Preparing to let go


April 12, 2013 - 12:00 AM

I find myself in dad’s bedroom more often these days.
On his dresser are two pictures of mother and him.
The pictures are of happier days, of course. One is from a standard church directory photo session. The other is taken on a cold, blustery day on a Connecticut beach where my brother Mike lives. Mom’s head is resting on dad’s shoulder as he cradles her tightly, bracing against the stiff wind.
Just recently I cleared the perfume bottles off her dressing table, four years after her death. Nearby is a box of personal letters, including two spiral notebooks in which mom and dad “corresponded” during a Marriage Encounter program 30 years ago. I feel as if I’m spying when I peek at their writings and it makes me a little uncomfortable to read the intimate exchanges. It’s not all lovey-dovey. I squirm to read mother’s confessions. She had an ongoing battle with herself, wishing she’d had a professional career, but doubting her abilities. She did not feel dad’s equal, and when he said she was perfect, she thought it patronizing. But he meant it sincerely. He knew she was a jewel.
DAD’S CANCER has now spread to his liver.
He pressured the oncologist to give him an estimate. One to four months.
With mother, we had no time to prepare for death. It came out of the blue.
Now, knowing I’m going to lose my dad within a certain time frame leaves me no more assured I can do this right, or that I’ll feel at peace when his time comes.
He doesn’t seem to have such concerns.
With no prompting he’ll say he’s had a good, long life with no regrets and that everyone must die.
When told the cancer had spread to his liver, his response was, “I’m not surprised.”
In a way, it helped him better understand why he was not making “adequate progress” — Medicare terminology for kicking you off its coverage.

WHEN BRIAN and I moved in with dad after mom’s death I don’t think I realized all the implications — and complications.
Our biggest hurdle was overcoming our grief. Dad and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on the best way to move on. He was of the generation that everything could be solved with a good stiff drink — or three.
That first year wasn’t our finest.
But then we three got into a kind of groove.
We got up in shifts, I making sure the pot of coffee would stretch to dad. Brian’s schedule was sandwiched between ours. At day’s end we’d gather to watch the Newshour followed by dinner. Dad loved a good meal at night and was our dedicated shopper. He never came home from a trip to the city without an ice chest full of fresh fish, marinated condiments, Asiago bread, and fresh vegetables he thought looked fun.
He enjoyed watching us cook or sometimes would nurse a drink as he looked out over the yard. He never tired of looking out at the creek and the wildlife it attracts.
For three years we hummed along with nary a hitch, until the end of last year, when the drinking became heavy again.
But this time he used the drink to self-medicate against the cancer that none of us knew about. The glass was taller and he drank as if he were parched. I couldn’t understand the change in his behavior, and because it was a long-sensitive issue between us, was loath to bring it up again. Let him have his way, I told myself. He is 88. It’s not going to kill him.
I’ve had to do very little caretaking of dad, even at his advanced age. Yes, a little more cooking. A little less freedom. In exchange for a lot more love.
That will be missed.

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