A few Sundays ago, I listened to the parable of the ten bridesmaids as it was read in mass. The message to “be prepared” came through loud and clear. On that particular Sunday, though, this gospel reading took on a very different twist.
You see, three days prior, my father had passed away at the age of 100. He had lived at home rather independently (with some daily support) up until 12 days before his death, when he was admitted to hospital after a fall.
For most seniors, a fall is often a “career ending injury” but for my father, that wasn’t the case. In fact, he had actually survived a few of them in the last three years. Once he turned 100, with his mind as sharp as someone half his age, it seemed he would live “forever”. Falls didn’t seem to be a factor.
This time was different. After a few days in hospital, his condition had deteriorated rapidly and it was becoming more real that he would never come home. His century old body was worn out. I found that cold reality difficult to accept.
Why was it that I felt so off-balance and so unprepared as I sat with him in his final moments? It’s not like I hadn’t thought about how short his time was given his age. Perhaps it was the finality of it all … that I was suddenly parent-less.
In the days that followed, my sadness turned to distress as I wondered if I had done everything I could have to support him in his final years. I know there were days when I fell well short of that. I was weary of being the only one he relied on since my siblings lived far away. Even though Jan and I were balancing the enormous responsibility of providing Ben with 24-hour care every single day, I was being torn apart and didn’t know why.
At the wake, we met lots of people whom he had touched and heard many stories for the first time. But we also heard from those who told Jan and me that we were a big part of why he actually made it to 100 years old. The love and attention we had provided him in the 14 years since my mom passed away had made a huge difference, they told us. In fact, they were relaying exactly what he had recently told them.
I was both relieved and further saddened to hear these words. If only he had shared those feelings with us … if only. Maybe that would have given me the energy to drop by his house more often, even for 10 minutes. Just to surprise him. And change things up. Maybe that could have made an even bigger difference in his life.
Out of all of this pain, the messages I gleaned from the parable this time were this:
- Be truly present in all that I do so that I can be ready for the unexpected and accepting of that every day.
- No matter how awful things are, or have been, or will be in my life, make memories EVERY day because, at some point, it will end.
- Don’t keep longing for something better to the point where I can’t see the beauty today.
- We are all given wondrous things EVERY day. Look for them. Capture them. Take a picture in your mind.
With the season of Advent near, this list seems like a good way to prepare.
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.