for me, one of the trickiest things about human relationships is being able to see past the words and the actions to reveal how a person is really feeling. my dad was admitted to the hospital today with pneumonia, dehydration and heart concerns and is scheduled for a battery of tests. i spent a long day there keeping mom company, looking out for dad and trying to buffer the harsh looks and words between the two of them. they are such opposites in so many ways. dad just wants to be left alone and mom insists on hovering over him. on my drive home from indiana, i thought over their interactions today and how i think they must be feeling.
at 83, dad has lived all the life he cares to live; he's not afraid to die and won't opt to live without his idea of good quality of life. although he lived the bulk of his life with extremely good health, he's tired of being poked, prodded and asked a million questions. his motto is, if it's not bleeding badly, i don't need to see the dr. for it. he bristles at the question "how do you feel" and usually responds with "must not be all that good if i'm in here". as a proud man, it must be very hard for him to lose his last shreds of dignity -- his ability to care for himself and be mobile. frustrated, in pain and out of patience, he lashes out, saying things i can only hope he wouldn't say under normal circumstances. oh, but wait, i realize that this is his "normal" and my heart is heavy with sadness and empathy.
at 81, mom is used to being the sick one in their relationship. diagnosed with a heart condition 20 years ago, she's been thru major heart surgery and a long list of heart-related procedures over the years. she is the perfect patient, taking every smidgen of her dr.'s advice as gospel and living it to the letter. she's confused and scared by dad's refusal to go to the dr. when he is obviously so sick. her hovering over him is the one way she can feel a bit in control of the situation. and no matter how grouchy he is with her, she comes back for more again and again. for mom, this is her normal and really it always has been.
besides all the differences between them, they have one really big thing in common. neither one of them wants to be the last one to go. after almost 60 years of marriage, i'm sure the thought of life without each other must be inconceivable, or maybe just conceivable enough to be unwanted.
and, so i try to do the best i can to support each of them, to defray the frustration, to understand what each of them individually is feeling and needing. and then i do 2 things: 1) send a silent prayer for just a bit more time with each of them and 2) wing a silent apology out to each of my kids for the things i'm going to say and do one day when i'm old and need them to be my advocate. i hope they'll know that my words and actions are driven by frustration and not lack of love. just as i had to understand with my dad today.