And it's not what you might think.
Before I start, I want to point out that I totally adore my mum and dad. Yet, a recent visit to see my parents, who are both in their late 70s, was particularly hard, and I’ve realized with time that it’s getting harder.
I physically see my parents about three times a year. They live in my native England, whereas I’m across the Channel in France. I talk to my mum every day. Sometimes it’s just to discuss her latest deals at the supermarket; other times it’s to chat about my kids, or get news about my many siblings. My dad is normally in the background interjecting with some witty comment or other.
It’s a relationship I cherish, and every day I’m utterly grateful for the blessing my parents are. But over the last couple of years I’ve started to consider what my life will be like without them at the end of the phone. It’s impossible to imagine.
Admittedly, it’s rather maudlin, but at the same time it’s something that I think is so important to consider. It frames my precious moments with them. It also affects the way I leave things with them, whether on the phone, or when I hug them goodbye.
Recently I stayed with them for a week. It was holiday crammed with family events, noise (lots of noise), endless cups of tea poured, and watching my dad delight in having his kids and grandkids around him (and then seeing him sneak off for a nap, or just to get some peace!).
When it was time for us to pack our things up and head to the train station, the question I’ve been asking myself in recent years raised its ugly head: Will this be the last time I ever get to hold them in my arms? It’s the very worst part of the trip.
Ordinarily, I brace myself for this moment. I prepare my senses to catch the familiar scent of my dad — oil and wood from pottering in his shed, mixed with tea and the fresh shaving cream he uses. I touch his baby smooth cheeks and hold on to him tightly as he squeezes the living daylights out of me.
However, this time when my parents dropped me at the train station, there was an in issue with the journey and I was bundled onto a train so quickly I didn’t get to have my proper goodbyes. I sat on the train with my kids and held back the tears.
I prayed that my dad’s aneurysm would behave and that I’d get to see him for his big 80th party in July. I prayed that my mum would remain as healthy as she is, and that all the efforts spent on raising her nine kids wouldn’t catch up with her.
And then I remembered that I’ve been granted 48 years with them already: Nearly half a decade of being loved fiercely and unconditionally. I know that one day they won’t be a physical presence in my life, but I am what they made me. I will continue where they left off. I’ll continue to love my kids the way parents have loved me — and maybe I’ll even start to heed all their sage advice that I’ve ignored for years.