I pulled out into my country drive-way this afternoon, and my little girl flashed across the backyard on her way to the swing. Her "little red riding hood" coat swung against bare legs tucked in rainboots, and she flashed a grin devoid of front upper teeth before she blew a kiss for me to take with me.
I captured that kiss and flung one back to her heart.
We blow kisses now, and save them for the crazy days when we might know nothing at all.
I spent the afternoon with my father at the heath center (nursing home) where he has been for two weeks. He's been having some crazy nights, where he doesn't sleep and his still-mechanically-driven mind drives him to take apart everything in his room.
In the hospital he ripped out his iv and his catheter. In the health center, he took apart the television set and ripped off his electronic tether.
He had a particularly bad night last night; he wandered the halls and kept everyone else awake. He insists upon shoes at all times, but he can't remember how to tie them and sometimes he even forgets his pants and one sock.
He is in a state of unbalanced adrenals. It affects him in bizarre ways. Some days are awful, some are alright. Today he was clothed and upright when I entered his room. He might not have been able to recall my name, but he still knew that I was his girl and when I wrapped him up in my arms he melted like my little child.
I sat beside him and held his hand, lifted his flannel shirt and mismatched polyester plaid slacks to check his arms and legs for swelling. He could not tell me how he felt. "Can't say...you'll have to ask someone else..." but as I stayed beside him on his bed he said, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14, NASB)
We played a game we've played thousands of times. He couldn't remember how to play, but expressed frustration that I couldn't follow the rules. It didn't bother me in the slightest, as it's just like playing with my 3-year-old son. Who cares where the marbles go? Are we having a good time together? Checkers also confused him, so we just stacked them.
We walked the halls.
We went to therapy.
We sat and watched the birds at the bird-feeder, where he marveled that some birds were faster learners than others.
He could not remember how many children I have (nine, Dad...) but he could tell me the name of every member of his great-grandfather's family and how many children they each had.
We sat, and I just held his hand for a long time... because I could and because he is still here.
His hand is still warm. This won't always be. One day, I will touch his hand and it will be cold; and that will be the end of such times on this earth. When that day comes, I will mourn, but it will in no way be the end. Dad has not been perfect, nor have I; but we both love Jesus and He is our Lord. We will have a lot of time in the Life to come. Still, I store up love for the days to come, when he is no longer here: hugs, hand-holding, and kisses.
I hugged him goodbye; he laid his head on my shoulder and I think he would have just stayed there. I know that it is not considered proper to compare the elderly to children. For my father, it is appropriate. He has become much like one of my littlest children.
I threw a good-bye kiss from the door. He smiled and bid me safe-travels. His smile, missing the front teeth, is just like my little girl's. I caught that too, and stuck it in my heart...for he and I are in the crazy days.
I do not miss the reality that each one of us is one burst vessel away from catastrophe, one slight medical misstep from forgetting our pants or which way to the bathroom. I can barely stay on my feet (from the need to kneel before Jesus) with the paucity of my own strength and how quickly life flees. Too soon, that gappy-toothed girl and the three-year old who clings to me as I walk in the door will be returning the favors I've done for my dad. I hope they're okay with simply hugging me and holding my hand because it's still warm when the time comes.
Catch those kisses and tuck them in tight.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
The stubborn root
(This post is from almost five years ago. My Dad is at a different place now; he is at a place of need. I once wondered if I would know when more help was needed, and he assured me that I would. He was right.)
I walked past Dad, my arms wrapped full of branches from my own pruning.
The day was near 90, I was finished with my job and was ready to clean up and head inside for a cool drink. I took my branches on down to the pile, then climbed the small hill to see what he was doing.
He was scuffling his knees through a rough patch of rocks; tugging and yanking at roots, pausing now and again to pick up his pruners in his effort to uproot an insidious bush.
“Want some help?”
Of course not. It is fine for me to help my mother, she needs it after all. But him? Need help? Never.
Fierce independence brought him to good health at 85. It makes him strong and keeps him grumpy, and I wouldn’t take it away from him for the world. He knows that once he loses the ability to do something, he is unlikely to gain it back. He forges on, never giving himself permission to be indulgent nor choose the easy path. Tougher than anything, this one.
But still. This work will take him days. I crawl under a guidewire and start tugging at loose roots.
“Been working on this for weeks already,” he confides. “Gonna do this patch here, and then quit.”
I leave the pruners to him, pulling my shears out of my pocket for the little branches. I won’t take a man’s work away from him. I’m his girl. I can’t be stronger than he is.
He cuts, I pull. The pruners slip, his hand hits a jagged rock. Skin that is paper-thin tears when it brushes against a doorframe. You can imagine what stones do. I wince, but don’t say anything. I’ve made that mistake before, and he won’t take it. He laughs my off my concern.
“Oh, that. It doesn’t hurt. I don’t even feel it. It’ll be better by tomorrow.” I nod, agreeing with him. It’s really the only way.
We continue, me surprised that he has let me stay. He loves me, but I can’t have his work. As he once said, “If you take all of my work from me, I won’t have any reason to be around.”
Well. I won’t do that, then.
At one point a year or so ago I asked, “Dad, how will I know when you really do need help?”
He replied, “You’ll know.”
Okay. But until then, can we work side by side at times?
We can, and this time we did. We finished the entire patch, both of us red faced with heat and sweat and effort. He even surrendered the pruners for a time, so that I might reach in at a differing angle. I worked hard and fast, knowing that he would not let me have them for long. We talked about a nephew’s wedding and how to eradicate the offensive plant once and for all.
“Boiling water,” he says.
“Boiling salt water, I say.
Nothing taken from independence; but a little bit of me given and little bit received.
“Thanks, my girl.”
“My pleasure, Dad.”
I don’t expect it again anytime soon – and that’s just fine with me. Let’s make it last as long as we can.
*this photo is not my own original.