My parents are too young to be facing old age.

They’ve reached that point of enjoying an empty nest. My brother and I are standing on our own feet, settled into lives of our own. Rather than have to parent (active verb) they can just be parents.

My mom and I go shopping and chat several times a day. She comes out with my girlfriends and I. My dad and I go for hikes together. He’s been helping me with the fixing up part of owning my fixer-upper.

I guess it did feel a little too much like being in a TV family. Or some Instagram lifestyle account. But I just thought we were all living our lives, doing our best, and enjoying a bit of smooth sailing after lots of hard work.

Then my mom was diagnosed with MS. Only a few months later my dad was told he has Parkinson’s.

Suddenly the retirement they were expecting evaporated. They’ll probably still be well enough to finish up their last few working years…and then who knows what will happen to them.

They can’t stay in their own former fixer-upper, the one they spent their whole adult lives tailoring to their tastes. The one that echoes with our memories. They’ll have to find a new place that’s handicap accessible — how much will that cost? Sure, they’ll probably make a nice return when they sell their beloved house. But the real estate boom that will get them a good sale price will also push up the purchase price of a new home.

None of the houses — even new construction — are accessible. Their only choice would be to build custom, make huge changes, or move into a retirement home. All of those are big bucks.

The life I was imagining has vanished, too. I was looking forward to having my parents around to help me when I finally have kids of my own. Now I’ll be raising my own kids just as my parents need more and more of my help. Can I do both? Should I have a baby sooner so they can enjoy having a grandchild before they get too sick? Should I not have kids at all?

I’m scared about how this will change my relationship with my brother. We’ve always been close, but he’s not really someone I’d rely on. Certainly not for practical matters like this. I’m so excited he’s finally living on his own and not mooching off of our parents. I’m worried about how he’ll handle all of this. Will it all fall on me? Will it pit us against each other? I don’t want his relaxed, doofy personality to be something I end up resenting.

My parents have always been so proud and self-sufficient. They don’t feel stubborn to me, maybe just because I’m so similar to them. I know they don’t want to be taken care of. But someone will have to do it. What happens when they need help with personal care, like bathing or using the toilet? I can’t imagine either of them allowing it.

None of my friends can imagine my concerns. They’re worried about getting promoted at work and finding a serious boyfriend. Most of them have grandparents who are still with us and they’re worried about them, not their parents.

I know I’m not the only one facing these sorts of problems, but sometimes it feels like it.

Judith S. Lane

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