My father will turn 91 this August. 91! Many would say that he has lived a long and happy life. I know he’s lived a long life. Happy is debatable but nonetheless, the cliché provides little comfort to those of us left behind.
My dad has been sick for a very long time now. Nearly 2 decades. It all began with a massive stroke and various diagnoses have piled on since then. We have had a lot of scares. Several times when we thought “this is the end”. This time, I truly think that it is. A palliative care team assessed him and we were told they only expect him to live a few more months. His health has gotten beyond the point that my mom can handle by herself so she had to make the difficult decision to place him in a nursing home.
We have been thrown into a complicated situation with few answers and high anxiety. How is it that people are expected to think of finances and insurance and everything else while simultaneously knowing that your loved one is dying a little more each moment?
It has been difficult to see the decline in my once herculean dad. Maybe all kids believe that their dad is invincible. I certainly did. He was so strong. So steady. So reliable. Now that powerful man has shriveled to half his size and lays in a hospital bed in and out of lucidity.
Each time we visit, I sit and hold his hand. Stroking his hand with my thumb. Hoping that that tiny physical interaction will speak of my love for him. I try to muster every ounce of strength, to hold back the tidal wave of tears as he tells me that I need to take care of myself. Tells me that he is worried about me and my health. I simply smile at him and tell him that I’m doing everything I can. I shift the conversation and tell him that I love him.
There is a show called “After Life”. It is a Ricky Gervais show and his character, Tony, is a widower who can no longer see any point in living this life without the woman who had given his world joy and meaning. Without her, life, as he saw it, wasn’t worth living.
Tony’s father has Alzheimer’s. Tony visits him every day and every day, his father asks, “How’s Lisa?” Every time, Tony responds defeated and hurt, “She’s dead, Dad”. In one scene, Tony rants about how his dad asks him about his wife every day and how much it hurts him to be asked that question. The nurse simply replied, “did you ever think of just playing along?” “Play along? What’s the point of that?” Tony replied. She said, “It’s for him not for you” as she left the room
In the last episode, Tony’s father, initially, did not even recognize Tony as his son. He began a conversation by saying, “the soldiers were after me again”. Tony looked at him and made the choice to “play along”. After a minute, Tony asked his father, “do you know who I am?” The father said, “Charlie. You come around here a lot”. As the hurt and defeat rose to Tony’s face, his father looked at him with recognition and said, “you’re my son. You’re my boy” At that moment, I lost it. Everything hit. I thought of all the things my dad has forgotten and grieved all that he will likely forget in the future. maybe even me.
Saying that he has lived a long and happy life does nothing to ease my anxiety of losing him. I know that I’m an adult. I’m 40. I’m married. I have a son. But I’m not ready to lose my daddy. Is anyone ever ready?