Sunday, January 26, 2014

happy birthday, Dad

Every year on his birthday, my dad would say, "Did I ever tell you about the day I was born? The snow was so deep, my father had to dig out a path for the midwife."

It always made me smile, because he told the story as if he remembered it happening, not as if he was the baby they were waiting for.
Tomorrow Dad will be 93, and I don't think he'll tell the story this year (although I could be wrong. Dementia is funny like that; it gives and takes as it pleases.)

Dad has been at the Heartland Health Care center since late November. Maybe it's not politically correct, but I call it a nursing home. When he fell just before Thanksgiving, he ended up with a hospital visit, and when he was discharged it was not to his home but to this place.

Now he is in the hospital. Last week he had a feeding tube placed, as he was having trouble swallowing and had dropped nearly 30 pounds in a brief amount of time. He tolerated the procedure well, but he had some fluid in his lungs. He is recovering from that, really bouncing back now that he is receiving good nutrition, and if all goes well, he will be back to the nursing home - and then maybe "real" home - within the next few weeks.

The nurses post a care plan in his room that includes his personal goal for the day. Dad's says he wants to stay warm and be with his family. I think we are all on the same page here in Southeast Michigan these days.

Watching a parent age is a bit like watching a child grow up, but in reverse. They both change and become farther away from you; children needing you less, parents more. I've been asked if it's hard to see my dad, once strong and able, become feeble, needy, and childlike. There are moments of sadness and even grief, but in fact, it feels more like progression than decay. I see him being more and more himself, which is often challenging and sometimes a joy. I see him becoming smaller, a physical shadow of himself as a young man, but showing strength and the spoils of a spiritual life. He may not know if it is day or night, or recall who came to visit yesterday. But when he is suffering he prays, out loud, the same prayers I watched him kneel and pray at his bedside each night. He is old and frail, but he is no less my father, and his life has no less value.

There is no way, or course, to know if Dad will celebrate any more birthdays. When I reminded him last week that his birthday was coming soon, I asked him if he knew how old he was going to be. "One hundred!" he quickly replied. When I told him he was old, but not quite that old, he looked me in the eye. "I'll be 93." I was surprised. He doesn't always know. But then again, I have trouble remembering my own age sometimes.

Dad used to say that he wanted to have brunch at the Dearborn Inn on his 100th birthday. Even if he lives that long, he won't be eating brunch, and I admit that makes me sad. I will take this lesson to heart: don't wait for 100 years to do the things you love. And say your prayers every day, when you are young - they may someday comfort you and those you love like nothing else.

We celebrated well last year. Here is a photo from that day. My brother and I clearly got some or our good looks from Dad! ;)

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you!


Linda Guarnelo-Whitenburg said...

Cathy, God Bless you and your family! Happy Birthday to your dad! It is so hard to see our parents get older and know that any day our Lord will tell him that his job is done and he can come home and rest! I lost my mother a year ago and all I say is I miss her a lot. Enjoy your good days and bad, because he will remember them when he has time to rest and reflect. Stay warm and dry. All my love, Linda.

Therese R said...

Happy Birthday to your dad. My dad has Bern gone 4 years and he had suffered terribly from dementia for years. It was bitter sweet. His suffering was over but we had lost a dear father and friend.