No photos this time. They don’t seem to fit.
And this post is a little longer than I usually choose, but I’ve been away for a bit.
I am ready to break my blogging silence, but forming meaningful sentences isn’t easy. Sometimes I’m flooded with more thoughts and direction than I could share in a post of reasonable length, and then the next time I face the keyboard I can’t think of a thing to say. It’s a moment to moment grab for energy and then the observation to see just how long it holds out.
In my last post I mentioned a very unexpected recent family loss and then explained my desire to spend time with my father for a period of time. What I didn’t say was that he was in the hospital with pneumonia.
On December 7th, with family holding his hand and gathered at his side, he very peacefully, more peacefully and pain-free than he’d lived for many months, fell asleep and took his last breath.
After what felt like a long build-up, it was a mercifully quiet leaving. He was ready. I think he chose the time, waiting for the rest of us to prepare and to do our own letting go.
I am grateful for a lot of things. I have lived so close that I had regular meaningful time with my father and the opportunity to be a part of his care team. It’s easier to accept the loss when I can with certainty recognize how I wouldn’t want him back in the same physical condition he endured for so long.
Parkinson’s disease is a fairly common disorder but each person has unique challenges. Dad’s symptoms did not include the characteristic tremor, but instead he struggled with muscles that cramped, spasmed and locked, making movement at times nearly impossible and almost always painful. The medications that kept him moving at all brought their own complications.
He never did complain and as a family we have all agreed that he is one of the finest examples of someone who accepted life on its own terms. He was a man of tremendous faith and he had an on-going dialogue with God that in the last months of his life he kept primarily to himself. He was always a very quietly contemplative man, but we gained insight into his thinking through his actions.
He was incredibly patient, even with the disease. On one very recent occasion I was spending the day with him and helping him walk in a few short circles from his chair in one room, through the kitchen and back around–simple exercise that took a very long time to complete.
I said to him, “Dad, I am so sorry this is so hard for you.” It took a lot of effort for him to communicate. With the progression of the disease he sat in often contorted positions and his compressed diaphragm impacted getting enough air to speak. But he quickly responded, “Oh, I don’t know. I was almost 80 before I had any symptoms. I don’t think that’s too bad. Some people get it very young.”
I had an ongoing joke with him where at times I’d bring in an extra pillow or do something to try to make him sit a bit more upright. I’d ask if any of the actions “made it any better.” He looked so uncomfortable. He had a certain expression that crossed his face that said more than words, “No, nothing really helps,” but he patiently tolerated my attempts. And I’d always respond, “Well, thank you. It may not be helping you, but it makes me feel so much better.” He’d just smile.
I think we were prepared to let him go, but no matter, loved ones left behind are never ready. My parents were married just two months short of 66 years and together as dating teens before that. He was the center of all of our lives and for us, irreplaceable. It takes a little time to recalibrate.
We’ve been shown wonderful kindness and love by friends and extended family and I’ve learned that words really do make a difference. Even words shared a bit clumsily.
We had a small private graveside service and returned to our home. As my husband, son, daughter-in-law and I pulled up in front of the house our gardener was busying with loud mowers and blowers. I approached him and told him my dad had passed and that others would be stopping by the house. He could continue, but I wanted him to know.
He looked so stricken. He shifted his weight back and forth and then blurted out, “I’m sorry about your father, but we all have to go sometime, right?”
I don’t recall if I said anything in return. I know that I felt like laughing. My son caught me off to the side and said, “I wonder if I should have said that at graveside.” I started to chuckle when we both with immediate recognition said, “Yes! That’s exactly what dad would have said to us.” He had a quirky and dry sense of humor.
Words of condolence don’t have to be pretty, just heartfelt. And your words of encouragement following my last post were tremendously meaningful to me. And I have sensed and believed that through the connection of our shared words we have formed a meaningful caring community.
Thank you. And my blessing in return is for a peaceful 2017. We all hope for that.