Goodbyes Are Never Easy

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12 (NIV)

So, it had been a year since I visited my family, and I longed to once again be amidst those who know me as intimately as possible without disliking me entirely!  And so, thanks to travelling with the ESO a few weeks ago, I was able to take advantage of the tremendously lower airfare from New York and visit my family in Michigan.  It was important to do this as Dad has not been doing very well, had just been in the hospital for a few days, and was now in a rehabilitation facility in Lansing, Michigan.  I know very well how circumstances can change on a dime, and I wanted to make sure I got in as good a visit as possible. 

I arrived in Detroit on May 13, the day after Dad’s 81st birthday.  On landing at Detroit Metro Airport, I picked up the car my sister had arranged for me to drive – the Nissan Altima.  What a beautiful car.  I had forgotten what it was like to drive a 6-cylinder vehicle, and this particular car had the quickest pickup I have ever experienced.  For once, I didn’t care who was beside me as I would enter onto the freeway – I just tapped the pedal and I was far beyond them in a flash! 

I drove the hour and half to Lansing on familiar highways and marveled at the feeling of freedom and power I was experiencing.  Arriving at my sister Judy’s house late in the evening, it was great to have dinner with family.  Judy’s husband Scott was cooking up some yummy American style hamburgers – it had been too long since having one of those!  There was also corn and a side rice dish.  All delicious to me after a long day of travel.  I met a new great-nephew, Emmett, the product of my niece Stephanie and her husband Ryan.  My niece Anna was there, too, a soon to be high school graduate.  Scott’s mother Paula, who lives in mother-in-law quarters there was also in attendance.  It was good to catch up.  But the following day, I would go see my father.

I slept in on Monday and it felt good to do so.  The house was wonderfully quiet as everyone was at work or at school going about their daily routines.  As I drank my coffee and caught up on e-mails and facebook, I worried a little bit about what condition Dad would be in.  He has had a rough couple of years, and I heard he was not too mobile.  Lately, he had stopped answering his phone.  Would he be lucid?  Or had dementia taken over?  Though I hate to admit it, there was a part of me that just did not want to go – a part that just wanted to remember things as they were before – a seemingly long time ago, when Mom was still alive and everything was good. 

But as the saying goes, I put on my big girl panties and headed over to the rehabilitation centre.  It was a beautiful place actually.   I found out the wing Dad was on, and headed there to see what was up.  As I walked the halls, I couldn’t help but wonder where I would be in 31 years.  Would I even be alive?  If so, what state would I be in and where would I be?  Caring for aging parents brings these questions and issues to the forefront….probably for the best! 

I got to his room – #236.  And there he was.  Sitting in his wheelchair, watching television.  Baseball.  I went in, kissed him and said “Hello, Dad.”  He looked up at me and said “Hello….”  I could tell he wasn’t sure if I was who he thought I was.  I knew that might happen because the previous day, I had heard he mistook my sister Jackie for me (highly complimentary to me, let me assure you). 

“It’s me, Kathy.”  And sure enough, he replied, “Oh hi, Kath.  Yesterday, I thought Jackie was you.” 

I had brought him a New York Times – he loves reading newspapers, as do I.  He said,  “Oh good, I haven’t read a New York Times for years.”  We began to catch up and read the paper at the same time.  Normal for us.  Soon it was lunchtime, and I wheeled him down to the dining room.  I always love sitting in the dining room with the old folks.  Ever since high school days when I worked in the kitchen of a very nice old folks home in McLean, Virginia,….but that is another story for another time.  Anyway, it was fun to meet his dining companions – Stella comes right to mind – a very spry 80+ year old, with a quick wit and all of her faculties about her.  There was another very nice lady and another gentleman as well.  It was a fun time of getting to know one another and fun conversation. 

This is Dad’s basic routine throughout the week.  Rise and shine, some physical therapy, lunch, some more physical therapy, some dinner, and down for the night.  But I was there to try and help out a little with appointments, so on Thursday and Friday, I took him to doctor’s appointments.  Getting ready for those, I could tell how excited he was to just be getting out and about.  I had to practice getting Dad in and out of the car with the physical therapist.  He has to go from a wheelchair to a walker to the car and it is a little tricky!  But we managed it.

“We’re gonna blow this popstand, Dad!”  And we proceeded to his appointment with his primary care physician, the one who was to be the know-all coordinator of Dad’s care.  Except that the practice she was in was restructuring and she was to be full time at the hospital.  So, she was turning him over to another doctor.  Honestly, health care everywhere is in such a state right now.   Our love of self and love of change have put us in a spot where there are few doctors seem to become long-term residents in any one practice or hospital.  Fragmented health care is rampant and costing patients their health.

Anyway, after a thoroughly unproductive doctor visit, I decided to pick up soft ice cream cones for the ride home.  It was hard, but somehow satisfying, to see Dad struggling with his ice cream cone.  I decided it just didn’t matter if he dribbled it all over – it was very warm outside.  I thought if nothing else, we had a good drive.

The next day was more of the same, though much more of a productive visit to the urologist.  Dad needs to have his enlarged prostate and a bladder stone removed on June 4.  These things are causing the infections that come close to killing him.  When we got back to the rehab centre, we arranged for some pool therapy and that was pretty much it for the day.

Saturday – my last day there.  It is never easy to say goodbye.  I was going to my sister Jackie’s (about an hour and a half away) for the evening and to stay for the night, as the airport is close to her house and I had an early morning flight scheduled.  Just before Dad was to go to dinner, I got ready to leave.

“I’ve got to leave now, Dad, and get down to Jackie’s.”

“Take me with you.”  My heart contracted.

“I can’t Dad.”

“Why not?”  I thought that was a pretty good question.

“Because I can’t get you back up here tonight.”

“Yes you can.  I want to go.”  I wanted to take him.  I wracked my brain for a way.

“Dad, I’m flying out early, and I can’t get you back up here tonight.”

“But I want to go!  Please!”  Oh Lord, don’t let the tears come.  Hurry up before they do.

I gave him a kiss and a hug goodbye. 

“I’m angry, Kath.”

“Don’t be angry, Dad!”

“Well, I’m not REALLY angry, but I wish you would take me with you.”

“I wish I would, too, but I’ve got to go now.  Have fun at dinner.”

“Lose weight.”

And that was that.  With tears streaming down my face (both of sadness and of laughter at his parting shot), I went to make arrangements for a haircut.  The comb-over had to go. 

It is never easy to say goodbye.  I was glad to do what little I did to get Dad out and about, doing some normal things like stopping for an ice cream cone and feeling the warm breeze waft through the car on our summer drives.  I remember the many, many times he took us kids out for ice cream and I wished I could do more.  The time was short, but I’ll treasure the memory.

Lord, I pray for my father.  That this experience in rehab strengthens him physically and increases his mobility.  And that his relationships with those that visit him and talk with him strengthen his desire to seek you out and know how you have blessed him.