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Not long ago, we lost a good friend in our community. Even though he was 83 years old, his loss was a hard one to swallow. He’d been so active in the community, helping deliver medical equipment to the needy, collecting coats for kids for The Shepherd’s Staff, helping maintain our local park. But seeing his wife struggle with his passing has been even harder.

The sound of absolute silence must be deafening when your best friend stops coming home. The conversation, the laughter, the chatter … it all disappears. When my dad lost my mom, he ran the television around the clock. He had to, to drown out the silence. It is even worse, when no one visits, calls to check on you, or sends a note. When communication stops, the world stands still, offering nothing but emptiness.

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Back then, my brother and his wife had wanted my dad to move in with them. They even built an addition onto the house, but my dad would not leave his home. Even though we didn’t have a Hallmark childhood, we felt obligated to do our best.

My parents had seven children. Among us, four made sure to visit him at least once a week, filling the void in four or more of the seven days of the week. Daily phone calls, neighbor visits, doctor appointments and shopping helped fill the gaps, but he never got over the devastation of losing my mom. When he had a stroke nine months after she passed, we knew he had willed himself to join her. I remember the guilt I felt, knowing how long he must have waited for someone to find him after his stroke. By then, it was too late.

In a kinder world, everyone would do be there to nurture and care for the parent who is left behind. But that’s not always the case. A study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (based on data extracted from 80,000 interviews from 1995 to 2010), found that 17% of adult children care for their parents at some point in their lives. That means 83% do not. And the older the parents, the less likely they will land in their children’s homes. That’s because parents who’ve reached their 80s, 90s or higher are more likely to have chronic illnesses and disabilities and to require assistance, according to Alice Zulkarnain, co-author of the study.

In the same way a baby disrupts and changes our lives, caring for an aging parent is a huge life change. It helps to remember that our parents accepted the changes we brought to their lives. They likely put out more money to care for their children than any other expense they ever incurred. They changed our diapers, cleaned up our messes, cared for us when we were sick, got us off to school, nurtured our dreams and likely looked up to us more than we ever looked up to them. No matter what sort of childhood we had, our parents and family are a big part of who we became in life.

A wise person once said, “one mother can care for 10 children, but 10 children can’t care for one mother.” I think that is a sad statement. What do we owe our parents? Legally, nothing. Morally, everything.

According to a 2018 report by AARP, 10,000 people are now turning 65 years old daily, as the Baby Boom generation ages. For the first time in U.S. history, there are more than 50 million seniors living in our nation and this trend is expected to continue until 2029, when the youngest Baby Boomers turn 65. A third of those older than 65 live alone, and half of those beyond age 85 live on their own.

Despite their aches and pains, seniors still give us so much. Not long ago, I covered a story about a bonfire at Carroll Lutheran Village where Girl Scout troops and seniors roasted marshmallows together. They chatted about their lives and about the ways scouting has changed over the years and the ways it has stayed the same. Every person I talked to — young and old — said it was a rewarding experience.

Did you know that the bulk of the American volunteer force is composed of seniors? After devoting years to making a living, caring for their kids and improving the world, our parents are still making a difference. According to the organization Up With People, the number of Americans who volunteer are led by Generation X — those born between 1965 to 1980 — with a volunteer rate of 28.9 percent, followed by Baby Boomers at 25.7 percent

Let’s celebrate seniors. After all, they paved the way for us in life. They built the roads we drive on and the bridges we cross. They recorded the history we rely on to guide us in the future. Think about it. When seniors today were children there were no color televisions, no microwaves, no cell phones, no computers, no internet, no digital or video cameras, no local gyms, no dating aps, no cable, no recycling centers, no faxes or copy machines. Many of these changes came to us compliments of the ingenuity of seniors today. It’s time we said thank you.

Our parents were our teachers, our Girl Scout, Boy Scout, 4-H and Future Farmer club leaders. They taught us about God, the importance of manners, how to give and how to serve others. They showed us how to save our money, balance our checkbook, to admit our mistakes and to appreciate and respect our teachers. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And as they age, we owe them our presence, our phone calls, and our love and care. Without them, we would not be who we are today.

Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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