Wednesday, January 13, 2010

seeing through it all

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.



lori vliegen said...

i'm sorry to hear that your dad isn't feeling well, julie. i know that both of your parents are so thankful that you're there with them......and i know that they love you even more for all of your understanding of their individual personalities. i'll be keeping all of you in my prayers.... hugs, :))

PrairiePeasant said...

Hi Julie,
I think you are doing everything you can do in this situation. It's admirable that you can be in the situation and yet see everything so clearly (working in a hospital, not all family members I that I see are able to see the big picture). Your parents just need your continued love, prayers, and compassion in times like this. Wishing you strength and patience as well.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

These are trying times. We are of the same age and situation. My husbands father passed away last year and we have gone through all you mentioned and more. Hang in there. You are a good daughter.

Christine said...

sending comforting thoughts as you go through this stage of life with your parents. I think I'd tend to hover, just like your mother, maybe it's a nurturing quality.

Nathalie said...

What a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post.

A fine analysis, really. You've got it all covered : your parents' relationship with each other and their individual attitudes to life, your own approach to them as you see them near the end of their life, your realisation that you will be next down the track and the thought of what you will be to your own children.

If this post is a great analysis it also shows how much love you have in you too. I'd say your parents are lucky to have you.

I wish you much strength, kindness and compassion in this critical time of your life.

Nathalie said...

PS - I arrived here through Mathilde's blog.

AeFondKis said...

Hi Julie my heart goes out to you,
letting go is one of life's hardest lessons, your Dad seems reconciled with his situation, and your Mum doesn't want to lose him. Both your parents seem terrific people, and your right frustration over being unable to reverse Nature, is very disempowering for us humans, thanks for sharing an intimate post today that touches all of our hearts.
Best wishes to you, and your Mum and Dad.
Linda x

cindy said...

i'm really sorry to hear this, julie. it's so hard when a parent gets sick i don't care how old they are or their kids. his generation is tough as nails and so is he. i hope he pulls through.

with scott's parents they would talk about how helen should go first because charlie did everything for her. she did, but now he is so lonely, although he's very good about putting himself into social situations and taking care of the everyday things. he's a great shopper. it's important for the kids to stay involved and you're a good kid.

sending you hugs and good thoughts. xo, c

Almost Precious said...

One of the most difficult things about getting old is not being able to do all the things we once did when we were younger. For someone who has always enjoyed and was blessed with good health your father's frustration, annoyance and even anger is most understandable.
It is inspiring to hear that you are so understanding and compassionate about his behavior. Since only the Lord knows how many grains of sand are left in anyone's hour glass, continue to savor these precious moments with your parents, yes even those that are insanely crazy and exasperating.

anni said...

I really love how you have turned a difficult situation into something that gives you life experience. Even though the bittersweet is bitter, there is a little sweet. Thanks for posting and helping us to see a truth of life we might have missed in our own parents and children.