The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with its companion, The Hobbit, always will hold a special place in my heart. One of the most poignant elements to me is the way the character Bilbo Baggins appears to be slowly fading away at the end of the final volume, as he accompanies his elven hosts on their final journey from the Gray Havens to the eternal lands. He isn’t actively dying, it just seems as though his edges are becoming less defined, his presence less, well, present.
This image of Bilbo often comes to me now when I look at my father, especially during those times when he doesn’t know I’m observing him. This winter and early spring, it seemed as though he really was in the process of dying. And his primary care doctor has, not quite so explicitly, said he thought the same thing during that period when Dad’s big red taxi was making regular trips between my house, the hospital and the rehab center. He somehow bounced back, balanced on the right mix of medications and sheer will, and had a decent summer. Now, though, it seems he’s becoming just slightly less in focus as summer changes into fall.
What does that mean? His walking, which had picked up in June and July, is slowing down, and getting up from the sofa is requiring extra effort. His breathing is becoming labored again with any exertion, as much as he fights admitting it. He’s peeing less and sleeping longer at night. So, he’s still walking, still breathing, still ambulating himself from place to place, but with more work and less ease. And, at times, it seems like there’s a little more confusion creeping into his thought processes.
I would have been all over this situation last year, quizzing him constantly about the breathing, calling the kidney doctor about the reduced urine output, pushing him to drink more water. Now, though, I ask myself, “is he comfortable?” When the answer is yes, I leave him alone.
This isn’t just a matter of picking the right battles – though, that’s certainly been a lesson I’ve learned during the last two-plus years. It’s more like a state of acceptance that the underlying issues with Dad’s heart and kidneys are still there. Given where he’s at now, he’s likely to be a mess by the time he gets back from his Halloween weekend in St. Louis. As I’ve said before, winter is a hard time for him here, and with the cold dampness coming into season just when he gets back, he’ll be especially vulnerable to any stray viruses (did I mention he’s convinced that flu and pneumonia vaccines can actually give you those diseases?). So, no matter how hard I might want to run up the hill of escalating concern, I know the reality of his physical condition would only push me that much harder back down again.
So, where last fall began with active concern, this one begins with a greater sense of acceptance. Dad’s ship to the eternal lands is still waiting for him – he has a few more senior-center poker games in him before he starts his journey to the Gray Havens. But, when the shipmaster calls, I feel I’ll now have an easier time waving from the shore.