Moving On

“He was my mentor,” she said to me as she gave me a hug. “If there’s anything — really anything — I can do, don’t hesitate to call.” She was a woman doctor, a little older than me, who had known my father for many, many years.

I couldn’t respond. My eyes well up with tears at the slightest provocation these days.

This past Sunday in church, I stood in the communion line behind an elderly couple, he supporting her down the aisle, waiting for her to dip her bread in the cup and get it into her mouth before he took his. I felt the tears.

Then it was my turn. “The body of Christ broken for you,” said the pastor as he extended a chunk of bread toward me. My friend held the cup. I think she said my name as I dipped the bread. I was too busy trying to blink back tears to really hear.

Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of Himself, remembered every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, is echoed in the smaller self-sacrifice of the couple in church and the multiple self-sacrifices I saw as my father cared for my mother over the last years of her life.

When she thought that he was her father and argued with him about waiting for her date to pick her up for the dance, he seem unfazed. It had to have hurt — his wife not recognizing him and waiting for another man.

When she wouldn’t sleep in the bed with him — she sat in a chair all night, because there was a strange man in her bed.

When she served him inedible foods.

He patiently coaxed her to do the right things and kept her safe from the wrong things.

He learned to do new things — laundry and cooking — that had been her domain.

He finally made the difficult decision to place her in a nursing home.

Then he visited her every day. Twice a day.

These days, I have so many people offering advice.

“Just march right in and stand there with your arms crossed,” one person said as I told him about a deplorable incident at the nursing home where my father is staying for rehab.

“You can’t bring him home yet,” another person said. “You need to take care of you and get some help set up.” And she is so right.

“Isn’t it time,” asked another friend, “to think about permanent placement?” No. No, it isn’t.

My father was my mentor, too. He taught me what it meant to care for the elderly. Partly through having me work at a nursing home when I was young, but mostly through his example, his constancy with my mother.

When I hit a roadblock these days, I try to think, how would he handle this?

I can’t ask him anymore. That hurts just to write it down. But his advice-giving days are past, and it’s up to me and my siblings to figure this out.

How do I care for an aging parent? One who argues and cajoles and insists that he’s fine. One who falls and faints and forgets how to shave. One who all his life has cared for other people.

I think that the answer is one day at a time.

Looking too far down the road is scary.

For now, I’ll work to get him home again, and then work to care for him. One day at a time.

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At the Fenimore Art Museum this summer

I began this blog when I was helping to care for my mother. It was my formal extensive education in elder-care, given by the best teacher, my father.

Now, I’ve taken the fallen mantle. My role has shifted to becoming the primary care-giver.

And I need to set Hot Dogs and Marmalade to rest. Over the summer, I have felt this blog hanging there, waiting, waiting.

But I can’t write about him.

Not here.

Not now.