The Time of Aging Parents: What is an Octogenarian?

Celebrating Grandma Henry’s 80th Birthday

“The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life. And the body is born young and grows old. That is life’s tragedy.” – Oscar Wilde

Grandmas Birthday

Both of my parents are now octogenarians; they are in their 80s.  I recently visited my hometown of St. Louis, MO for my mom’s 80th birthday. I actually grew-up in the now infamous Ferguson, MO, but my mom and dad moved about 10 years ago to O’Fallon, a small town in St. Charles County, which is adjacent to St. Louis. My dad turned 80 last year, and we had a big party with the family to celebrate.  My mom is much more low key about birthdays, and although she would not want me to say this, she turned 80 this July!

Home Cooked Hamburgers

Hamburgers in the Oven

It is always awesome to see my folks. We always have really great and interesting conversations. I always learn something new about them or myself or life in general. Plus, I get to eat one or more of my mom’s famous home cooked meals. I grew-up on this “comfort food”, and it is always delicious! This trip I got to eat her famous hamburgers in the oven and I was able to secure the recipe.  You can substitute McCormick Minced Onions for chopped onions if you’d like.

I also found-out the differences in ingredients and preparation of that dish versus my mom’s meatloaf.  You just add 1/4 lb of pork sausage to the hamburger recipe, make it into a loaf, and cook it in a roasting pot with a lid for about an hour at 350F.  Speaking of that dish, I always laugh and smile now when I hear the word meatloaf after seeing the “Mom! The meatloaf!” scene from The Wedding Crashers!

My father is from a family of seven kids: two boys and five girls. My mother has three half brothers, but they were scattered across the country and we never got to know them very well. I have 21 first cousins on my dad’s side, and we would spend summer vacations and holidays with this extended family. I have a lot of fun memories from my childhood summer vacations. None of us had very much money, so we would stay in cabins at a Southern Baptist retreat called Windermere in the Lake of the Ozarks every summer. One of my uncles had a ski boat, and his wife taught all of my cousins, my siblings, and me to water ski. Talk about patience of a saint!

My dad’s siblings and their spouses would also take an annual trip to Las Vegas every year. This was the adult trip and the kids were left behind. As my cousins and I grew into adulthood, many of us would join the Vegas trip as well. It was a special way to grow-up, and I have many fond memories of this part of my childhood.

My father went into the U.S. Marines after high school and subsequently worked his entire career for the electrical utility company in St. Louis, Union Electric, which is now called Ameren. My dad retired when he was in his early 60s, after literally weathering the hot summers and cold winters working outside climbing utility poles for 40 years. My dad was also involved in his labor union and in politics, and served on our city council for many years. He’s a very charismatic and tough dude, but with a heart of gold.

Visiting with Grandma Henry

My mom worked for the phone company before she was married. She was a stay-at-home mom until my youngest brother turned 12, and she restarted her career. She then worked part-time at a department store and then at a doctor’s office after being a full time mom to four kids. She retired when she was in her mid-60s. One of the sweetest most loving women you’d ever meet.

It is really an interesting time in my parent’s lives. They are the only couple out of all my dad’s seven siblings where both husband and wife are still alive. My dad’s youngest sister, Carolyn, was never married. Like the rest of us, she was raised Southern Baptist, but converted to Catholicism, and eventually became a nun. It was a big to-do in the family. She eventually left the sisterhood, or as one of my uncles said, “She kicked the habit, pun intended!” Aunt Carolyn remains Catholic and prays for all of us incessantly, which we all greatly need…some more than others.

Spending Time with Grandma

My parents live a pretty humble and modest lifestyle these days. Both my parents have lost their parents and stepparents. They have lost family and friends to cancer, heart disease, strokes, accidents, and other ailments.  My folks have become less mobile over the last five or six years, so no more annual trips to Vegas, but they still like to occasionally go to the riverboat casinos in St. Louis. They take lots of pills everyday for all their illnesses and to prevent new illnesses. They never complain much about it though, or about their aches and pains. My dad has type 2 diabetes, has had quadruple bypass surgery, and is nearly blind in one eye. My mom has had breast cancer twice, thyroid cancer, and operation once to avoid the potential of uterine cancer.

My folks definitely had their partying days, their struggles, and their challenges with life. They have experienced lots of ups & downs, and highs & lows. My youngest brother died when he was 39 years old of a heart attack. I can’t even imagine losing one of my kids, even as an adult. Through all of it, they have stayed married to each other for 57 years now.

They still get together with the family members that are left every Wednesday for dinner or lunch. They go grocery shopping…almost every day. They spend some time with their adult kids and grand kids as time permits. They are keenly aware of their mortality, but this still have a zest and passion for life. I didn’t always get along with my parents growing-up, especially my dad.  But we have developed a very close relationship as adults.

I’m now experiences many of those same struggles and challenges with my own kids. Parenting is tough! I’ve come to respect my parents more and more over the years. I have a better understanding of, and appreciation for their struggles. I love them both very much. I know they won’t be with us forever, but I’m going to fully enjoy the time that I do have them still here. Hopefully it will be a long time and my parents will remain physically and mentally healthy, and enjoy life.

Are your parents or grandparents still alive? Do you get much of an opportunity to see them or talk with them? Do you still learn things about yourself and life every time? We’d love to hear your stories too!

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Patrick Henry
Written by

Patrick Henry, CEO of QuestFusion, former CEO of Entropic Communications, entrepreneur, executive, father, and freelance blogger living the luxury and active lifestyle in San Diego.