Well, I’ve taken some time off from this blog to try to figure out what might come next for this forum – and to just do some breathing. I’ve still been writing about caregiving – I’ve become a regular contributor to AARP’s TakeCare blog, part of the organization’s Caregiving Resource Center – but that forum is a bit more about nuts and bolts, and a little less about interior thought. So, I’m back here, again, to talk about life with – and, now, without – father.
Much of the last few months has been spent re-learning how to work without the attention deficit disorder (ADD) caregiving can create. The first few weeks after Dad died were taken up with planning his memorial, dealing with financial details and a variety of other tasks that, basically, boiled down to busy work. Once I raised my head from all that emotional clutter, I realized I was falling dangerously behind in meeting my clients’ deadlines – but I seemed to have lost the ability to just sit and work for three solid hours at a time (much less an 8-hour day). Having spent 4-1/2 years dealing with regular interruptions to serve as appointment chauffeur, medical advocate, meal preparer, nursing home visitor and family contact point, I had retroactively developed the attention span of a 10-year-old. I spent the better part of November and December re-training myself on basic work skills.
Certainly, there’s been grieving, as well – Dad died just as his beloved St. Louis Cardinals were going int the National League playoffs, and I felt compelled to watch coverage I otherwise might have just ignored. (I also joked to friends that it was good Dad didn’t have to suffer through watching some pretty dismal performances by those Redbirds he loved so much.) The hours spent going through old photos and considering music options also created many opportunities for tears to flow. But much of that has eased. I think I had pre-grieved so much over the past few years while witnessing the decline taking place right in front of me, that I had already come to some peace with the loss of Dad’s physical presence.
I can’t say I think Dad was ready to die – he was far too pro-life, in a metaphysical sense, for that point of view. But life had definitely lost its fun for him, and, with that, its basic reason for being. He had rallied, ever so slightly, when a brief course of ibuprofen helped him walk a few tens of feet further in his daily exercise with aides. But his fragile kidneys couldn’t tolerate more than a week or so of that treatment, so the knee and hip pain returned, his walking distance again decreased, and the last bit of hot air went out of his balloon. Even the evening cocktail-hour Scotch had become just another time-marking routine instead of an anticipated highlight. So, I think Dad’s death, for me, was a quick Band-Aid yank compared to the slow, constant pain of watching the joy of life that had always defined him drain away day by day.
Now, I’m a bit more likely to smile in remembrance of that joy when a passing moment strikes me. Like this morning, when walking Rex through the kind of gray, raw weather that makes up the birth of spring on Cape Cod, I saw a bright-red cardinal sitting in a tree branch. The scarlet feathers made the bird look like one of those colorized images in an otherwise black-and-white photo, against the dull grays and browns in the background. Seeing him (for, you know, with cardinals it’s the males whose plumage shines), I thought of how such an encounter would have made Dad’s entire day – in my shoes, he would have felt compelled to start a whistled conversation with Mr. Redbird. And it made my morning, at least, remembering Dad’s enjoyment of such a simple pleasure.