LESSONS IN GRIEF
While my Dad was alive and in decline, I grieved for the man he used to be. He mostly accepted his limitations, while I was often irritated by them.
Now I wish I’d acknowledged how plucky he was in his old age, even as his hearing diminished, his eyesight faded, his memory lapsed, and his legs wobbled. During this last year, I was annoyed that all he wanted to do was sift through his papers and possessions, throwing out those he couldn’t give away. I was horrified when I discovered he’d been tossing family photos into the trash.
But while my Dad lay dying, all that irritation evaporated. For eleven days, I listened to him breathe with his hallmark strength and stubbornness: He lived for fifteen days without food and eleven without fluid. I sat beside him as he snored, in awe of his determination and life force.
During that time, I was overcome by waves of love, compassion, frustration, boredom and grief. Of these, it’s the grief that lingers, and the realization that I don’t grieve for my father; I grieve for me.
I grieve for the father I thought for most of my life was the smartest man in the world.
LEARNING TO RIDE
He’s the man who taught me to ride a bicycle the way he parented: No training wheels. Just a supporting hand on the back of the seat as I peddled down the driveway between the garage and the street.
It must have been the summer I was five. We went outside after supper and practiced. He ran behind me, with a supporting hand on the back of the seat until one evening, I found myself at the one end of the driveway and he was at the other, grinning at me.
WHAT DAD TAUGHT ME
Caring for an elderly parent is not quite as straightforward as riding a bike. I did my best, but it’s regret that fuels my grief.
I grieve for all the ways I could have been kinder, more accepting of Dad as an elderly man. I’m glad for the times I summoned humor in the face of his confusion and decline; I wish I’d made him laugh more.
I’m at the end of the driveway again. Dad’s again sent me off on my own, this time with more compassion, a desire to be kinder and more loving, and the need to love others – and myself – for just the way we are at this moment in our lives.