Exactly one year ago this week my father marked his 100th birthday. Lots of family and friends attended his “party” to celebrate this huge milestone and to wish him well.
My father’s good health and mental sharpness were certainly contributing factors to him becoming a centenarian. While I certainly didn’t take that for granted, we had every reason to believe that there would be another party in five years to celebrate his 105th birthday.
On that day, it seemed he would live forever. So when that didn’t happen last November, I was completely unprepared.
His passing has caused me a lot of pain and resulted in much soul searching.
Jan and I were the only family who lived nearby, on the same street, actually. Being raised by his immigrant parents, my father knew well the importance of family and he instilled those values in me.
So, we naturally did whatever we could to ensure his twilight years were fulfilling and comfortable despite shouldering the huge responsibilities of Ben’s continual care and development.
Without question, balancing both these obligations was not easy. Looking back, there were (too) many times when my fatigue and frustrations clouded my judgment which served no one very well.
All those overwhelming times, when I was less than helpful towards my father, have come flooding back over the past few months and I regret not fully recognizing these lapses of kindness and understanding.
In marking the occasion of his 101st birthday this week, I’ve tried to find some good in all of this pain. These 4 lessons have come to the surface:
1 – Be truly present in all that I do so that I can be ready for the unexpected and accepting of that.
By being present, I mean to be focused and attentive on what’s in front of me. This is something I don’t do well at all.
I always have a thousand thoughts floating through my mind that have nothing to do with the task at hand. It probably stems from the complexity of Ben’s life and, by extension, my life.
I think back to the times when we had my father to our house for dinner – which was nearly every weekend – and how I didn’t always appreciate the time we spent together. Often, there was something else that I was thinking about or wanted to be doing.
2 – No matter how awful thing are, or have been, or will be in my life, make memories EVERY day because, at some point, it will end.
Making memories was not an overt strategy of mine when it came to the relationship with my father.
When things were stressful with Ben, I was caught between feeling obligated to spend time with him (e.g. have him up for dinner) and feeling guilty if he was left to eat alone on the weekend.
What I totally missed was the opportunity to just drop in to see him, for no specific reason. This would have been an easy way to make memories.
Just 10 mins some evening. That’s all.
I could have used that time to see how his day was and even share my “struggle-du-jour”.
3 – Stop longing for something better to the point where I can’t see the beauty today.
When I’m in the throes of Ben’s seizures and never-ending sleep deprivation, there is little energy to do much. Survival is the only strategy.
And when I’m feeling trapped on the treadmill of Ben’s care and support, I have to remind myself that that’s not what we’re called to do. That everything we see is not all that there is.
That I need to quiet my mind and change the frequency of what I’m noticing, to see those things are there and unseen until now.
4 – We are all given wondrous things EVERY day. Look for them. Capture them. Take a picture in your mind.
If Ben is having a great day, that’s a wondrous thing. There’s nothing more important than that.
If I could imprint that feeling and image in my mind, the next time things are not great would be a little easier to manage.
Having the opportunity to support my father over the last 14 years was a wondrous thing. And a blessing. I must never diminish that. I must imprint in my mind all the great days we spent together.
* * * * * *
Oh, and one more thing to share …
On the eve of my father's 101st birthday, I dreamt of him. He was laying in what appeared to be a hospital bed, in the same position he was on that fateful day. But he was completely clothed.
I was the only one in the room. But this time, he got up out of bed. Looked at me. Said something I couldn’t understand, smiled gently, and walked away … into an intense brightness … into the arms of the Lord.
I guess he IS living forever.
Mike is co-founder of SoaringFamilies, an online community focused on providing families with Caregiving expertise and Coping solutions, so they can live more freely, more fully and with more energy. SoaringFamilies is about believing in a future that is bigger than the past, creating a world where all persons are accepted and included, and where every life is of equal value. Visit https://soaringfamilies.com to learn more and experience the inspiration of Ben's story and the power of an inclusive community.