Dad enjoying a visit from his great-grandson, Miles. Photo by Erin Tindell
In one moment my sister Terry and I were talking about how to best help our dad recover from a bout with pneumonia. In what seemed like just a moment later we were talking with a hospice nurse about how to best ease his transition from this life. In the next moment we were telling him how much we love him. In the next moment, he was gone.
It’s funny how life can radically change in just a moment. My dad had just turned 86 years old. He had been having some ongoing health issues, but nothing on our radar suggested that we were about to lose him. Oh sure, he took an amazing amount of pills on a daily basis. And yes, he had many issues that we just helped him deal with as best as anyone can. But he was still “sharp as a tack,” as everyone says, and ornery as ever.
Dad was not, in his senior years, what you would describe as low maintenance. He suffered from macular degeneration and was legally blind. He also had suffered a broken hip and the combination of his fear of another fall with “numb, damn feet,” from neuropathy, as he would tell you, relegated him to life in a wheelchair.
I won’t lie. My dad could be demanding. He would call me and my sister a lot, asking us to come by to take care of the tiniest issues. Little tasks that we were quite sure he was paying a good sum to the caregivers at his assisted living home to handle for him. But he didn’t want to call on them; he wanted us to come take care of things. He wanted us.
“My hearing aid battery needs to be changed.”
“Something is wrong with the remote for the television.”
“I need some more candy to hand out to my neighbors”
“I need you to bring me some new socks.”
The list of needs went on and on. It was really no big deal to help Dad with any of these issues, but with our dad, when he put in the request, he wanted resolution now. Not after work. Not on the weekend. Now. In THIS moment.
I tried to be understanding because it would drive me batty to depend on other people to perform these simple little tasks. And you know, when the blaring sound of the television is your afternoon’s entertainment, well, you want the dang remote to work now, not in a couple of hours. Plus, this was the man who gave us life. This was the man who worked long and hard to ensure that it was a very good life. This was the man who had been accustomed to having our mother by his side for 61 years. Maybe he had a right to be a tad on the impatient side.
So Terry and I catered to Dad in as timely a fashion as life allowed. There were daily phone calls. Nearly daily visits. Long visits on Saturday mornings for Terry; Sunday afternoons with Dad for me. There were trips to the doctor. There were trips to the pharmacy. There were visits from grandkids and great-grandkids. There were times when I would bring a dog or two to entertain Dad and the other residents. There were quiet times just sitting with Dad at a large picture window describing the view he could no longer see.
And in what seemed to be the next moment, there was nothing. He was gone. My schedule became oddly, hollowly open. For all of the times I may have complained about having to rush over to change a hearing aid battery or find a specific pair of socks, I was sorry. In this moment still, I am truly sorry.
In the next moment, Terry and I were making plans, calling family and friends, deciding how to celebrate a man who, in Terry’s words, filled a room with his personality. In one moment my sister and I were planning our speech for his funeral. We could do it if we stuck together. Together we were strong. Yet, in the next moment I was standing solo at the front of a church filled with dear friends and family.
My dear sister—the intelligent, strong, calm, logical, witty, organized Terry—was sick. It was nothing too serious, but she was quite sick none-the-less and unable to attend our dad’s funeral. My heart broke for her, though she was very practical and wisely resigned herself to getting better without lamenting a situation that could not be changed.
So in one moment I was looking to my sister as the matriarch of our family, and in the next moment, for just a moment, it was me. I was standing at the podium solo, visualizing my sister telling me that I was very much strong enough to deliver this tribute for both of us. Terry would have been standing to my right, but in that moment, she was only there in spirit. That beautiful spirit did carry me through and I believe I said all of the things I wanted to say, and the things she would have wanted to say, too.
In the next moment we filed out to form a receiving line. I’ve done this a few times, for grandparents, my oldest sister, my mother. Our family would line up with the heads of the family to the right, then filtering down in some sort of familial seniority to the left. I was generally somewhere in the middle. My parents and sisters had always been to my right, nieces, nephews and extended family to my left.
In this moment, however, I looked up to find that there was no one standing to my right. To my left, my dear partner, Jim, my wonderful brother-in-law, John, and the rest of our beautiful family stood at the ready to greet guests. But to my right? No one. I was at the front of the line. In this moment, I was the “head” of our family.
I was stunned. I’m the baby of my immediate family and even at 51 years of age, I was completely unprepared for the fact that I would be the head of this receiving line. It’s funny how things like that can hit you. Of course Terry should have been there, to my right, holding my hand. But in this moment, there was only me.
Deep breath. Push back the tears. Smile and be grateful for all of the wonderful people who came to celebrate my amazing, generous, larger-than-life father. In that moment, thinking of him, I banished the panicked inner child and found strength.
Now, in this moment, I’m sitting at my computer on a Sunday morning. I’m enjoying some quiet time before I decide what to do with my day. Nine months later, it’s still odd for me to not automatically plan an afternoon visit with my dad, but that was then and in this moment, I have nothing planned.
That can all change, though. In just the next moment everything can change. I’m grateful for this moment. I will also find gratitude in the next moment to come.