My parents are approaching the sunset of their lives. The clouds surrounding their lives are being lit very strongly from behind by the sun.
I went on my quarterly vacation Down East to visit with my folks. They are standing strong in the midst of the struggles that they face with their health.
My father is not the strongest in his health. He suffers from a triple whammy. He is about 75 percent deaf, has Parkinson's disease and has medium dementia.
While I was growing up, his deafness made it hard for him to adapt to the world and made it difficult for him to enter easily into conversations and relationships.
As I related and interfaced with my dad, my handicaps also came into play. I placed them against the backdrop of my father's struggles. I sometimes wish that the cards were dealt differently. Yet despite my dad's struggles, he has lived a life of these 82 years so far full of adventure.
On the first full day of my vacation with my parents, I set out on a simple five minute errand with my dad to shred some old tax documents in the media. As we walked through the hallway, Dad turned to me and said, "Scott, let's go down the stairs and we will go shred these documents. I thought for a moment and hesitated a little. Yet, I told Dad, " Please be careful and hold on as you go downstairs." After successfully going down the stairs, Dad quickly reached for the metal fire door and it slammed quickly on his hand. Dad did not grimace or scream but showed me his finger gashed open on the top of the right pinkie and we proceeded to the men's room to get some towels. Then we went back upstairs to their apartment and had Mom clean it up with tentacle cream, also known as Neosporin. Mom at first said, "was that from the shredder." Dad said, no, it happened when the door slammed on my finger."
Mom gave me a brief lecture explaining again to me of the rule that they have of not going down the fire stairs and taking the elevator always. I should have picked up on the new rules with signs in various parts of the room which stated, "sit down when getting dressed and signs with rules to remind my dad of everyday rules of life.
Mom told me that it is important to reverse the role. Of me being the parent and dad being the son. Something that I have learned to do fairly well as a friend to Gary Davis at church. Yet, it is so hard for me to apply the new rules to my dad. With whom in my life, I have had adventures with since I was a child.
Throughout the weekend, we made a trip across the flying bridge of Piper Shores, their life care community in the heart of Scarborough Maine. We visited the nurse over there and she bandaged my dad's finger with gauze and a bandaid and covered it with a white cotton bandage. Something very visible that everyone found out what happened as Dad recalled it several times.
We made a visit to his doctor Braun for the tetanus shot and it got redressed a couple of times by Nancy, the nurse. She came in with her blue uniform and her portable case of bandaids and ointments. She unwrapped the bandaid and explained how good a job Mom did in getting it stabilized.
My dad and I still played our ongoing gin rummy tournament. Yet, I was called on to be the designated shuffler and dealer of the cards. We pretty much had an even-handed tournament. With each of us winning a couple of games.
On the last night, we went down to the game room and played a round of pool. Yet, in this sport, my 82 year-old dad did not look or act that age. He leaned up against the pool table with his cue behind his back and effortlessly sunk the balls one by one. As I kept putting them on the rack in the wall. One by one. Lining three whole rows. Usually only two have been needed in the past. I had to remove the table brush and place numbers 11 to 14 there while I only managed to sink one in that game.
A bit of a skunking. But it was good to see my dad move effortlessly around the table . Periodically, I expressed concern over his finger. yet, Dad flexed it and said it was fine. So despite my losing to my dad, I had a good time sharing this game that we have played for the past 30 years or so.
Nearing the end of our week, Mom asked me to think of several things that I only know of Dad to say at the time he dies. Not something that will be easy. I knew I would be asked. Yet, I am glad that both mom and dad have been around for me for the my entire 45 years of my life.
As I am surrounded by the struggles of dad to be reminded to take his parkinsons and dementia medicine and then take the prescribed periods of rest, I find it hard to accept how my dad who was once fairly strong and able to drive and go boating is now dependent on mom as his caregiver. Yet, I look out at the sea with mature eyes. I see its depth and its constancy. I know that the sea will carry on long after all of us are gone. I look out at it and see the image of Homer's painting of an old man in a rowboat as it is leaning towards the ocean. With the man still inside it.
It has been hard with these older eyes of mine, to look at the sea with a youthful attitude. Yet, I always look forward to the dose that I get with the sea.
And the reminder of the good times that I have shared with my dad on the waterfront. Of the times of going out in the fog while fishing and trusting my dad with my life. And of the times spent fishing under the sun in the quiet.
And now I look and see with these mature eyes and heart. And my emotions are tempered by what I see.
At the end of my vacation, I looked down beside our door and saw that the mission was still left uncompleted, but what the supposedly simple five minute errand turned out to be was a life lesson for me to be more careful with my dad and to remind myself to be a loving caregiver calling out warning signs just as a mother chick would do for her brood.