Right now we're compiling a list of the difficult things about being a Peace Corps volunteer in Macedonia. Mostly they're a reflection of the funny things that are different here that we have to deal with every day, but for me the most difficult thing is none of those that are listed. The most difficult thing for me is being so far away from my parents. In some ways, I'm lucky. Both my parents are still alive at 92 and 89, but since I've been in Macedonia they've declined precipitously and for the most part I can only watch from a distance and call them every week or two to talk. I know it wouldn't be much different if I were still in the States, but being so far away makes me feel extra helpless as I watch these two wonderful people disappear.
I talked to my mother the other day. She's being engulfed by paranoid delusions, where everyone is trying to take everything from her, including her money, clothes, husband, respect, and even her children, and in a way, age is taking all those away. Usually there is a part of her that can be present and at least for awhile talk about reality, but our last conversation had no connection at all. She couldn't hear anything I said, and so translated it all into her delusions. I doubt that there is a heaven or hell after we die, but I can tell you for certain that there is a hell possible while we live, and my mother is currently in it. This bright, capable, vain, headstrong woman is living a life of fear. She's surrounded by caregivers but feels unsafe constantly. Whether it is the result of overuse of medication or a natural deterioration of the brain, it is terrifying to watch.
My father, while in the throes of dementia, at least seems more content. While he doesn't ever really know where either of us are, it doesn't seem to upset him greatly. He knows who I am and that we love each other, and that seems enough. When he was young he wanted to be a hero. He joined the Air Force before WWII because he knew it was coming and became a pilot, but while his brother flew bombers in impossible raids, he trained other pilots. But he was a hero in so many other ways. He saved his brother's life when his brother was getting into trouble - not that he told us, but our cousin did. He saved my life when I was little. He taught me all I know about good leadership. But being a hero is costly - you have to be right, you have to be in control, you have to be a man, and you can't be emotional. I always loved my father, but in many ways I liked him better as he aged and gave up his hero status. It is how I know he wants to be remembered, though, like the picture he had hung in the house for so many years of him standing, dressed in his flight suit and holding his helmet, beside the fighter he had just flown. And he will always be my hero.
I love them both and miss them.