My father broke his back last week. He has since been in the hospital recovering although in much pain and enduring several complications that are particularly scary as he moves closer to 80 years of age.
My family came together instantly like a task force or for all my Montreal readers, like a group of students revved up for a demonstration, a unrelenting desire to stand by our beliefs, our moral code, our father.
What's sad when you get to this stage of life (that being me and my siblings all in our 40s with families of our own, challenging careers, schedules, our own health issues, financial burdens, etc) you have to stand back and pause and deal with the realization that your parents are aging quickly and as this process mangles whatever quality of life they had, you watch them change and lose their independance.
It hurts to see them hurt and it's exhausting to stand by their bed and it's disheartening to know that they cannot feed, bathe, relieve themselves without support.
And as one parent becomes sick or injured, the other parent does as well, it's just not as visual or obvious because they do it on the inside and they show it only to themselves when they return to an empty house and a dark kitchen that has always been the setting for conversation, laughter and a review of one another's days, trials and tribulations. They show it when they go to sleep at night and they can't close the bedside lamp because they can't deal with the darkness and they place the pillow next to them beside them so they feel as if the love of their life is somehow there.
There's the worry we all have "What if he doesn't come home? What if things are never the same again?"
And then there's the house that we all lived in - our home that is still their home but is it plausible to think that they or she can continue to stay there given the sudden shift in their daily lives?
The thing about cleaning out a house that you grew up in is it brings back so many memories and the hardest part often is taking down the photos from the wall because once those family images are gone, you know you are really saying goodbye to a huge part of your life - the start of your life that provided you with your grounding and greatly influenced the direction and nature of your future.
I find at night I can't fall asleep because I am thinking of him lying there in that hospital bed alone, in pain and afraid. l feel helpless but I return every day and even the smallest of gestures goes a long way. A straw that bends in a cup of ice cold water. A spoon of soup to the mouth that is swallowed and pat dry to the lips with a napkin. A cold washcloth to the forehead to cool him off. Lotion rubbed into his feet to increase circulation before putting his socks back on that he wears because they are always cold. Pressing the button when he needs assistance that I cannot possibly give him. Waiting until he dozes off from the pain killers before leaving. Asking him "What hurts?" and "What can I do for you?"
It's sad and it's unfair that we work so hard our entire lives, we bring up our families, we struggle at times, we get through situations we never thought imaginable and yet when it is finally time to enjoy our lives, the very end of our lives, we are often stripped of the stripes we have earned and instead of vacationing or finally having time to play golf, tennis or just read one novel after another, time to be with our grandchildren and most especially time to be with our life partners; everything changes and everything is taken from us in an instant.
That is when the task force, the team, the united front, the superheros, the blood that is thicker than water, comes into play as a family marches forward, shields in hand, ready to take on any resistance, any force that threatens, harms and weakens their loved one.
We don't always win these battles but you can be sure as hell that we fight them to the very bitter end.
Life is about so many things but more than anything Family is Life.
If you are out there fighting for a parent - I wish you strength.