I fought back the tears that stubbornly welled up, squeezed him a little tighter, then released my embrace and waved goodbye as I went out the door. I had stopped by to bring him the Hershey kisses he so loves and had requested the night before. The smell of Daddy's aftershave lingered on my neck and I could smell it all the way home. One day when he is gone, I may never be able to smell that aftershave again.
There have been many changes in my dad's life since my mother died in 2014. He is still grieving in so many ways, but the initial shock of losing your wife of almost 67 years has eased enough now that he can talk about her most times without crying. He recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of moving into a full-time care facility. Sometimes I feel a pang of guilt about moving him to assisted living but then I am reminded that, if we hadn't, he might not still be with us. Living in a dark house with rooms and walls filled with all the things reminiscent of my mom would've been a slow death for sure. I really believe he would've given up and perhaps that's the very reason so many elderly do give up after the loss of their spouse. They almost always want to stay in their house, but that is not always what is best for them. At his assisted living home he is active, served three healthy meals a day, receives his medications accurately and on time, and has someone watching over him 24/7. For that, I am extremely grateful. It gives me great peace to know that he is receiving excellent care at this stage in his life, and activities and people to stimulate him as well. He is able to come and go as he pleases, visit with other residents and attend all the many activities they have planned there. He even has developed the reputation of the resident pool shark. I think he would play pool seven hours a day if it was realistic. God bless the one who decided to put in that pool table. All in all, it's a good life for him.
I noticed as I watched my dad literally shuffle from the bed to the fridge to the door and back again that he resembles now in a great way his own mother; there is no doubt about it. As grandmama was nearing the end of her life but before she became bedridden, she began to stoop a little as daddy is doing now. Daddy's memory is suffering, as is his fragile body. But overall, his health is fairly good for his age and he amazingly gets around pretty well. As we sat and talked on this particular day, he seemed confused about some things and I asked him what was wrong. He couldn't really tell me, but I reminded him that he could talk with me about anything -- anything I said. As he hung his head a bit, he finally found the words. "I think I might've moved into this place a little sooner than I needed to," confessing his thoughts and heart to me. He concluded that there were so many people there that were worse off than him, which is absolutely true. My first impulse was to impatiently explain to him for the thousandth time how we came to the decision, and why it seemed to be the best choice for him. But there was something in his voice...a sadness...an insecurity it seemed. I can't say exactly what it was but it softened my heart. I could feel his pain. I was touched with how I would feel if one day I am in the same situation. So, for that thousandth time, I gently explained to him that he had certain conditions now that required full-time care and that, yes, he was in much better shape than some at his assisted living, but that he too needed to be there. As we talked, his countenance lightened a little and he wholeheartedly agreed that he was better off being there than in a dark house all alone with nothing to do. He usually does come around.
I will admit that occasionally I feel a bit impatient with my dad. But, just as you have to lovingly and calmly teach a young child, you do it as well with the elderly. It can become quite frustrating having to explain things over and over again, having to remind your loved one once more something he should already know, and refresh him on conversations you've had more than once. But then I am reminded of all the times he was there for me when I was growing up and literally every day of my life since, how he was patient and taught me well, and I take two steps back and remind myself that it is not his fault. I remind myself that he can't help his memory issues and any other issues that he has right now. I remind myself to be gentle. I remind myself that one day, if I live that long, I will be where he is now at this stage of life. He is a good man, and he deserves all the patience and love that I can give him right now. So we talked, and he felt better and I felt better; then we laughed. We are always willing and ready for a good laugh.
When we first moved him in, I had the misconception that all our problems would be solved by this decision. If you are in the midst of caring for an elderly parent, you know how naive it was for me to think so! For some reason, I had the mindset that every day would be good now. Boy, was I wrong. Because we live closer now to my dad, he fully expects us to come by more often, and we are happy to do so. But instead of always finding him happy and content, I sometimes find him having a bad day. Then it dawned on me...well, duh, everyone has a bad day once in awhile! Every person of every age of every background and ethnicity and situation has bad days. It was as if I almost felt that one bad day would be the beginning of his going down a hill that we would not be able to climb back up. But, thankfully, that has not been the case. Most days are good, some days are not, but one thing I can still be thankful for is that daddy is always (at least right now) still able to be encouraged, and that is something I am more than happy to do. When we see our parent whom we've always known as a strong influence in our life both emotionally and physically, it can be difficult to switch places and have the shoe of guidance and leadership on the other foot.
On a better note, we recently celebrated a huge milestone in Daddy's life -- his 90th birthday! It was a great day of celebrating, laughter, and good food, and I think a day he won't soon forget -- I least I hope not! To be the fine age of 90 years (or 32,850 days), he is hanging in there. We took him out for a steak dinner with the family, then had cake and ice cream back at his home. I was truly amazed at the residents who showed up to celebrate with him, and the sweet cards and best wishes they gave him for his special day -- friends he would've never made if he hadn't been living there. The best thing about my daddy? Even though he tends to be a half-glass-empty sort of guy as opposed to a half-glass-full, we can usually coach him into taking the negative and turning it positive.
Eventually, if we live long enough and are blessed to have our parents long enough, we are all faced with the daunting task of caring for an elderly parent or relative. I continue to run into people at my dad's home whom I know and are going through the same thing with one or both of their parents moving into the same assisted living facility. And, like I've said many, many times about raising young children, caring for the elderly is not for the faint of heart! It takes a huge amount of love, a lot of planning and ingenuity, and enough patience to literally fill an ocean. If, like me, you are in this time of life and sometimes you struggle, take heart. I have learned to let the guilt go for not being the perfect caregiver every day -- I am human, just as we all are. I am doing my best to help give my father a wonderful quality of life in his latter years. One day when he has gone on to his forever home where things will indeed be good every single day for him, I want to be able to say I have no regrets. I'm sure I'll look back on these times as challenging days, but I want to remember them as a joyful time as well. I want to love my daddy a little bit more every day, hug him a little closer each time I see him, and be able to say in the end that I was a part of his good life.
But in that day, the scent of his aftershave is one thing I absolutely will not be able to endure without a bucket to collect all the tears I'm sure will fall. Just keepin' it real.
Looking good for 90 years young (pool stick in one hand; walking stick in the other)!
"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness."
Posted by CC
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