On The Helplessness of Watching Your Parents Get Old


Gospel artist Damon Little has a song out right now called, “I Won’t Be Defeated.” It’s a great song. Do you know who heard that song and was like, “n-word, please?”


Time. Time is undefeated. Time ain’t lost a ‘bout yet. In the never-before-mentioned last level of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, after Tyson whips your ass, he faces Time, and Time wins 100 percent of the time every time. And in the case of Mike Tyson, Time and Taxes double teamed him. Time and Taxes?


Time has this funny way of sneaking up on you, slowly in increments, but very, quickly as you look backwards on decisions good or bad, time spent wisely or wasted, and a life lived joyously or destructively. Here’s some perspective: There are people that I know who I know DEFINITIVELY that I have not seen in at least seven years. I know this because they’ve never seen my daughter and she’s a significant measure of time in my life. There is the “before I was a father” and “after I was a father line”. Shoot, the fact that my daughter is seven is striking because I remember writing about finding out that I was going to be the father of a girl on this very site in 2008.

But that time is beautiful. It is full of new adventures and journeys geared towards paving a new path in the world.

On the other end is the time that you witness slipping away when it comes to your parents. See, in my life, my parents are super people. Only as an adult have I come to appreciate the struggles that existed for them in my youth. With adult eyes I recognize some of the difficult surroundings I lived in as a child, or the nights when my mother didn’t eat and I was too young to realize that it was a necessity she couldn’t afford. Time keeps on slipping, into the future.

In August, my mother had triple-bypass surgery at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, adjacent to the same hospital my little sister was born. The trip there was a constant reminder that my mother is super, but she’s human. That is hard.

In August of 2015, my mother made one of her annual trips to visit me here in DC to see my chirrens. While on one of those trips to Toys ‘R Us, my mother complained that the left side of her body was immobile. I asked her if we needed to go to the hospital, but she said no. She was flying back to Michigan the next day anyway, so she gathered herself and was able to move her arm and leg after a while.


If I knew then what I know now, I’d have driven straight to the hospital. See, my mother had a minor stroke. When she got to Michigan, she had another one. And another one. Finally, she went to the hospital where the doctor told her that her arteries were about 80-90 percent clogged. My mother called to tell me this news and I was devastated. She was worried and concerned. I was worried and concerned, but 600 miles away. She quit smoking, and did what she was asked to do by the doctors, but the fact was, a procedure would have to be completed.

I went to Michigan at some point to go to some doctor’s appointments because I wanted to hear first-hand what the problem was. Turns out, not only did she have clogged arteries (both coronary and carotid) but she had a blood problem too that made surgery a potential problem. My poor mother took every precautionary test under the sun. All she wanted was to be better and some doctors were saying that maybe she couldn’t be. Would she need an open heart surgery or could they just put stents into her arteries?


Initially, they tried the stents. They failed. My mother was weak. Tired. Struggling to complete certain tasks for extended periods of time, which is a problem; she owns and operates a restaurant where she’s the cook and part of the wait staff. Small town America small-business life.

She had to have open-heart surgery. Real talk, and I’ll skip towards the end, I didn’t realize how scared I was about what was happening to my mother until they told me the surgery was successful. Actually, the doctor said it was as routine and boring as you want one of these to go; this from a man who literally just operated on a human heart and put it back and made it work again. I hope to never be that unimpressed with myself or my life-saving work ever in life.


I breathed the hugest sigh of relief and felt myself start to cry. These surgeries do not always end well as evidenced by the numerous families in the waiting room who got less than positive news and huddled to cry. My soul was at ease momentarily but what they can’t prepare you for is the after effects of such a major surgery.

To be kind, I do not wish upon anybody what our family saw, experienced, and absorbed in the 48 hours after the surgery. I’ve never been so afraid, concerned, or drained. And nothing even happened to me. My mother, this super human who birthed me and ensured my safety and comfort even when she couldn’t do the same for herself, was a different person for 48 hours. At one point, she looked at me like a total stranger. Even for a moment, seeing your mother look at one of her children as if they were there to do some harm to her jarred me so much I had to leave the room and collect myself and my emotions. She did pretty quickly come to and acknowledge both my sister and I, but that feeling, lord, I will never forget it. Ever. Luckily, she doesn't remember it.


She’s doing fine now and back to her spritely ways. But here’s the rub: My mother isn’t even 60 years old yet. My mother experienced life altering events that affect much older populations and that’s scary because the body only breaks down more as we get older. I want my momma to live forever, but Time is undefeated.

I keep that in mind as I watch each of my parents get older and experience health issues and ailments that wouldn’t really matter at 30, but at 60, or 65, don’t necessarily go away. I realize that it’s all just part of life, but the versions of my parents that I see in my head all seem to be of the world’s healthiest, strongest people. To see the deterioration now scares me. I know it’s life. And for some life is a beach chair.


For others, it’s a project hallway.

I know all of us have and some of us are parents. Some of our parents are getting to that point in life where trips to the doctor and hospital for this or that are routine parts of their day. It’s the circle of life. If we’re lucky, our parents will be around for a very long time and get to witness that family expand. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say, selfishly,  that is is hard on the mental to see my parents lose their super human status. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles for us all.


I’m fortunate to have all of my parents. And in my eyes, they’re all still super.

I just hate that kryptonite exists.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



My dad lives in Grenada. 68 years old. Strong as as ox. Mom's is here, but a workaholic.

One day they will both be gone and I'm not ready for that. but I watched all the old guard of my family die within a 5 year span. So I want to take all of this seriously.

Insurance, debt, homes, pensions…there's something much to go through and especially with my dad, I have no idea what his situation really is.

So to everyone…be active in your parents life, because you won't have time to complain when they arent.

Somber note for the birthday, but worth it nonetheless.