Just got home from a day spent with my father at the cardiologist’s, having a series of tests. The results were pretty good, I’m grateful to be able to say. As soon as they took him back for the tests, my mom and I walked out of the hospital and went to lunch. On the way down, we talked to a late middle-aged woman who was wheeling her frail, elderly mother out to the parking lot in a chair. She started talking to my mom, who said, “It’s such a blessing to have my son here to take us to and from the hospital. He moved here from Philadelphia to help us”

“My children won’t help me with Mama one bit,” the lady pushing the wheelchair said. “They both live right here, but they say they’re too busy. When she’s not here any more, they’re going to start up with me, but I’m going to tell them I don’t want to hear it. They didn’t do a thing when we needed them.”

I jumped into the conversation, saying that I wasn’t especially virtuous, but only extremely fortunate that a job came along for me at just the right time. If this TAC gig hadn’t come along when it did, I would still be in Philadelphia, trying to figure out what in the world I could do to get back down South so I could help my folks. It was a complete blessing; Julie and I were able to make the choice that we did because we had a choice, thanks to the TAC people. There was no way we could have dropped everything — an income, health insurance — to come South to care for family. Most people I know cannot return to where their parents are if they wanted to; they are locked in to jobs elsewhere.

Still, honest to God, I don’t know how my mom and dad would manage all these doctor’s visits and suchlike on their own. And I have no idea how I would be able to live with myself if I were 1,300 miles away, having to hope that their friends and neighbors stepped into a role that I, their only living child, ought to be filling. How do sick old people do it without family around? How do adult children stand being far away when their elderly parents are in need? I’m not trying to be judgmental here; as I said, I perfectly well know that I am the beneficiary of an extraordinary blessing. Still, I have been thinking about this a lot as I’ve seen how important family is in times like this. I watched my father do this for his father, and I am privileged to be in a position to do this for him. We don’t live this way in our country anymore, though.

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