Saturday, January 31, 2015

Birthday gifts

It's been a while since I posted anything, which is not uncommon for me to do around here. Like a lot of people, I thrive on the instantaneous potential for feedback over on crackbook. As those folks over there know, I've recently been tasked with my father's care. He had a stroke, or multiple strokes, over the Christmas holidays. It is coming to light exactly the small missteps others made that led us to where we are today. It has only been a week, and like God tells us, "we know not the hour" of the culmination of this leg of the journey. I have high hopes to tolerate it for the long haul, with the rocky crags, the beautiful sunrises, the smooth terrain, and the potholes along the way.

As my readers know, I couch virtually everything in humor, whether it's truly an amusing situation, a heart rending one, or something that has drawn my ire. My father has a certain wit about him, and he instilled it in me. He is also the genetic source of my debaucherous side. He also taught us many other lessons. He is a living message of "preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary." He has always given his time and talent where he could. He has served as church sexton, usher at Mass, and bread slinger at a food mission. The bosses at the bread mission expressed concern over a man of a certain age who was heaving stacks of full bread trays, 5 at a time. My father quite handily put their concerns aside with his feisty wit and determination, outslinging "the young bucks"  as he calls them, and finishing the prep work for his station in less time than it took for the younger volunteers to even get their product to their stations.  Telling him no means he is even more determined to prove the naysayer wrong.

And this stroke has slapped him with a big fat NO. No, sir, you can't drive anymore, because you are blind in the right half of both eyes (hemianopsia). No sir, you can't be alone anymore because not only can you not see half your world, but you will now start seeing things nobody else can, your depth perception is skewed, and your idea of slow is still too fast for your safety. No, sir, your dementia has been made worse by the stroke, and life as we know it has changed. No, sir, you must use that walker because the vision loss is going to affect your balance. No, sir, it is no longer your time to give and do for others, but it is your time to receive. And he quite simply does not know how to sit back and accept others serving him.

For a man who has always given, always done for himself and others, this is a huge blow. It is a slow painful death to a man to not be needed. And as I just typed that, I realized that in my insistence on serving him, I have inadvertently caused him to not be needed. My oldest sister suggested I have him help with small tasks that he can do, like folding the baby's diapers for me. This is a lesson to me as well, because like my father, I have a need to do things for myself. I need to loosen the reins on the small tasks so I can focus on where my purpose currently lies. That purpose is to manage my father's care and keeping, that of my household, and to work on growing my business. And my other purpose is to serve as my dad's protector - from himself, the pitfalls of his environment, and people who would take advantage of him.

Dad has always taught us to never expect anything from anyone, but should someone give you something, you are to be damn grateful for it. It has a link to his upbringing during the 1930s, with parents who, to be polite, were difficult. For whatever reason, Dad feels unworthy. He's always felt that way, but it is truly showing itself as an impediment at the moment. He feels unworthy of being served in his old age. I know how that feels. It's exactly how I felt when I attended a retreat at church, and these women refused to let me lift a finger to do anything except tuck myself into bed, dress myself, and use the bathroom. To a mom who did so much for her family on a daily basis, it was truly FOREIGN to have someone else take care of her. Right now, I've been speaking a horrible foreign language to Dad, and he can't translate.

So, here's this aged man, who has been forced out of his world, and into ours. His presence in our home was my birthday present. He was discharged from the rehab hospital the day after my birthday. I was joking the week prior, and still do, "Happy Birthday! Here's the care and keeping of your father!" It's a very important task, and it's not rainbows and sparkly fairy unicorn farts by any stretch of the imagination. But humor is how I handle things. Despite the snark of the outward appearance of that statement, I am finally getting the opportunity to see a part of my father he hid from the world. His vulnerability calls for my strengths to be put into action. The life experiences I've collected along the way with Devildog have been training grounds for this stretch of the journey.

Having a dad who was 49 when I was born, I always had an appreciation and respect for the elderly. They've been there, done that, got a thousand t-shirts to show for it. Just this week alone, I have seen beautiful things about him, about my oldest sister, and about my husband and children. And that is a gift that can't be taken lightly.