Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Not in an “I want to die” kind of way, but moreover in an “I’m going to die” kind of way. Coming up on 35 means that if I live to 70, I’m half way through the race and I need to begin thinking about the sprint toward the finish. What legacy am I leaving behind? What will my children inherit? Will my life insurance policy kick in… the one that I put in the mail right before stepping on a plane and promising my husband that I’ll be back to ensure I make at least a few payments… (I did that by the way, I filled out a life insurance policy and then got on a plane, confidently like a boss).
A while back, my husband and I went to see Logan, the latest X-Men movie about an aging Wolverine at the brink of his own destruction, wandering through life hoping to die. There aren’t any spoilers here, but I will say that watching the relationship between Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Logan (Hugh Jackman) made me think about caring for dying parents.
Like a child tired of their ailing parent’s antics, Wolverine is seen caring for Professor X in a very gruff manner. The paranoia of aging parents can be maddening and you can see how it infuriates Logan that Charles is so unwilling to trust him with his well-being. But you can tell how much Wolverine loves Professor X as he forces him to take his medication (which Professor X believes is stunting his ability to contact other mutants); he carries him to the bathroom with lots of comical banter; he goes out to make money and hustle more meds for Charles. Deep down you feel the tenderness of a rogue son returned to take care of the only father he’s known, a man who represents peace and tranquility in his life. You can see that Professor X enjoys his independence and it maddens him a bit that it’s Wolverine who’s care he’s left in. But most importantly, you can see (by the great acting of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart) that this beautiful tension leaves both characters understanding that they truly need each other to survive.
Adults between 45 and 60 are often caught between the desires of their own children and their parents. In Logan, Wolverine is trapped between caring for Professor X and protecting a mutant girl with similar abilities. He rages and expresses the dissatisfactions of his inadequacies and lacking in a very violent and Wolverine way. These temper tantrums represent his inability to cope with the emotional complexity of life, a skill that Professor X was unable to help him achieve. Logan represents many adults caring for aging parents while running a family of their own. They’re often caught at points of turmoil. They feel trapped as if their life is not their own, living by the whim and desire of others as a constant caregiver. In fact, based on a Pew Research Survey, “53% of Americans with at least one parent age 65 and older who requires some help say caring for their parents is stressful”.
As I begin to think about my own mortality, and even my mother’s and my mother in law’s, I think about my children and our relationship. Every now and then I’ll say “Hey, one day I’ll be giving you the same lip service about taking my old people meds”, we laugh, but really it may be true. How will my own aging affect my relationship with my children? Will they be strong enough to help me? Am I strong enough to help my own mother and support my husband with my mother-in-law?
My biggest epiphany while watching the Logan movie was that aging- no matter how powerful of a superhero you are- happens to all of us. That leaving this place with grace and dignity is all about our attitude toward those who care for us while we are most vulnerable. It is best that as we fade into dust, we do the best we can to impact our children’s lives as positively as we can, being thankful for the love they are giving us. As my mother-in-law says, “once a man, twice a child”.
Pew Research Center: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/05/21/4-caring-for-aging-parents/
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.