I’ve had this page from a daily calendar hanging on my bulletin board for more than 10 years. I first put it up at work, probably in response to the complaining of a coworker, or maybe as a reminder to myself to breathe deep and not let the little things get to me. At some point it migrated to my home and now lives in my kitchen with other odds and ends.
“Life is not what we envision that it should be. Adjust.”
The past several weeks I have had to heed this advice like never before. Fifteen days ago, my father passed away. Knowing that I am not the first person to go through this doesn’t diminish the feeling of being in a nightmare from which I desperately want to wake up.
The nightmarish quality is partly due to the swiftness with which our lives all changed. At 84, my Dad was one of the most vibrant and robust people I’ve ever known. He exercised religiously, enjoyed things like hiking and paddling his one-man canoe. In recent years, he had slowed down and had various aches and pains, but if asked, I would have guessed he’d live to 100.
Mom on the other hand has suffered from Polycystic Kidney Disease for decades and has been on dialysis for three days a week for eight years. She also suffers from dementia, and is easily confused. As her condition has progressed and she can’t be left alone, Dad has been her constant caregiver. Not to sound morbid, but no one would have been surprised if we were mourning Mom instead of Dad right now.
Dad though has always been the healthy one. Other than a bout of pneumonia in the 1980s and prostate cancer, which was caught early and treated successfully fifteen years ago, I can’t remember my Dad ever being sick.
A little more than eight weeks ago, Mom and Dad drove 2 ½ hours to my stepdaughter’s wedding. They won the prize during the Anniversary Dance for the couple married the longest. They had celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary just four days before the wedding. SIXTY FOUR YEARS! Can you imagine?!
Seven weeks ago, Dad held his firstborn great-grandson Isaac only a day after his birth.
Five weeks ago, he drove three hours to spend the weekend in Michigan where my brother is building a log home. He and Mom both climbed a ladder at the construction site to reach the main floor.
Three weeks ago today, his doctor admitted him to the hospital. He had been feeling tired and was anemic and they wanted to run tests. The next day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had already spread to his liver.
Five days later, my Mom, my siblings and our spouses, and several of his grandchildren surrounded him as he took his final breath on this earth.
We are all in shock. All of the platitudes that people tell us, and that we tell ourselves – “he lived a long, full life;” “he would have hated to suffer and wither away;” “he’s in a better place” may all be true, but are of little comfort.
As a detail oriented engineer by trade, my ever practical Dad was the ultimate planner. In 2000, he and Mom moved out of my childhood home to a retirement community. They were ready to downsize and although they were still healthy and active, they were looking ahead. Their condo, with its wide doorways and handicapped accessible bathrooms, was designed for if and when they would have a harder time getting around. It still had a garage and outdoor space where Dad could putter around. In addition to the condos the complex has an assisted living building, which my Mom (when she still had her wicked wit) used to call The Big House, where they could ultimately move if they ever needed to. Dad wanted to choose where he lived his last years, and not put us kids in the position of someday having to force them to move. As we got older and saw our friends struggling to convince their parents that they couldn’t handle their houses anymore, we were grateful.
We also teased Dad about being morbid three years ago when he and Mom chose and prepaid for their funerals. When the time came, he didn’t want us to argue or worry that we were doing what he would want. Instead it would all be spelled out. He assigned the task of choosing photos for the slideshow that would be shown at their visitations to me. He wanted me to start on it then – which I of course refused to do.
All that planning, and yet we have so little control when it comes down to it. I’m sure he planned to be around for many more years. I can guarantee he never envisioned leaving us before Mom did. My sister and brother and I never envisioned having to say goodbye to him this way. We never envisioned explaining to Mom again and again that the love of her life had died. I never envisioned that I would replay the scenes from the hospital, from the visitation, from the funeral, over and over in my head. I never envisioned that it would hurt so much.
You always think you have more time. He was the strongest and smartest man I’ve even known. I can’t believe I will never have the chance to ask him another question, to tell him of another accomplishment, or to have another laugh.
I marvel at all of the people I know who have already lost a parent. How on earth do they get back to some sense of “normal?”
Life is no longer how I envisioned it. I must adjust.