If Mom is the glue of our family, Dad is the bedrock. The foundation on which all the rest of us stand; a role which he has stoically carried his whole life. When the winds of life blow around us, our feet are firmly planted. He has carried us all at one time or another, including the next generation of grandchildren. And as hard as he has worked, he has also played hard. Fun is his middle name. His type A drive is balanced by a sense of humor that keeps us all laughing.
One of the hardest parts of Mom’s dementia journey is seeing its effects on Dad. The emotional toll is huge. It weighs him down and tries to snuff out his fun-loving self, but she brings that out in him. Even in her decline, he can’t help but tease and flirt to make her light up like a Christmas tree. It works. She giggles like a girl and, even though she doesn’t understand the jokes, she knows he is her laughter.
But most days his concern for her is etched on his face. Tears pool in his eyes waiting to overflow at the least memory or trigger. Simple things sneak up, and grief is front and center at unexpected moments. He works hard to keep his head up, but the burden wears on him and rests firmly on his shoulders. A sorrow magnifying glass that enlarges every emotion times 10. He puts one foot in front of the other and keeps moving forward despite the extra strain. Trying to lighten the load with laughter as much as possible but knowing that underneath, the truth of Great Love is weighing heavy. To carry such enormous grief, to live with it and walk with it by your side means you have known Great Love. You could say grief is the price of Great Love. This lasting tenderness is required of you despite the fact that it causes great pain to your heart to lay your life down for another. The sacrifice is the hard-won treasure. Love poured out. It is as beautiful as it is painful. As are all things worth pursuing.
I am incredibly proud of how he has handled this whole journey. He has tried to care for himself even as he cares for Mom. Getting out and about seeing friends, keeping all his own medical appointments, finding a support group of men caring for their wives, continuing his photography, gardening…all of it to try to make this burden a bit lighter. He hesitates to go far because he is Mom’s person and he doesn’t want her to forget him. That’s a real, though mostly unspoken, fear because it is also a very real possibility.
I was surprised when he decided to go to Hannah’s wedding in Seattle and thrilled that he made the trip. He did so well that 3 of the grandkids got together to plot and plan another trip. His desire to go to the hot air balloon festival in New Mexico to photograph the event has never been a secret. It’s been on his bucket list for many years. As a former pilot, he is always fascinated with all things aeronautical. If it flies in any way, shape, or form, from bird to jet, he is interested. Add the beautiful colors and designs of hot air balloons and it is no wonder he is drawn to the largest gathering of balloons on the planet.
Liane, David, and Kara made his photography dream trip a reality. Planned the whole thing. Booked the rooms, the scooter, the photo ops, the car…all of it. Made sure there was enough down time, but also that he got all the opportunities he wanted to take pictures. They loaded up lenses. They packed photography equipment. They carted cameras. A Hunter photography brigade taking their mentor to live his dream.
They sent pictures of his joy. His smile. His eye to the viewfinder framing his shots. Standing in front of the balloons, playing inside balloons, chasing balloons, instructing them on photographing balloons. Those pictures are priceless.
It’s no secret I am a crier. Seeing him in his element, lighter hearted than he has been for years brought my own tears flowing. He so needed this. A few days to put the emotions on the back burner and to enjoy his own interests. Mom would want him to do things like this. She’s the one who started giving him photography trips many years ago. Encouraging him to pursue his love of visual images. She would have been the first one to say, “Go!”
I am thrilled the kids were able to pull this off for him. My heart is full. I am ever so grateful and thankful they did it. Giving back to him a portion of what he has given us all, fun. Checking this item off his bucket list at just the right moment. Making memories that will be captured in images for all of us to have…once he has edited them.
All the credit for this joy…as well as photo credit goes to Liane, Kara and David Hunter for these snapshots and this happiness.