It’s messy…and that’s okay...
He was almost, no scratch that, he was downright giddy.
I was tired, irritated and in a hurry.
He was ten again on the way to Disney.
“You have no idea how good it feels just to get out of that place.” With each word he lifted his hands higher and higher. “I can’t explain it, I just feel soooo great.”
“Yeah, it’s nice to get out—but that’s a nice place you live in, Dad. They take good care of you, they’ve got lots of fun things to do, it’s safe—”
He shook his head and lowered his chin to his chest. “See, that right there. You coming against me like that, it makes me…it just takes all the wind out of me.”
I pulled in a slow breath and stared at the white lines zipping by.
“Just give me this week of freedom. Let me go wherever I want. Go fish, sit on the river bank, drive around…just let me have that little bit of happiness.”
“Dad, you’re not in prison. You can come and go as you please as much as you want.”
He shook his head again, “You just don’t understand.”
It was true. I didn’t.
Ever since he moved into Prairie Hill Assisted Living he’s been like that. Always thinking someday soon he’ll pass the test and graduate—and go back to living as he has for the past thirty years, since he retired.
Driving around the country, spending winters in Texas fishing on the Gulf; summers in Minnesota visiting the kids. Little by little it all came to an end. First he gave up driving the motor home. Next, it was the fishing boat. Then, it was the keys to the car—although he still insists that was a mistake and he needs to get back behind the wheel.
“You have no idea how much it means to be able to spend time with family, to see my grandkids.”
I clenched my jaw. Now you want to see your grandkids—the ones you hardly know. Now you want to spend time with family, when you need them to take care of you. I hated myself for thinking it, it wasn't even entirely true, but I thought it just the same. I nodded. “Yeah, a person can get pretty focused when they’re near the finish line.”
He made a sound, kinda like a grunt, but I think it was a yes.
We drove along in silence, headed toward the Veterans Medical Center, for yet again, another appointment. Dad’s chin rested on his chest, his eyes closed, his glasses had fallen off his lap onto the floor.
Don’t get me wrong. My dad is great. I never doubted his love. It’s just, he spent his life…busy. He was gone a lot. He could never sit still—or let anyone around him sit still either.
He told me a story about how his granddad made him move a big pile of coal from one corner of the room to the other. “And when I got done, the next day, Granddad told me to move it back.”
“Why’d he do that?”
“Granddad told me, it was to give my hands something to do.”
I think that must’ve stuck, because he never could sit still—still can’t. He always had to be doing something—still does. And everyone around him—he does that to them, too. Just try to sit on the front porch with him and it won’t be a minute until you’re going to get him something to drink. Just about the time you sit back down, you’ll be headed to the kitchen to get him a treat. And you might as well not sit down because before he takes two bites, you’ll be helping him to the bathroom.
I know I should take him fishing, take him to the lake and let him sit and watch the water lap the shore, take him to visit the grandkids, I should do all that and more. At least one of us tries to visit every. single. day.
As a family, we’ve done all that, and we’ll continue, but it’s hard on Dad, he gets tired, confused and Lewy Body Dementia tries to play games in his head.
I pray I don’t get too busy for what’s important, for what’s real, for what will last…but fear, perhaps, I have.
Oh, how I struggled to find a happy ending, to wrap this up in a pretty little bow…but I can’t.
We’re still struggling with this, all of us.
As I write, the sun is spilling orange across the sky on the east side of the lake, the birds are already awake and welcoming the day, the inky black water has turned to dancing silver…and it occurs to me.
In the weakest state my dad has ever been, when all the doctors say his mind is failing, perhaps his passion for the presence of family...makes him sharper than he’s ever been.
Life is messy. hard. short. We don’t always get it right the first time, or the second or the third…and that’s okay. Better than okay—that’s what makes us feel, real, alive. It gives us a chance to forgive.
And when people forgive—love happens.
It reminds me of a line from a really good book: "The only thing Mac wanted more than a good day of sailing was a big, noisy, messy, happy, family"
I think he got it right.
What’s your story? I’d love to hear from you…I’m not too busy, I promise.