Last week, a friend posted a question on her Facebook page to begin a discussion. The question was: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
My first thought that came to mind was that time I had to uncork a bottle of wine without a proper opener. That can’t be it. I then began to reminisce about other things that were perhaps, just perhaps a little more meaningful. I had three.
Burying my mother was definitely one of the absolute worst things I’ve ever had to do. One day, when I have the courage and stamina to relive her final months, I will write about the experience. Until then, unless you’ve found yourself in the same situation, you’ll have to take my word that it is excruciating.
The diagnosis of my son’s autism and the journey with him to date has been hard. We all hope and pray that our children are happy and healthy. When we are thrown a curve ball, or rather a wrecking ball into that plan, life gets harder. I cannot tell you if I’ve ever had a complete night of sleep in the bed with my husband without the little fellow showing up around 3am and squeezing in. I’m not sure how the Bucket Grandparents did it. That said, the rewards far outweigh the tough times. My son is extraordinary in so many ways, and though the journey may be hard, it’s also the most amazing thing I’ve ever beheld. I’m excited for his future.
That leaves my list topper: Dad.
Dad is 95 ½. Dad has dementia. Dad has me.
Each month, I throw my household into chaos (this according to my teenaged daughters) when I depart for a few days to lay eyes on dad, take him to his VA appointments and deal with any other issues regarding his care. He resides in a nursing home some 850 miles away in the home town where he was raised from a child. He is there because it is most familiar to him. He responds much better to visual stimulation and isn’t nearly as anxious as when he is placed in unfamiliar surroundings. Therefore, I am slowing the process by keeping him around people, places and things he can easily recognize. Downside, I’m doing planes, trains and automobiles to get there every 5 weeks.
Listen, I’m not complaining. This man afforded me a wonderful childhood, great teenaged memories and unprecedented support in my adult years. This is what I am supposed to do. It does not, however, make it easy.
Today, we went to the VA to have his ears cleaned. He couldn’t hear me on the way, but he talked up a storm the whole way home. The conversation went something like this:
Dad: How long have I known you?
Me: Dad, I’m your daughter.
(2 minutes pass)
Dad: How long did we date?
Me: Dad, I’m your kid. That’s gross.
(5 minutes later)
Dad: Why did I break up with you? You’re so nice to me.
Me: DAD! I’m your daughter. DAUGHTER. Not your girlfriend.
Dad: I knew that. My brain isn’t working, but let me ask you one other thing. Why did I break up with you?
Me: First of all, you didn’t break up with me. No one breaks up with me. I break up with them. Let’s get that straight. Also, I’m your daughter.
Dad: I knew that. My brain just isn’t working today.
(5 minutes pass)
Dad: Why did we break up then?
Me: That is gross, Dad. I’m your kid. Do I look old enough to be dating a 95 year old? Don’t answer that.
Dad: I’m sorry.
Me: I love you, Dad.
Dad: How did we meet?
This is just a 20 minute excerpt of the 2 hour trip home. All the while, he is attempting to pull the cotton balls from his ears as I’m instructing him to stop touching them.
Me: Because, Dad. You just had a serious procedure at the VA and the cotton balls are soaked in medicine.
Dad: When did we do that?
Me: Dad, we just left the VA.
Dad: I knew that (touching the cotton balls).
Now, the cotton ball from his right ear is in his hand and he is busy examining it.
We stop at TGI Friday’s for a late lunch. I have to cut his food. He enjoys it while he tells me he used to come to that same restaurant when he was a kid. I smile and rub his arm.
There, in a wheelchair, sits the man I ran to when I was scared. There sits the man I put on a pedestal higher than the moon. There sits the man who could do anything and had done everything. There sits the man who flew B-17’s into Germany 17 times. There sits the man who was shot down and taken Prisoner of War for a grueling 6 months in the coldest winter on record. There sits a man who endured death marches, starvation and the constant fear of death; who watched three members of his crew be blown to bits as he bailed from that burning ship at 30,000 feet. There sits the man who safely flew millions of passengers to their destinations for 30 years, always with a smile and kind word. There sits my daddy.
As I delivered him back to the nursing home, gave instructions to the nurses and spoke to the facility director, he settled back in to a big, blue easy chair given to him by his younger brother.
Dad: You know, my dad brought me this chair as a gift.
Me: I think it was Uncle Emerson
Dad: I hope you enjoyed your date with me today. I had a really good time.
Me: I’ll see you tomorrow, Dad. I love you.