Last November my Dad took my Mom to the hospital for what seemed to be a minor problem that resulted in a downward spiral for both my parents. Mom was in and out of the hospital, finally going to rehab because she was so very weak. She never regained her strength and ended up in full nursing care on plenty of pain meds to keep her comfortable. Dad would not and could not reconcile being away from her – mind you, she was only a couple of halls away – he could not stop grieving the loss of living together. He wept constantly; turned belligerent and unyielding; was confused and unable to think clearly.
My parents had always been able to take care of each other, rarely reaching out for help. Proudly self-sufficient, they had each other and that was all they needed. Now, that solidarity had faltered. They needed help. They needed my help.
Driving home from one of the early hospital episodes, in full recognition of the situation, the magnitude of what was being asked bore down on me. I screamed – out loud, in the car, “I can’t do this! I don’t know how to do this! I’m not capable of what they need! I don’t want to do this! I have never been responsible for anyone else in my life!” I was scared.
Thankfully my inner-teacher was on hand! Firmly and without hesitation, she assured me that I was fully capable of this responsibility. She reminded me that I am hard-wired for service, have cultivated an open-hearted, compassionate presence and a high-functioning and well-organized mind. I roared – out loud, in the car, “Oh yes I can! I will do everything in my power and within my capacity to love and serve my parents through this! I can totally do this!” I felt the power of these words reverberate through my entire being. That resolve never wavered – which does not mean it was always easy, but it was always clear.
The gifts from this time with my parents are abundant.
Mom died in February. Toward the end of her life, her nursing care facility sent her to the ER, thinking she was having a heart attack. When I walked into her room, my Mom’s face lit up with such joy! I reeled from the force of her love radiating toward me. I fully met that love and radiated it back to her. We lingered there, in that warm and loving gaze, for a long moment. For the first time since my pre-teen years I felt my mother’s love for me and my love for her – not just a vague sense or concept, but a full-on, bodily felt realization of that love.
I had six months with my Dad after Mom died. I wasn’t sure he was going to survive without her. His grief was overwhelming and pervasive. He wept and wept – I had to keep tissues with me at all times because he just could not stop crying. Slowly the tears lessened, his mind cleared and he was trying to find his way in a world that was void of his beloved wife of 65 years. The belligerent and stubborn demeanor, that had been so prevalent in the last years, faded into the background and what emerged was a kind, funny, appreciative and agreeable old man.
We spent time together every week. It began with a trip to the grocery store – he had such a sweet tooth, he always had to have his ice-cream, cookies and sugary cereals. I drove him to the high country – he so loved Colorado, especially the mountains, and would say again and again, “Oh my goodness, look at that!” He enjoyed going for walks – they became essential to both his physical and mental well-being. When we had lunch together, every time the meal would arrive he would exclaim that he could not possibly eat all that, yet he always finished every last bite. And there were the endless doctor appointments – we managed to have one month free of doctor visits and rejoiced by writing DOCTOR FREE across the month of June.
Our time together was comfortable and we were at ease with each other. He trusted me with his affairs, for although his mind had cleared, there was still a lot of confusion. He would exclaim with some disappointment, “I’m just not the man I used to be.” And, he wasn’t. Whenever he would get upset with his forgetful fog brain, I would reassure him, “It’s ok, Dad. We’ve downloaded your memory and reminders to me. I’ve got your back.” That would make him laugh and his mood would lighten.
What a blessed six months! My Dad and I re-kindled a meaningful and sweet relationship, experienced a long forgotten rapport, took pleasure in each other’s company, laughed at the irony of life and simply loved each other. Dad died in August.
I am grateful that my moment of self-doubt and reluctance was brief. No doubt, these times pushed on me, asked a lot of me, forced me beyond my comfort zone – and brought me into the fullness of my capacity. By being really present and bringing all that I am to bear on this very critical time – I reaped the grand prize of touching the heart of my parents love for me and my love for them. Such grace. Such gratitude. Such divine completion. So glad I showed up!