Years ago, they cared for us. They walked the floor or rocked us when we were fretful as infants. They encouraged us to take our first steps, guided our hands when we first learned to write our own names and sent us off to our first day of school with hopes that we would do well. They cheered us when we succeeded and comforted us when we failed. They were our staunchest supporters in every undertaking. Eventually they sent us off to college or out into the working world, knowing their lives as parents of growing kids were over and a new chapter had begun. And still they were there to support us. Dads walked daughters down the aisle or counseled sons on how to be a good husband when we married. They pitched in with child care and advice when we became parents. They reveled in their roles as grandparents and passed on stories and advice to a whole new generation of youngsters.
(My mom with me - a long time ago)
But now they are aging and sometimes their bodies fail them. Things they once did with ease become harder and harder each day. They can’t wrestle with their great grandchildren, as much as they might wish they could and it’s the youngsters who now wait on them.
Eventually the time comes for us to take over their life decisions and it’s not easy. It’s especially not easy if they haven’t come to terms with their diminished capacities. My mom had Alzheimer’s and eventually had to move to an Assisted Care facility. She had always been an outgoing woman who loved her world and the people in it, and she didn’t really understand why she could no longer live with her beloved “Johnny.” We, her kids, knew it was because the stress was aging him too fast and his health was threatened. In actuality, she thrived in the new surroundings where there were activities and people to interact with all the time, but still she pined for her love. By the time she died she no longer knew who I was when I came to visit, but she still recognized that I was an important part of her life and her smile when she saw me lit up the room. We were blessed that she passed away before the disease robbed her of all enjoyment of her life. (My dad with his great granddaughter Anna)
And now it’s my dad who requires us to step in and help with his care. He’s always been an active man and at 96 was still mowing his own lawn and puttering in his shop creating various projects from wood, all skillfully and wonderfully made. Then, in July, he had a bad fall. I just recently read that falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly – something I’d not known before. And his was a serious fall. He broke his pelvis and two vertebrae. He was in an unyielding neck brace and unable to put any weight on his feet for three months and by the time he was cleared to remove the brace and start learning to walk again, he’d lost a lot. We still believed he’d go home again, though. He wasn’t like other 96 year olds. He was strong and capable – he’d go to rehab and get better. Or so we hoped.
But by mid November that hope had begun to fade. Our most recent meeting with the staff at the excellent nursing and retirement community he’d been fortunate to find a bed in dashed our hopes completely. He can’t be on his own and probably won’t ever be so again. So, my brother flew in from Kansas and I flew up from Florida to join my sister to help convince him this is his new normal. He’s forgetful and is often happy to have us take over tasks like his banking and taxes, but now we have to take over all of his affairs. Fortunately he’s okay with that. It could be worse. But it’s hard to see the man you once thought was a god reduced to being so dependent on you and his other care givers. The man who once carried me on his shoulders now needs me to carry on his affairs for him. He has ceded those responsibilities with grace, but it’s still hard.
In the next few months there will be much I have to do on his behalf, but then, no matter how big those tasks are, no matter how hard they might be, they won’t be a fraction of the care he once gave me. And I am blessed that I still have him with me for at least a little while longer.