I’m spending the holidays with dear old, dear old Dad, who observed his 96th birthday in November. He lost his wife of 70 years in February and has been under hospice care since June. If you ask Stuart, 2016 deserves its bad reputation, even though he’s not sure who might be in the White House these days.
I’m trying to be constructive about this time under my father’s roof, and learn what I can from it. Some of my lessons are reminders, other are insights, others are hypotheses I’ll want to test when I’m facing hospice:
1) Have fun in this life. Dad can’t recall that he went to the urologist this morning, but he still knows how to play competitive cribbage. Why? Because he learned the game early and well, played it a lot, and enjoyed every game. He still delights in listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Time Further Out” album, often several times a day. It’s the soundtrack of his prime, and he loves it still.
2) Bacon and eggs is a great meal any time of day. Getting food into Dad has become a challenge, so he gets to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and good old bacon and eggs works a treat more often than not. If you have fave meals, enjoy them to the last bite. Smucker’s seedless raspberry jam can be worth getting out of bed for.
3) Touch matters. All kinds of people interact with Dad to keep him clean, to prevent bedsores, to put drops in his eyes, to dress and shave him. This is clinical touch, and I’m sure he’d rather have less of it. Dad can’t stand on his own any more, so hugging him has become more difficult. I rub his back when he sits at the table, and every time–every single time–he says, “That feels good.”
4) Things change and that can be a huge blessing. Dad was a scientist and has hundreds of publications to his name. His laser-beam intellect was his light sword, how he provided for his family, (and how he avoided dealing with a lot of messy emotions). Now… what a mercy that he can’t recall that today is the anniversary of mom’s birthday, or that he can’t grasp how much his in-home care is costing him. As I was growing up, he viewed television as a tool of Satan. Now the high point of his week is watching reruns of Lawrence Welk on Saturday.
5) Love is what really matters–as if I didn’t know that already. Dad has the means to see that his needs are met at home (for now), and he loves his little house by the sea. He loves me, too, and I love him, and that’s all that makes this hospice season bearable. Dad will die, but when he’s gone I’ll still be fortified by memories, wisdom, and insights he gave me. That’s the deal we get. What we make of it is largely up to us.
What did you learn this holiday season? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Trouble With Dukes.