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Growing old is not for the faint of heart

Last month, The Buffalo News ran an article in the Viewpoints section titled, "The circle of life." This topic is something that touches every family in one way or another. Our senior citizens are living so long these days. At times their destiny can become so fragile that it becomes a slippery slope on how to prepare for their future. As our parents age and become more frail and forgetful, it becomes the children's responsibility to decide what is best for them.

I have found myself caught in this quandary. Do we do what is best for our parent, or do we try to preserve their happiness at the expense of their safety? Do we try to respect their dignity at the expense of their health? My Dad is in his 90s and has good days and not-so-good days. His health is not what it once was. While his agility is limited, his prowess is strong.

All we want for our parents is their happiness. It's funny how the roles reverse. In the beginning of our lives, all they wanted was our happiness, and now we need to return the favor. How do we know if we are prolonging decisions that must be made simply because of our own selfishness? We keep replaying things in our minds, remembering when we were growing up and how virile and decisive our parents were.

Dad has become a frail shell of what he used to be. Every day I look in on him, making sure he is awake and alert and able to carry on for the day. Propped up with medicines to ensure his health, he continues to trudge on even when it becomes painful. He will never utter a word of discomfort as he continues to persevere. Since he doesn't complain, it is hard to tell if he is in pain. Should we order more assistance for him; should we move him to a more controlled environment; or will that push him over the edge and cause him to give up on life?

Dad has already made sacrifices that I know were difficult -- no more driving, no more house and no more galavanting around the city. Those decisions were hard enough to make, and now a whole new group of difficult decisions have to be made.

I see firsthand that it is hell to get old if you don't have good health and awareness. Through technology and modern advances, we can prolong life for a very long time. But it makes me wonder: Is this a blessing? How long is too long to prolong?

We start our lives with goals and aspirations. Maybe we want fame or a family or a good profession. What it comes down to in the end is a minimal amount of possessions and the simple ability to put one foot in front of another, embrace the day and enjoy the simplest of pleasures, such as a good meal, good conversation and pleasant surroundings.

Nothing else seems to matter when you reach that point. Life doesn't just seem too short, it is too short.

It feels like only yesterday that Dad was driving me to my doctor appointments when I was little. Now the tides have turned.

The simple truth is that being proactive in a healthy lifestyle can only carry us so far. The body simply starts to wear out, and no matter how many medical discoveries are made, we can only last so long.

The lesson here is simple -- make your life count and count your blessings each day. Growing old is not for the faint of heart.

Judith Whitehead, who lives in East Amherst, is doing her best to keep her elderly father comfortable and happy.