here is he’s keeping his dignity doing it.

    I think part of my problem has been I knew I’d grow old. Granted I can still work like I did when I was 25, I don’t enjoy it as much (pain pills . . .Please!). While still strong, I’m not as strong as I used to be. I know I’ve gotten older, and I’ll never be that guy I was years ago.

    But that’s OK. I expected it. I didn’t expect the receding hairline though.

    As for dying. Did it once (that’s another story), expect to have it happen again, and have lived with the possibility of dying everyday of my life. It comes from packing a gun to make a living. I admire your father for setting a first class example. Use the today and enjoy it.

    One piece of advice from someone who wishes he’s done it with his father and grandfathers. Record their stories.

    1. You’re last sentence really struck home. I have written things about every member of my family, but you’ve reminded me that I should do more. My maternal grandfather–a rancher who had a profound impact on my life–died 16 years ago. I still remember him as clearly as can be. I guess we never really lose those folks as long as we think about them often and recall the times we shared with them. We are all headed down the road, friend. We can all be certain of that… I want to thank you for your interesting comment.

  5. I’m greatly touched by this post and thanks for sharing your father with us. I’m glad he’s taking it so well and giving you some great lessons along the way.
    I watched my grandma age too and not until 110 did she become bedridden because her bones could not carry her body mass anymore.
    She was very strong and passed away two months ago at the age of 115. Even at that age we didn’t take her passing so well.
    My father is late, he died young at 45 and I’m afraid that my aging mum will leave someday, the fear is always there, and I pray everyday for long life. I wish she could live as long as grandma and more. Greetings to your dad. He’s definitely live longer than expected.

    1. Your grandmother lived to be 115 years old! Wow! I’ve actually got a grandmother who turned 103 the 21st of this month. Anyway, I bet your grandmother was an amazing woman just as my grandmother is. Thank you so much for telling me about your grandmother. We have both had very strong grandmothers. That’s got a play some role in helping to make us strong too, don’t you think? Thank you so much leaving such an inspiring comment.

  6. That is a beautiful post.
    Thanks for sharing .
    We can learn so much from your father.
    I didn’t feel sad either when I read this because it made the painful topics of degeneration and death sound so natural .

    1. Thank you for responding so nicely! Many Americans it seems so often try to fool themselves about ageing and dying and such. They have trouble facing reality. More of us need to see degeneration and death as a natural part of living. Take care and I look forward to reading your comments.

    1. Thank you for your comment. My dad is a special guy. I tried to give the reader some idea about what sort of person he is, but I’m sure I came up short…

  7. 𝙱𝚎𝚊𝚞𝚝𝚒𝚏𝚞𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚝𝚎𝚗, 𝚏𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚗𝚍. 𝚈𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚏𝚊𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛 𝚜𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚍𝚜 𝚕𝚒𝚔𝚎 𝚊 𝚠𝚘𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚏𝚞𝚕 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚜𝚘𝚗. 🕊

    1. Thank you, SnapDragon. He is. Like I said earlier, in response to a comment made by another reader, I tried to give everyone some idea of what sort of person he is, but I’m sure I came up short…

  8. My reaction to your post was to feel happy for you and your father. Truly, you are lucky! I have not been so lucky. My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly over 10 years ago, when she was only 61. That was a major shock and honestly…a trauma. My father is still alive, but he has stopped being the man my siblings and I knew about five years ago. He developed alcoholism late in his life. It has overtaken him. He basically turned away from my siblings and me and shuts us out in favor of a social group that he feels comfort with…other alcoholics. This is especially so since his recent psychiatric hospitalization and detox, a short-lived intervention. I’m very sad to say that it’s like my father has slowly died over these years. As cruel as this sounds, there’s part of me that wishes it would soon be over so that I could complete the griefing process more fully. I, myself, have psychiatrist issues to contend with. If he seemed to want help, it would be different, but he doesn’t. To this day he still stigmatizes the very illness that put him in his current position.

    1. I understand where you are coming from. Like you, I have had a number of very disturbing family issues during my life. In fact, I am estranged from people I should be very close too. Just having to admit that is very upsetting. The American family is a very interesting study. On the one hand, members of our immediate family are those who’ve brought us into the world and are folks we’ve grown up with, so we have certain expectations about how such relationships should be. We feel that we should love these people but aren’t able to find such feelings in our hearts no matter how deep we dive down. This tension between how things should be and how they really are causes much stress and anxiety. Anyway, I want to thank you for sharing your story, one that I certainly understand in a very visceral sort of way. And I wish you the very best in the future.

      By the way, I went to your personal blog and, using your contact form, sent you an email that you might find quite interesting.

      1. Thank you, Troy! I see you definitely understand the complexity of relationships.

        I do love my father very much. The saddest thing is knowing there is nothing I can do to improve his situation, or his rejection. Addiction is horrible!

        I did receive your contact email. Allow me to respond tomorrow. Thank you for what you wrote. You are kind!

  9. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I relate so much to what your father is going through and feel he is so fortunate to have had a life he is happy with, and that he has the love and support of his family. Your post is representative of the kind of father he was/is.
    I’m 66 and only just received the same diagnosis. My family isn’t interested, so I’m unable to be transparent about the disease. Still, I’m so glad you’ll be posting on this topic and will just say, “ love him with every thing you’ve got.” ♥️

    1. Thanks for the advice and thank you for sharing your story. I can tell you that my father’s illness seems to be progressing extremely slowly. As a matter of fact, I don’t really see any of its effects. The doctors gave him some exercises to do and they help a lot. I would advise you to check into this possibility. I believe very firmly in the power of keeping physically fit as a way of warding off all sorts of things. Please keep reading this blog and posting your comments. I always enjoy reading them!

      1. I agree exercise is SO important! Even though I have but one support person, my husband, I’m so grateful. I’m a believer in being our own best advocate and I do all the research. I certainly will follow your blog! Thank you!

  10. Beautiful! I had forgotten about this book, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. My father passed in November, so this is close to my heart. His birthday was July 22nd. He lived and aged very well. You can never quite be prepared enough it seems, but seeing them handle aging with grace is a blessing for everyone. I’ve seen some pretty amazing videos with people who have Parkinson’s and have tried Cannabis…

    1. Thank you for sharing the story of your dad’s passing and the tip about cannabis. As I said in the blog, the greatest challenge we face is learning how to deal with the idea that one day we will cease to exist. I have always been aware from the moment I left my mother’s body and yet death will end all awareness. Yes, I highly recommend that everyone read and reread Meditations. It would be on my list of top ten books everyone should read, know, and think about.

  11. Great father and a good son 👏
    All the best.
    I wrote about life ( Life is a Reality Show and Life is a Cocktail) and Death (Naseem is no more)
    If you have the time and inclination do check these out.

    1. Thanks for the comment and compliment. I will check out your blog. Sorry for the delay in responding. Most weekends I step away from my computer and do things other than write and read emails.

    2. Thanks for the comment and compliment! I will certainly check out your blog post. Sorry for the delay in responding. Most weekends I step away from my computer and do things unrelated to writing and reading emails.

  12. Great post. I go back home a couple times a year and I’m surprised to see the image I have of my father is different than the man in front of me. However as I’ve gotten older I’m able to see how his experiences have shaped his world view and opinions.

    1. The one constant in life is that nothing is constant. Everything and everyone changes. When I look into the mirror now, I sometimes wonder where that little boy is, the one I remember when I look at an old photo of myself. I see small signs of him but they are SMALL. Yet, having said all that, I am still Troy Headrick. He’s a little battered and bruised, but he’s still there even if his hair is now turning grey. Thanks for reading my blog and making a nice contribution to this conversation…

  13. My mom died last fall at nearly 88. It happened fairly quickly and we didn’t really have time to process it while it was happening.

    My dad, now 95, is handling his own aging in a fairly open way. Not quite as open as your dad, but certainly focusing on what’s good in his life.

    I appreciated reading your post about your experience. I found comfort in it. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you found comfort in what I wrote. I think it’s terribly important that we begin to discuss ageing and dying as we age. I don’t mean that we should be morbid, not at all. But death, as my father has said many times, is just part of life. We see life and death as separate things but they aren’t. Thank you so much for joining in this important discussion.

      1. I completely agree with you. And find, like you, that it’s a topic many want to steer clear of. Balancing curiosity about death without becoming morbid is a communication dance many of us aren’t skilled at. And “morbid” is likely different for each person.

        I’ve heard about Death Cafes, where everyone knows the topic. I like that idea.

      2. Wow! Death cafes. I’ll have to check those out. By the way, I checked out your blog and sent you a message via the form on your contact page.

  14. Thank you for sharing your lessons from your aging father. Reading your blog made me think of my aging parents and the time I’ve spent away from them while living abroad. Coming back to the states and spending time with them made me feel like a distant stranger. But after some time, I’ve grown to accept time spent away was a blessing and not at all a curse. Time, the one thing you could never get back once it’s gone. However when used wisely, and presently, it has a way of coming back full circle. All that time away comes back in the present and all the stories untold and unspoken experiences have a way of intertwining into something more memorable than time lost. I’m rambling, sorry. All that to say, I enjoyed reading your piece. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I didn’t feel that you were rambling in your comment. Even though I missed many years of my father’s life, I still have no regrets. The time I spent abroad gave me the opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally so that I actually became a better son despite being absent a lot of the time. I suppose, in both of our cases, it was more about quality of time spent with a loved one than quantity of time spent. Where did you live when you were abroad? I lived in Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt. And I would not exchange the experiences I had abroad for anything. Thank YOU for sharing your story and for leaving a really great comment.

      1. You’re very welcome! Your writing is captivating. I lived in South Korea for two years with my husband, teaching English.

        You’re right, it’s most definitely the quality of time spent that matters, not the quantity. I’m just glad I got that message while my parents are still living. When I first moved back to the States the guilt and shame of being gone for so long rested heavily on me. But, I could gladly say I’m at peace with how our relationship has flourished. It’s almost as if it was better to be away. Experience life. Collect my thoughts. Come back reengage- more values came out of it. But everyone’s experience is different. Thank you for sharing again!

      2. I certainly will check it out. As a matter of fact, why not post a link here so that others will have the opportunity too. Thanks again for the kind words and for participating in this conversation.

  15. This is amazing. I don’t know why, but as I finished reading your post, there were tears in my eyes. I am sure your father too enjoys creating such vivid and sweet memories with you!😊

    1. I’m so happy that my blog touched you! Yes, my father and I love each other a lot. And we have such an interesting relationship. In fact, we are more like best friends than father and son.

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