I am still processing the recent visit from my parents. It was a bit of a bumpy ride. A couple of things jump out at me that I think are fitting for talking about here.
First, a little background. My dad turned 78 while here. He has had a couple of mild strokes and recently had his left leg amputated below the knee and now wears a prosthesis. He is retired. He is an extrovert with a capital E. He can't not talk, hardly ever, silence must be filled with him talking, asking questions, telling stories, etc. The problem is he doesn't have the memory he used to have, so he will ask me the same questions every day, maybe even more than one time a day. That's ok, I get that he just wants to talk to his son that he doesn't get to see but maybe once a year or so because I live so far away. But it is annoying, and it is especially annoying to my mom, who also gets the same questions day after day. (I don't think he has Alzheimers, as he remembers all the important things, it's just the little details that he wants to talk about all the time. He also passed a mental status exam before his recent amputation.) Mom has to live with him all the time, so her patience is shot, so she snaps at him, a lot, which annoys him. He has a quick trigger with this, gets a little quicker to be crankier every year. The irony is he gets annoyed by people close to him being annoyed with him because he doesn't realize he's so annoying.
How does this relate to my Buddhist practice? There is no "just this" when communicating with my parents, or at the least it is very difficult for communications to be "just this." By communicating I mean more than talking. Sharing living space is communicating. Not speaking to someone is communicating. Anyway, even if i do manage a "just this" moment, the other parent doesn't, because every interaction seems to carry the whole of family history behind it, mine and that parent's as well as with everyone else in the family. The simplest exchange, or lack of exchange, can cause snarls and hurt feelings. When they are here I try to turn my patience dial way way up. It's just a few days, I tell myself, I can be patient with them for just these few days. Zazen helps, so does lots of metta practice, and I kept reminding myself that they were also Buddhas. That last one really helped.
Another way it relates to my practice is that I realize my dad is still teaching me. But as a kid it was teaching me how to be like him (and I am, and there is good/bad in that, he is discovering), and now he is teaching me how to NOT be like him. He is so very clearly suffering from what we call delusions but he sees as a black/white/no in between reality. He has almost no middle way in him. He is happy or mad, things are good or bad, etc., and it seems the bad wins out most of the time, at least from what I can see and mom tells me. I spent part of an evening trying to get him to understand that if he could just "let go" a bit life would be easier, that he would be happier, or at least not have to get angry so often. I tried to be his teacher on this simple Buddhist concept, and he sort of got it, but the idea of "letting go" is not very familiar to him. All I can do to help him is be with him, be patient with him, and try to teach him some of the things I have had to unlearn from him.
My parents are hard practice, but the valuable lessons they still provide are worth it, and I was wondering if other folks have similar experiences with their parents as they get old. I know Jundo has talked about his mom here many times, and he is welcome to again, but anyone else?