Courage at Twilight: Phases I Never Knew

Every day, it seems, Dad laments, “This is my worst day yet, Rog.” Every waking walking breath is an audible grunt or groan—no normal breathing in this house.  He fights for life with all his energy and might, both of which are diminishing—he knows it, and he is disheartened.  And so am I.  In my 14 months living here, I have seen Dad progress through late-life stages I did not know existed, from the two-foot-shuffle to the hand surf, from the hand surf to the clickety cane, from the clickety cane to the walker, from the walker to the so-slow stair lift, from the stair lift to the wheelchair, pushed, then self-propelled.  The recliner is an ever-greater presence in each successive phase.  So is the pain.  My worst day yet.  What am I supposed to do with that statement, that fact?  How am I to hold and examine and process that reality?  Why, of course, I am to be a fathomless fount of patience and love, of smiles and good humor.  And, of course, I am not.  I am a shallow pond of brine, with fresh water trickling in here and there.  His reality creates mine, and I find myself more irritable and impatient, symptoms, perhaps, of feeling powerless, and empty, and tired, and stuck.  I began this experience as a consecration, a mission of providential origin, I thought, and still think.  But a mission’s initial glamor always attenuates and turns into a long hard slog.  One’s initial intentions, however sincere, begin to quiver and equivocate.  Only then can I see, do I know, the kind of missionary I am.  No saint, to be sure.  No hero, certainly.  Just a laborer who shows up day after day, whose contentment is not to be found in his perquisites but in the solitary knowledge he is doing what must be done.  That alone is ennobling, I suppose.  And will this mission, this story, have a happy ending?  As with all true stories, the answer is both yes and no—both the joy and the sorrow.  How I feel when the story ends will be my choice.  Before it ends, however, I can choose to listen with a smile, to cook and clean with good cheer, to do the honey-dos with zest instead of a sigh and a roll of the eye.  Time to stop writing.  Time to get to work.

(Pictured above: the javelina guards the varnished ramp, slippery from last night’s snow.)

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