People gave us books when SOS was in utero and after he was born. For every cry, there were three interpretations and four potential psychiatric problems that could arise from handling that cry incorrectly. I thought I would go insane. Do I read more and get totally neurotic or do I do what feels rights and put money away for SOS’s therapy fund? I opted to do the latter.
When it comes to the cycle of life, when the elderly become children again, there are no books. I guess because babies are blank slates, but grown children and their aging parents have lifetimes of issues and patterns of behavior that make meaningless those grossly generalized “operating instructions”.
After much heartache, I finally realized that there is no right way to navigate this time in our lives. I cannot “cure” Dad of his loneliness and his confusion. SOB, the NYC family and I can see him three times a week, and at least two of his three children call him every day. And poor BOB flies in for less than two days every few months.
But there are hours — those damned, never-ending hours in a day — that no one other than Mom (who is gone almost 11 years) can animate. We cannot replace this with our calls, and the kibbitzing he enjoys with his home aides. He is lost even more now than in the years that followed Mom’s death.
And I cannot beat myself up about that.
And when he wants to take over his finances again, because as he says, “I am embarrassed that I haven’t been following up,” I have to be firm and relieve him of responsibility: “Daddy, you cannot manage this anymore. That is why I am here.” He always seems relieved and yet deflated. He knows that he cannot handle these things.
I am honest and, I hope, gentle. He was concerned about his taxes today. “Daddy, I have it covered. No worries.”
Still there is a part of him that doesn’t want to accept that he has given up control. I love that because that is my Dad trying to break through the confusion. The never-let-go and never-give-up fighter who is my Dad. So, I go over everything with him and explain all the expenses. He deserves this and I, quite frankly, am accountable. It is a sacred trust.
But, every week, I have to shred mail he sends back to scam outfits. That is also my sacred trust.
He won’t believe that they are scams and we have to substitute our judgment for his. We no longer tell him because it unnecesarily sets up a challenge of his pride against reality. No one needs that. And we, his kids, need to navigate that gray area between what is the right decision for him and the preservation of the specter of his independence and pride. The bubble of his life — safe, even though mostly lonely and a little confused — is too important.
I know how long precisely how long his savings will last at his current “burn rate” (24 hour care is expensive). And it is a good long while, but it won’t last until he is 120 — Moses’s age. The problem is I made him promise he would live at least until then. So, his kids will pick up the slack if we are lucky enough for him to be with us for another 27 years.
Because I can’t lose Dad, even if he hasn’t existed as such for a long time. I lost my “dad” when Mom died. I lost my “father” on September 19, 2012, when he tripped and had a brain bleed.
But the lovely old man who inhabits my daddy’s/father’s body is a lovely, cheerful, optimistic man who loves us and makes no sense when he tries to be in the conversation. But we know what he wants to say and we respond to that. And we love him.
And I owe it to my father to shroud him in the same abundance of love and safety in which Mom and he raised us. Until 120 or whenever.