This is a story of how to handle dying elders with humor, tenderness and a good dose of reality. Born in 1914 in Paris, Peter Weinert married my mother 50 years later and their home became the world. The ultimate hope of this book is to bring comfort. Each of us journeys alone. We share the commonality of watching our elders become strangers. Without shared recognitions that once lit their lives, that sharing begins to dissolve. Yet the fire that has burned within remains as strong as the memories and experiences that hide in the crevices of their years.
How do you navigate the twisted alleys of old age? What do you do when your deep love for your parents is tested to tohe limits by their valiant efforts to slap away the inevitable approach of the grim reaper?
As my parents, Pete and Jean, approached the final episodes of their extraordinary journey dedicated to personally contributing to the economic uplifting of entire countries, it dawned on me that their story needed telling. They role-modeled legacies both in the U.S. and in developing nations throughout the world. As their oldest daughter, I was able to be intimately involved in the small and huge dramas that took place as their lives peaked and crashed.
The choices I faced as my stepfather, Peter Weinert, completed his 14th year along with my mother’s impending and real grief, were sagas both heart-rending and hilarious. I learned, as the only offspring within 1,000 miles of their home, that I had heavy decisions to make daily. Their world slowly constricted from a free-wheeling life of sailing every ocean and strengthening developing nations to a small apartment in Assisted Living.
Together they amassed a life so filled with noteworthy possessions that three museums thirsted after them. The two of them built an inheritance for generations. As a licensed psychologist, I tackled the task of trying to understand their struggle, a struggle echoed by countless people, as they aged–moving for Old to Older and gritting their teeth to strike the final bell at Oldest. Independently, yet simultaneously, we battled between how to choose between love and loss, frustration and freedom, responsibility and relief. At stake was the quality of their lives. Because of their persistence and bullheadedness, they were headed to relatively excruciating deaths.
The world has changed because of my parents’ exceptional trip through the lives they touched, embraced, and affected. Their multiple legacies lie in traditions established for generations to come and in the tangible treasure preserved in museums. In addition, both Pete and Jean have developed a set of intellectual, emotina, and psychological skills that their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit. In this process I have learned and continue to learn, how the role-modeled the love of family, friends, communities, and nations, continuing to reframe the possibilities inherent in great age.
The purpose of their story is threefold: to share their remarkable stories, to lift the burden of those of us who have aging parents and don’t have a clue how to deal with critical issues, and to enjoy the unfolding of a subtle model of dying on the verge of living.