Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dad, I Understand

Written in the year 2000

Dad is eighty-four years old and spends most of his time sitting in the worn out reclining chair at Harmony Home day after day just waiting to die. Macular degeneration has robbed him of most of his sight but on good days he can faintly see large objects in the little peripheral vision he has left. On bad days he sees only darkness with occasional shadows. His hearing is limited. He used to joke about hearing loss in his right ear being caused by mom's incessant talking from her seat in the passenger side of the car, but more likely it comes from his years as an MP in the Army. The arthritic pain in his back is another reminder of his military career ending in a medical discharge with full pension, the army sure that he would not live more than a year or two. His bone thin legs are too weak to support his body for more than three or four steps so he transports himself four times a day to the dining room in his wheel chair. His voice, once bold and unrestrained from the pulpit every Sunday, is barely audible yet he continues to smoke in spite of surviving cancerous throat nodules years ago. His one remaining kidney (the other one lost to cancer more than a decade ago) still filters the cocktails he sneaks on the nights he can get away with it. The Depends he tries to hide in the bathroom don't always confine the consequences of his incontinence. Lately he has been hiding his vitamins in his orange juice every morning, refusing to eat his meals, surviving on one and a half cans of chocolate Ensure a day and two large Hershey bars per week. Today he weighs only 119 pounds and his height has shrunk from 5'8" to maybe 5'4" or so. He rarely smiles but sometimes we see a glint of amusement in his eyes. The few words he speaks now are less frequent reminiscences of mom, more complaints about his eyes and ears, and most often the words none of us want to hear, "I wish I could see. I wish I could hear. I am useless. I want to die." He sinks into bed by 5:30 every night praying that God will take him away from this prison.

I hold dad’s hand,and memories, tidbits of time I shared during my fifty-one years with dad, surface more and more each day. The farm house. Cats. Dogs. Rabbits. Chickens. Long sermons (he always insisted they were never more than 20 minutes). Ice Cream Socials. Chocolate kisses in his suit coat pocket when he came home from a long day at the steel plant. Trips to sandy beaches on the shores of Lake Michigan. Driving cross-country, sleeping in the silver sided 16-foot trailer every night. Picking up my new bicycle after he encouraged me to save my 25 cents-a-week allowance for over a year. His patience in teaching me to drive after I failed Drivers Education at school. Grueling moments as he drilled my very few potential dates with endless questions. Forgiving me for scratching up his beloved Chrysler Imperial. The day mom died. The day my first son was born and how Dad tried to be Grandpa and Grandma too. Letting me learn my own life's lessons.

Life's lessons, I guess that's what this is all about. Dad wasn't always the perfect father. I wasn't always the perfect daughter. So now this seems the biggest lesson of all. Letting go.


I'll pray for you tonight. I'll pray unselfishly that you get what you are praying for.