Caught between


I watch my dad as he picks up a glass to take a drink. He focuses intently on his hands, needing both now to grasp the glass, as he carefully guides it to his mouth. Just as much care and focus are needed to return it to the table. When he leaves the table and heads for the recliner, his feet shuffle and his walker surrounds his body providing a safety net of sorts. He doesn’t really lean on it, but it’s there for the times he feels unstable. It takes him about a full minute to leave the table, cross the six feet or so and lower (line up and land) into the chair.

Over the past few years, my father’s health has taken a downward turn. Being in his mid-80’s I suppose it’s not all that surprising, yet it is concerning and sad in some sense. He was never health conscious. He ate what he wanted and, outside of working hard, he never did any kind of exercise. So here he is nearing the end of his time here on Earth, slowly fading away. He has suffered a series of TIA’s (mini strokes) and some brain bleeding (scans show numerous clots). He is almost always in atrial fib and his blood pressure is either high or low. This once strong and capable man was being reduced to a week and feeble shadow of his former self. His hands shake and simple tasks that were once done without thought or much effort have become difficult. It is painful for me to watch. I don’t want to remember him like this. I am selfish. I want to only remember him as the strong capable talented man that I believed could do anything! He is and was my Hero.

Living 600 miles apart, it could be easy for me to just ‘check out’ and not visit and watch him fade. I watched my brother do that and remember how painful it was. I fought like hell to not run away from it. In fact, my amazing wife’s love and support was what got me through. “You’re stronger then you think you are” she kept saying. This time, I am stronger. This time, I can relate to how he feels and respect his wish for it all to be over with. This time, I have a whole new perspective.

As you can imagine, he’s not very happy about his present state. He has always been the strong capable provider that never needed help. Now he needs help but is too proud to ask. This is a huge change for him and he’s struggling. In fact, he just wants it all over with. “I’m 87! How much longer do I really need to live?!” he states emphatically. He has (recently) decided to phase out all his med’s. and ‘let come what may’. He’s tired. He’s given up and he’s done.

In the last couple years, we (his children) have all tried to encourage him to fight through his neuropathy and dizzy spells, keep moving and working on strengthening his legs, but in reality, this is such a monumental task that it just isn’t a realistic goal. Why would he want to spend his remaining years working that hard and suffering through that much pain? Why would we ask him to? In a word: Selfishness. Let’s face it: We don’t want to lose our Dad. But aren’t we being selfish asking him to do all of this? When do we shift our focus to quality time and face the reality that he will be passing on and leaving this world?

Our spirits occupy this flesh and bones form for 80-100 years or so (if we’re ‘lucky’) but it was never meant to be permanent. Our time on Earth was, from birth, designed to be limited, Temporary. Having spent the better part of a year fighting cancer, I can say that I understand where my Dad is coming from. There were times throughout my battle when I felt close to death. Times where I felt, like my dad, weak, useless, feeble. I could very easily subscribe to the thoughts of slipping away from the worries of this life. It was easy to feel that shift to what really matters and quality of life comes into focus. I wasn’t afraid to ‘die’. There really was a sense of peace. The pressures of bills, job, strained relationships and the weather…a plethora of everyday life challenges just seemed to fade away. My thoughts turned to my loving wife and how would she manage if I passed on? How would my kids handle it or my parents and siblings? It was hard to see my sickness as temporary and that, one day I would be vibrant and (strongly) back on my feet.

I understand where my Dad is. His condition isn’t temporary like mine was. This is a very difficult transition for him. His faith is strong and he knows where he’s going when his time is up but he’s not happy. He is stuck. I respect the fact that he wants to move on. While I know I will miss him dearly, I want my focus to be on gratitude. I am grateful to have had all these years with him. I am grateful his soul will leave this tired old body, be free from pain and worry. His soul will move on to whatever is next. He’s ready to move on but he is stuck in between living a quality life and passing on. Is there no greater hell on Earth then that?