I need to brag on my Dad, and I figured Father’s Day is the time to do it. He’s been an excellent father. One of those you can point to as an example of what fathering should look like. I could make a very long list of examples, but today I don’t want to name but one. Taking care of Mom.
But wait, you say…he’s not her father. You are correct, he’s not, but his example of how to love her well is one of the strongest things he does as a father. He demonstrates what love looks like for the rest of us. When Mom started slipping mentally, he covered for her. Before it was even noticeable to us, he was already moving into the caregiver role. Once it was obvious there were cognitive issues, he didn’t hesitate to sell everything he had and move to a place where she could be cared for as her disease progresses. In his effort to keep her with him as long as possible, he fed her, dressed her, and pushed her wheelchair everywhere they went. When she progressed beyond his physical ability, he hired others to come in to help. When she progressed beyond their ability, he moved her to memory care. There is no doubt in my mind that was the hardest decision of his life. Many tears were shed by us all on that day.
Yet, he has continued to demonstrate his love even in the hardest of circumstances. He has devoted himself to her and all the things she loves. Like flowers. He planted her a garden, which he tends. He takes her out to see it and she is amazed every time. He pushes her from flower to flower with her pointing and touching as they go. He is patient…which if you know him is not the norm!
He makes sure she has a sun hat when they go out, or a blanket if she is cold. He brings her cut flowers so her room is always cheery. He bought the monster of all bird feeders to put outside her window so she could watch the birds.
When we go out for a meal, he always orders a dessert to take back to her. When the nurses have a hard time getting her to eat, he goes and feeds her. When we push her out of memory care to the bistro in the independent section, he picks her favorite foods so she will eat. He cuts it up in to small pieces for her to be able to swallow it. He does all of this while telling her little jokes and making her laugh. He is her entertainment. He makes her laugh even when she doesn’t understand the joke. I am sure her days are less confusing because of him. She lights up when he enters a space. She knows he is her person even on the days she is confused as to who he is. She KNOWS him in her core.
When he has to leave her there, there is deep pain etched on his face. His tears well up every time and I watch him push them down as he watches the door close. We are first row observers to great love and the pain that goes with it. If he didn’t love her so much this wouldn’t be so hard. Every smile he coaxes from her is like a balm to his heart.
She’s still in there somewhere and he SEES her. He finds her. He brings her out, if only for a few moments. It is exhausting emotional effort. It takes a toll for him to be “on” all the time when he might rather just sit and cry. But it is his greatest joy to SEE her and to be with her.
We are a caregiving team and it takes us all to manage, but he is the one who is on the frontline. We have been amazed at his ability to adapt at each stage. To regroup and figure out the new normal each time we have one. He loves us all, his children and his grandchildren, but all of that love spills over from his love for Mom. He is our beloved father, we are so grateful for him and his love for us all…but mostly for his love for Mom.
Happy Father’s Day.