Editor's note: Our "Trading Places" series continues tonight with Tim Russert's story of how he cares for his father in Buffalo, N.Y. If you missed Brian's report last night, click here to read or watch.
Life may offer you a guidebook, but the pages are blank -- you have to fill them out as you go. With that in mind, we are featuring stories this week about the challenges of caring for our aging parents and it's hitting closer to home than I ever imagined. I just returned to Washington, D.C., after a week in Redmond, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. I'd gone out there to help my 81-year-old Dad through a tough surgery and I only had a few days to get him home from the hospital and make sure he was safe and comfortable before I had to take the cross-country trip back. While at the hospital, in the grocery checkout, or in line at the pharmacy, I saw others just like me —- adult children or other caretakers doing what they could to help out an aging parent. Assisting a frail parent walk, leaning in to hear a dry whisper of a voice, chuckling over some shared family memory -- these are scenes repeated hundreds if not thousands of times each day in this country.
I'm sure there are a lot of people dealing with painful choices that come from long distances and hectic schedules. (You can share your story here and read other stories here.) It's hard to watch your parents grow old and fragile. The man who tossed a baseball with me for hours or took such meticulous care when we built model WWII airplanes now needs help getting into the shower so his surgical wound doesn't get wet. My Mom is still recovering from major heart surgery, so when I wasn't assisting my father, I was helping take her blood pressure, sorting her pills, urging her to eat more and walk a bit with me. "Trading Places" won't solve any issues stemming from aging parents, but perhaps talking about it will make dealing with these issues a little easier. One thing it can't do is erase the last image I have of my parents from this trip -- the two of them standing close, smiling tightly and trying hard not to cry, waving a slow goodbye to me as my cab pulled away. No, there is nothing to help you deal with that.