Today I plan to call my dad. It’s been over a year since he and Mom moved out of my home and into a care facility three hours away near my brother’s home in Rochester, Michigan. The transition was tough. But Mom’s Alzheimer’s was progressing into the final stages, and she needed more hands-on care than we could give in our homes. Now, a few months past her death, we’ve moved Dad into an assisted living home more appropriate to his needs.
When I call Dad, I’m always listening for the things he’s not saying and paying attention to the nuances of what he is saying. Losing a wife after more than sixty-five years of marriage is devastating, and he’s ready to join her. He has a bad heart, and every month or so we get a call that an ambulance has been called to his exercise club or assisted living facility because he’s been seen clutching his heart or gasping with chest pain.
At eighty-seven, he has atrial stenosis, a pacemaker, a DNR, and a staunch aversion to treatment or intervention that would extend his life. He enjoys cranking an exercise bike up to full throttle and riding for an hour. He frequently walks from his assisted living home to the corner pharmacy in zero degree weather. On ice.
At times I feel like the mother of a teenager all over again, as I feel my blood pressure skyrocket as we talk. My father still enjoys life–good food, his children and grandchildren, reading, good conversation, learning. He’s committed to living his life fully, and he’s grateful for all that he has each and every day. But he’s also ready to “launch,” as he puts it. God’s pre-arranged the time. Some days I get calls that the ambulance has been called at two in the afternoon, and by four Dad’s hauling tree limbs around a friend’s yard.
So when I call Dad, I often have to give myself a few reminders. I take a deep breath and tell myself that he’s more than elderly–he’s an elder. I remind myself that loving him means enjoying him, encourging him, listening to his silences, and giving him the right to live his life to the fullest to the end. Love also means exhorting him at times, when his decisions, like all of ours, sometimes stray outside the bounds of love.
I’ll breathe a bit easier when the spring thaw hits and temps come up again. But then Dad will almost certainly dig out his personally-engineered slingshot and head across the death-trap of a road in front of his assisted living home and into the woods across the street to find good targets. The warmer weather will give him an opportunity to walk farther and stomp down a few more fifty-five-mile-an-hour roads that have no sidewalks.
Lord, give me wisdom.