The tide is ebbing. I had hoped my father would live to see another spring and summer. To enjoy his final pontoon boat rides on the river. To see the trees bud out and watch the deer sneak surreptitiously into the yard under the cover of darkness. But the pull of the moon is strong and the tide is receding a bit more each day.
My heart aches with each little thing he can no longer do. He says he is suffering from “Daddy Syndrome” – he’s taken care of his children for more than 62 years and suddenly we are taking care of him. This role reversal has been more painful for him than any of his health issues.
I was in Atlanta last week, packing up stuff that I had stored there for the past few years and hauling it back up to my Dad’s house in Illinois. The trip reminded me of an earlier visit to Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, which was created for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The centerpiece of the park is the Fountain of Rings – five intertwining Olympic rings embedded into the pavement, through which waters spout in syncopation with broadcast music.
Tears welled up when I watched video footage of the fountain show I’d taken a few years ago. Columns of water waters danced like sprites, gushed abundantly, shot upwards as if propelled by powerful canons, and disappeared back into their wells. How like life. Memories of my Mom and Dad flooded in, of their ups and downs, joys and heartaches, struggles and rewards. Of the loving times we shared, the fights, the reconciliations, and the better understanding of them that evolved as I grew into an adult.
Mom passed in 2002, but as hard as that was, I realize I never would have known Dad if she hadn’t left us first. Now I am facing the imminent loss of my father. Dad has been declining over the past 15 months and it has been a tremendous blessing that my lifestyle allowed me to move back in with him and help with his care. A few nights ago he fell and broke his hip. The doctors said he needed a hip replacement, but he is not strong enough for major surgery. Dad has elected to turn down the surgery and stop all other treatment.
His life over the past year has been one of doctors appointments, hospital stays, blood transfusions, pills, pills, and more pills. But it has also been intermingled with bits of joy: the birth of his first great grandson, our family gatherings over the holidays, sharing stories with me about Mom and his service during World War 2. Over the past few weeks, however, suffering has begun to outweigh joy. My sisters and I understand and support his decision, but already I ache to think of life without him. Tick, tock, the waters rush in to the shore. Tick, tock, the waters recede, falling further back with each passing day. Ebb tide is upon us.
Update: Just a few hours before this article was scheduled to be published, Dad passed away, peacefully, in his sleep. I will be forever grateful that he suffered for a very short time, and that we were able to bring him home from the hospital at the end, as his enduring wish was to die at home rather than in the hospital. His house, which normally blares with a TV turned up to full volume, is silent and empty. I’m a bit lost at the moment but am clinging to the memories we created over the past 15 months, which I will carry with me forever.