Like many women my age there’s a clock ticking in me, but unlike those women my clock is ticking for a different reason. This clock has nothing to do with bearing children before my eggs dry up or before I turn 40 and everything to do with bringing some things to bear before my parents leave this place called earth. Many would think this a bit morbid or macabre but this is my truth and it is my reality.
For as long as I could remember I was always that kid who had older parents. While I knew people who, at 15, had parents who were just hitting their 40s, my parents were 40 when I was born in 1980–you do the math. Once I became a young adult and moved further from home, first to college and then to NY, I became increasingly concerned about the lifespan of my parents. It would hit me the hardest when I made my annual trip home for the holidays and the feeling peaked on my birthday. Every year my parents take me out to dinner for my birthday. We get all dressed up and go out to eat and drink the night away. But over the years that night has started to feel somber for me because I wonder if that year will be the last year I celebrate with my parents. I remember one year on my birthday I actually told my mom about my boding fears to which she tearfully looked me in my eyes and told me that her aunt and mother lived to see their 90s so rest assured she and my dad will be around for at least 20 more years. She assuaged my fears for a while until the next year.
This year my family celebrated the 80th birthday of my father to much fanfare. Yet it was also the same weekend that we laid one of the great matriarchs of the family to rest at the age of 90. While I did my best to remain present at my aunt’s celebration of life and my dad’s birthday–I come from a Jamaican family so it’s not odd for a funeral and several parties to take place on the same weekend, I was haunted by the fact that, according to my mom’s calculations, I may only have my dad for another 10 years. All of this scares me because I am the youngest child in a family full of older people. Sure I have cousins who are my age and some aunts and uncles who are younger than my parents, but I am closest to my parents. They are all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love. I have a brother and a sister who are both in their 50s and, in many ways, I feel they will have had a lifetime with my parents that I may not get to have. In 20 years when I am their age, I will not have my parents to call on or go to and that scares me. I am the youngest and I have youngest tendencies. I call my parents fairly regularly, go home for the holidays, and even vacation with my parents on occasion. Last year was the first time I didn’t go home for Christmas because I visited my then boyfriend while he was studying abroad in Germany and that was a hard decision to make. As much as I wanted to spend the holidays with him, I thought frequently about what kind of holiday my parents would have. Without me coming home the house would be quiet, no elaborate meals would be cooked, and no Christmas tree would be put up. I worried a lot about missing Christmas with them. It felt so bad that on Christmas Day, when I did talk to my parents while my boyfriend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Paris, I felt the pang of melancholy for being away from them.
And now here I am at 33, months away from being 34, single with no romantic prospects which also means that children aren’t in the immediate future. But my womb is not what pangs me right now, that biological clock is not ringing in my ears, it is my parents’s clock that is ever ringing for me. Many may consider me obsessed with death, I’m not. I’m more obsessed with my parents being alive to see me accomplish some things that I’m afraid are far off for me. Major life events and milestones such as getting a PhD, owning a home, getting married, having children. Truth be told I’m more interested in my parents seeing the latter three because those are different accomplishments than I’ve made thus far. My parents have seen me graduate from high school, college, and a master’s degree program; they’ve known about my professional success; they’ve heard about my world travels; but they’ve not known me to have the security of a home I owned, the long-term love of a significant other, or the pitter patter of little feet be they a baby’s or a puppy’s. That’s what I want my parents to see while they are still here. And, to be honest, referring back to them being all I have known in the way of consistent, unconditional love, my fear is being left alone and without that consistency.
Shortly before I wrote this post I watched a video of a Nigerian couple’s wedding reception and though the video’s focal point was of their well choreographed bridal party, somehow I looked straight through them to the table of elders behind them. Looking at the table of elders smile upon the newly married couple, I remembered how much I want my parents to see my day. I want my parents to smile upon me and my husband, to dance and laugh the night away with us, to wish us well with words of wisdom from their nearly 50 years of marriage, to be there for the birth of our first child, etc, etc. These are the things that are really important to me as I look at what’s next in my life. I want my parents to see this as much as I want it for myself because it provides the assurance that their baby is taken care of and loved by one singular person. This is not to discount the number of loving family and friends that I have, but I know there is a type of assurance and relief that a parent experiences when their child gets married–son or daughter.
I remember sharing this truth with a friend who affirmed that there are few greater feelings than giving your parents the gift of marriage because it symbolically communicates that the child they loved and cared for is now being loved and cared for. She would then explain to me how devastating it was when she got a divorce because that symbol of love and care was gone and now her parents have to worry again. I was present at that friend’s home dedication ceremony and I clearly remember the look on her father’s face as she spoke about her new home and the journey it took her to get there. He was glowing with pride and when he embraced her it was with a sense of relief, as if to communicate, “My daughter is finally at home.” I teared up thinking about my own father embracing me with pride in that way.
I’m aware of the type of responses this could garner, ranging from “don’t obsess over when they’ll go, live in the present with them now” to “all of those things will come in due time.” I do live in the present with my parents, I appreciate everyday that they are still here–and I’m thankful that for their age they are in extremely good health, and believe that one day all of those things will come–most of the time. But every now and then I must face my fears and today I decided to write them down in hopes that it will be cathartic and allow me, if only for a moment, to let go of my fears, lay down my burdens, and just live.