ThenIn honor of Father’s Day coming up, I’m sharing a story I wrote about my Dad more than ten years ago.. This story was published in the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2006, about six months before Dad passed away. He actually spent the last four months in his life in the same nursing home that I describe in the story. The older I get the more I appreciate the many lessons that I learned from my parents and the many sacrifices they made for our family.
For all of you Dads, enjoy your day. For all of you who still have your Dads, give them an extra hug and let them know how much you appreciate them!
So here is the article as it was published:
I want to take this opportunity to tell you about the remarkable man who is my father.
Dad has held many roles during his 86 years: son, husband, father, and grandfather, teacher, mentor, and role model. He has been the provider for a family of seven, a farmer, a factory worker. Dad was a community member and church leader. Then he also became a caregiver—a role that he never anticipated and never trained for.
When my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eleven years ago, she began a slow and steady decline in her physical abilities. Throughout all of her physical challenges, Mom’s mental abilities (and her sense of humor) remained sharp. She progressively became unable to do the routine household activities such as laundry, cleaning the house, and cooking the meals.
Dad began to take on these roles and responsibilities—I think the first time he ever did laundry was when he was in his mid 70’s (okay, so he’s not the most liberated of men)! Not only did he take on these daily chores, but as Mom’s health continued to decline, he also needed to help her with getting in and out of bed and with getting dressed each day. He became incredibly creative with developing equipment that would help her remain as independent as possible—such as putting wheels on the kitchen chair so she could scoot around and putting grab bars by the back door so she could still get out to the patio.
About five years ago, Mom fell and broke her hip. The care that she then needed exceeded what Dad was able to provide and she moved to a nursing facility. This was a very difficult transition for each of them, but true to form, they both made the best of it. Each afternoon, Dad would head over to the nursing facility with the daily mail and the newspaper. They would read the mail together and each evening Dad would stay at the nursing home to have dinner with Mom.
My Dad is a man determined to get things done and it would drive him crazy when the dining room at the nursing facility wasn’t set up and ready for dinner on time. He soon worked out an arrangement whereby he helped set up the tables and escort patients to the dining room in exchange for his dinner. This gave him a sense of involvement, a sense of purpose, and one well-balanced meal each day that he didn’t have to prepare (how clever of him)! He loved the interaction with the other residents of the nursing facility and with the nursing staff.
This schedule continued for over four years. Mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in December 2005. Not only did Dad lose his partner of over 60 years, he also lost his daily routine and found himself with too much time on his hands.
Three weeks after Mom died, Dad called to tell me that he was going to go back to the nursing facility to see if he could have his “job” back. The staff there welcomed him with open arms. Dad is at the facility every afternoon, helping with activities, helping set up the dining room, and staying for dinner. The nursing staff made sure he gets the minimum daily requirement of hugs (they tell him he needs four a day) and he makes sure they get theirs. He has thrived in an environment in which he is important to others. He is a friend to residents and staff alike. Many of the young staff members see him as surrogate father or grandfather.
Dad never ceases to amaze me. He is 86 years old and has been widowed for just over a year. While clearly grieving the loss of his life’s partner, he also very pragmatically says, “I can’t just sit around and mope”. He is out there being involved, caring for others and being cared for by others. He would tell you that life is pretty good and that he is a better man for having been a caregiver.
Among the many things that I have learned from my Dad is to take whatever life hands you and to make the best of it. That’s my Dad and I love him!