It hasn't been easy.
I don't mean the helping out; I have not minded any of that at all. I'm talking about seeing my Mom and Dad entering into the last phase of this journey on Earth. I'm talking about witnessing the memory lapses, the weakened physical state, the innumerable doctor's visits, the handfuls of medication that have to be taken daily, and I think worst of all, seeing the occasional fear in their faces at not knowing what is next. I can't tell them what's next, because I don't know. I believe I know what will be next for me if I live to their ripe old ages (81 & 86), but I haven't had that particular conversation with them yet on this visit (or with you!).
I've done my best to maintain a positive attitude throughout this trip, and have reminded myself that although it seems very tough on them at times, this is their respective journey and it's not my place to judge how they react to their environment. I feel it is my job to make their environment as comfortable as possible, and to let them know that all of us kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids have been very, very blessed to have them in our lives.
I was talking with my Mom yesterday, and you have to understand that she is one of the kindest, most loving, and compassionate people I've ever known. I was going to the pharmacy to pick up some meds for her, and I asked if she needed anything else. She paused, and said, "Yes, but I'll have your sister pick them up" (I have another sister that lives in town here). I told her that I didn't care what it was, I could pick it up for her. She was being modest and I could tell she didn't want to tell me, so I sat beside her on her bed, put my arm around her small shoulders, and said, "Mom, I'm not leaving until you tell me." She did, and before I got up to leave, she told me a story about her Mom, when my Mom was a little girl. Her mother, who passed away when I was very young, had had a stroke, was weakened and debilitated, and she needed help bathing. My Grandma was very modest, according to my Mom, and so she was partially covered while sitting in the bathtub. My Mom said she was about 7 or 8 at the time. Here's how the conversation went:
Grandma: "Honey, you start washing my feet and work your way up as far as possible, and I'll start at my head and work my way down as far as possible."
Mom: "And then we'll wash 'possible'?"
Grandma, laughing: "Yes!"
I don't know why, maybe because I had never heard this story before, but I just thought it was about the most touching thing I had heard in a long time, and I'm going to treasure it.
My mind has gone back to that story several times in the past 24 hours. I knew it was significant, for more than just being, to me, a very cute anecdote. These little moments, and this one only took 30 seconds, are what I will remember when my parents are gone. The simple pleasure of hearing a funny story passed down from Mother or Father to Child. A touching moment like when my Dad said, "I know I wasn't a very good Dad when you were little because I was gone all the time working." I told him, "Dad, you provided our home, our food, and our clothes. And we all knew you loved us growing up. I'd say that places you in the top 1% of great dads in the world." He turned away and started to tear up. You'd have to know my Dad to appreciate this. Not a softy growing up; far from it.
This is how I will choose to remember my parents, no matter how challenging things may become on the road ahead. I think the same can be said for any tough situation, can't it? Isn't it possible to look back at our darkest days and nights, and take something positive away from that time? I believe it can be done. And as with many of the things we face in our lives that we cannot control, there is one constant: We can control how we react to it. By making a pledge to myself right now, that the flame I will carry in my heart for my parents will burn brightly with memories of love, closeness, and laughter.I can only hope that my children will carry that same flame for me, when it comes time for me to enter into my own home stretch.
I sincerely hope this didn't come across as super-cheesy. I've made a decision regarding this blog (remember, I'm still a rookie!) that I'm going to write what I'm feeling at the time I open it up and start writing. And as I come to the end of my visit with my dear Mom and Dad, this was what was in me.
I'll leave on a lighter note, however. I was with my Dad in the car a few days ago and we stopped for a bite to eat. He wanted to pay for it, but I snatched the ticket and told him I wanted to buy. He said to the server, "You know, these tickets are made out of some amazing paper. Hundreds of times I've seen 220 pound men fighting over a check, and I've never to this day seen one torn yet."
Thanks, and until next time, take it easy on yourself...