…And Why Their Parents Don’t

In my previous post, I described scenarios in which young people are leaving the countries of their birth.  Now is the time to contrast the older generation.

During my stay in the United States, I was carefully watching the life of my parents in Poland. We sent letters as often as we could.  In the most of them we included pictures of our life, particularly children.  Phone conversations had to be arranged days ahead, and then we waited for the call from the operator.  As soon as I could, I took my older son, who was 10 at that time, to show him the place I grew up in and also to introduce him to my parents. I saw them slowly getting older.  Health issues were coming up, and their medical care was suboptimal.  The time of big decision was coming: to bring them or not to bring them here to live with us.  All three of us were involved, my wife, my sister and me.  We were unable to provide satisfying medical and general care from the distance, and we all knew they will require more and more of it.  We also knew, that between getting older with and without the closest family, there is an ocean of difference.  We all knew that it would not be easy for them to leave their apartment of forty some years, their friends and daily routines and come here.  We also anticipated, that will be an added wrinkle to our lives to have them here, support them and facilitate all required medical care in the United States.  But we knew that it was the only right thing to do, and, after lengthy conversation between all three of us, we asked our parents to think of moving here permanently.

We thought one year will be just about enough time to make a transition, mostly to get ready mentally, downsize, sell apartment and finally came here.  I was calling them frequently just to make sure things were going smoothly.  Everything was on track, my Mother was reassuring me.

Time came, and after taking 7 days off my schedule in OR, I traveled to Warsaw.  When I came to their apartment and looked around, I realized nothing was changed.  There were the same pieces of furniture, the same books and papers, my Fathers prized possessions. Nothing changed their positions in the 20 plus years since I left.  When one lives in one small place, as my parents did, nothing is being discarded, things are being accumulated and there is a feeling, that the walls are closing on you.  There was one narrow path to the kitchen, one to the bedroom and the third one to the bathroom and in one spot I had to squeeze sideways.  Then I realized that nothing was done since we decided they were leaving.  Out of my seven days off work, subtracting the travel time, I had only less than five days left.  I couldn’t stay any longer, since we all had passports and tickets ready and my OR schedule was already full after my return.

The first night after my arrival, I didn’t sleep.  And it wasn’t any better from then on.  We had to empty all the rooms and turn the keys back.  The next day, I tried to remain very calm and methodical.  Things, which were dear to them, like heirlooms and memorabilia, got packed in suitcases or shipped to my home from the post office.  Some items were left with neighbors and friends.  The biggest problems I had with my Father’s books and “documents”. All were “priceless” and “irreplaceable”.  It took several days, but after many negotiations and convincing, after many trips to our post office, we were ready.  Or it seemed to be that way.

It was close to midnight and our plane was leaving early in the morning. There was not enough time to sleep, since it was an international flight and to get to the airport we had to call the taxi, which service was erratic in the middle of the night.

My father came to me and sat down in the chair in front of the place where I was looking through the papers, making sure we had all the required documents.  Didn’t say anything and was just looking at me. He was always a man of few words, but this didn’t look well.  “Are you ready, Dad?” I said.  No answer. ” What’s going on, Dad?”.  A pause. “I am not going”.  I didn’t understand it at first. “What?”. “I am not going” he repeated. I was slowly getting it.  “What? Why?”. “I am not going, you don’t transplant the old trees”.  And then quiet.  Now I started to understand, what he was talking about.  He didn’t want to leave the place he was born in and spent all his life. He was almost 80 years old, and I was sure he knew, not much was left.  He didn’t look right, much older than I used to know him from before.

Mom wasn’t of too much help, and I didn’t ask her for any.  She was 10 years younger and ready to go.  All her life, she was very energetic and not afraid of challenges and change.  And he wasn’t.

We didn’t sleep that night.  He was dressed in a long winter coat and wore a hat.  Didn’t take them off at the ticket counter, through security check, two connecting flights and was still dressed the same, when my sister picked us up in Miami.

A couple of months later, he became very sick and ended up in a hospital.  It appeared he had an advanced cancer which was misdiagnosed, and consequently mistreated in Poland.  I came to see him flying from the West Coast, knowing it was the last time we will be seeing each other.  He died a few weeks later with my Mother holding his hand.

Mother came to live with us in California.  Part of our house was hers.  She made quite a few new friends. In her 70s, she was going to school, enrolled in an English as a second language class.  She told us, that she was eager to learn how to drive a car, but at the certain point we had to draw the line.  Mother became very active in her church and even “adopted” our golden retriever Cassie (never in the past she showed even the slightest interest in pets).  She used to often stand in the door when I was leaving early to work, dressed in her favorite blue nightgown, and wave to me.  Same like she was doing back home when we were leaving for school and Father was walking out to work. When she was late, he always waited until she showed up at our door.  Sometimes quite a while.  My sister flies from Florida often and her son visited us too.  For as long as she could, she visited the East Coast and, even once, her friends in Poland.

Her favorites were the grandkids, of course.  They always communicated with each other well despite language difficulties. And when this happened, our children were polite enough not to show it.

Later on, my Mother told me, that the last 20 years were the best years of her life.

I couldn’t ask for a better reward.

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