If you have elderly parents you likely know what it means to downsize. I think of it like the college stage with my kids where they moved every year or so, only each time my parents move they get rid of more and more family heirlooms. And each time it gets harder to part with the things that remind us of who we are as a family. It feels a bit like taking my heart apart, one piece at a time. Oh, I know it is only material things, and that they are simply that…things. But somehow, we attach sentiment to them and to see them removed from their proper places stings quite a bit.
Dad is moving again. Since Mom moved to memory care he just doesn’t need the space they did when she was with him. He is getting an apartment closer to the main living areas and on the first floor, so when he walks Oreo he simply steps out of his porch instead of taking her four floors down. It will be a much better place, but in the process, we are going through Mom’s things. Another of dementia’s awkward circumstances…distributing her things before she is gone.
With every move, items have found their way into our homes. Furniture, rugs, dishes, all of it distributed among the family members. With each move the items get more personal. This time around we got to her clothes first. Garments that make us think of her. Things she wore to family gatherings. Jewelry she took care to polish. Too many items to distribute to a younger generation with different styles. Yet, to let them go is to let her go. To pass them along means she will no longer need them. With that fact comes a finality, but we are not there yet. Such mixed emotions. Indescribable really.
Then we came to her books. Her treasure. Shelves and shelves of them. Marked and highlighted. Notes in the margins. Sticky notes the colors of the rainbow on every page. The things that matter to her. Her essence. Her wisdom. All right there on the shelves to be boxed up and shared. Journals with her words written. Words passed along now. Probably that she never imagined would be read while she was still alive, giving us insight into her thoughts.
A book Melinda and I have recently been reading about creativity was there…sitting on her shelf waiting for us to find it. So, when we are finished writing in ours we can see what she wrote in hers, years ago. We had no idea she had this book when we bought ours. It was a God moment. He comforts us as we walk this hard road. He puts secrets in our path to find which shore us up emotionally. They show us we are doing the right things.
Sorting through the books brought tears. Looking at each one aroused curiosity as to what was between the pages. Each of us ended up with at least two boxes of books and the grandkids each claimed a couple as well. There were still enough to donate to a church that was starting a library! Did I mention Mom has a lot of books?
And Dad has been such a trooper. He knows these moves are necessary. He knows going through her things is easier now than it will be later. Yet, it is ripping his heart out. It is not hard to see the pain etched on his face as we sort. The reality of what we are doing has hit us all right in the heart. It stirs deep emotions. The grief we live with on a daily basis comes flooding to the surface. His desire for every part of the family to have a piece of her is huge. We all want her as part of our lives, in our homes, and around our tables. Dad most of all.
Today, on Father’s Day, he chooses to put the spotlight on her by sharing pieces of her with the rest of us. She is his other half. They are so entwined together that she is as much a part of this process as he is, even if she is unaware. To see my strong Dad trying to hold himself steady in the middle of such huge sorrow is an encouragement. To see him allow his feelings to flow out, even though it is hard, is an inspiration. Vulnerability isn’t something his generation has valued, yet, for me to see it expressed is a gift. I know I am not alone in my feelings. We are all in it together and we can all uplift one another as we process. This is not a typical Father’s Day post, but my Dad is still showing us what a Father does, by guiding us through this road we are on. For that, I am grateful. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.