Bill Britt and his wife Susan were successful, happy, and running their own businesses in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. When they heard the plane fly over, they knew something was wrong.
New York City is a noisy place, Bill said, “But this was too loud.”
It was the second airplane, the one that hit the South Tower.
They lost friends in the tragedy that changed a nation. It changed their lives, as well. It gave them an understanding of what was really important.
“The people who were standing on the top of those buildings, the ones who weren’t fortunate enough to get out, they weren’t thinking about how much money they’d made or how much they’d accumulated in life,” Bill said. “They were thinking about their loved ones, their families.”
The Britts were growing concerned about their aging parents, and like millions of Baby Boomers, they found more and more of their time and concern directed toward their parents’ welfare.
With their newfound perspective, they made a startling decision. They left behind their comfortable life in New York and returned to Susan’s family farm in north Alabama. They gathered Bill’s parents from North Carolina and they all moved in together.
“We went from owning businesses in New York to farming in Alabama,” Bill said.
They found there are things that loved ones can do that even trained health care professionals cannot. Bill’s father was thought to be in the final days of his life, doctors suggested he move into hospice.
But Susan noticed that the problem might be caused by his medications.
“He was taking six or eight medicines that all caused drowsiness,” she said. “No wonder he was sleeping all the time.”
They adjusted the meds.
“My dad lived 10 more years,” Bill said.
Those weren’t easy years. The time they spent together at the end of their parents’ lives were trying.
Farming was hard. Bill wasn’t a natural at it.
“I was the biggest city boy you ever saw,” he said.
But they can both now say that those years were also the most rewarding of their lives.
“We don’t think of the Commandment ‘Honor your father and mother’ as a suggestion,’” he said.
Bill recalled crawling into bed with his dad, like he’d done when he was a little boy, hugging him and saying, “I love you Papa.”
And he heard his father say, “I never knew how much you loved me.”
His mother once asked him how long he was going to continue to care for her.
“I told her, I guess I can give you 20 years,” he said. “That’s about how long you took care of me.”
They were able to hold hands with Susan’s mother and sing a hymn in the final minutes of her life.
“They were there when we took our first breaths and we were there when they took their last,” Bill said.
“Our voices were the last they heard,” Susan said.
The experience changed their lives even more than 9/11 had. And they learned another, simple lesson.
“There’s nothing more important than taking care of those who’d taken care of you,” Bill said.
The sort of information that Bill and Susan needed to help them through the work of caring for their parents is easier to access now than it was for them.
AARP provides resources that can help. This website is a beginning and links to many more than can provide valuable insight. Friend us on Facebook, talk to others in the same situation. To see more on the Britt’s story, view their video.