Please forgive the light posting last week, but we just got back from spending spring break in Arkansas with Mom and Dad. It was really good, in a bittersweet kind of way– but honestly, so very much more sweet than bitter. The sweetest part is that we’ve miraculously been able to enjoy yet another visit home. We don’t take any of these visits for granted. It was very low-key, just blessedly ordinary days filled with the usual eating, laughing, playing Nertz, fixing dinner, and hanging out. Mom is taking such good care of Daddy. She works hard to keep their daily routine as much like it used to be as she can, while making adjustments for Dad’s increasing limitations. She is firmly in the caretaking role now, and Dad is a very agreeable and cooperative ‘patient.’ She continues to gently push him to do the things he can, and doesn’t just step in and take over like I know I probably would. If he starts to move at all, I always immediately jump up and ask a little too brightly, “What do you need, Daddy? What can I get you?” Mom still requires some things of him, she asks him to help her do things that she knows he is still able to do, and it is good for him.
There’s a poignancy to their relationship now. They’re not gooey lovey-dovey with each other, that’s never been their style, but there is a sweetness between them– endless patience and good humor on Mom’s part, gratitude and good humor on Dad’s. Sometimes he reaches up and places his hand over hers as she rests it on his shoulder. Sometimes she pats his arm or holds his hand when they are sitting next to each other on the couch. It makes my throat hurt to see it, tears threaten to rise up out of the deepest part of me. Because the truth is that every day, in hundreds of big and small ways, they are starting to say goodbye to each other. It’s unspoken, but it’s there. They are 94 years old, and Daddy is fading. They both know how this story will end, they just don’t know how or when.
So every morning my Mom, that tiny white-haired force of nature, gets up and fixes the coffee and sits down with her bible to get her strength for the day. Then she pads into their bedroom, puts her (almost useless at this point) hearing aids in, shoos Pandy out and starts the slow, careful process of getting Daddy up and going, and then through sheer force of will she guides/nags/encourages/pushes him through one more day. And he smiles and lets her. It’s a gentler, softer, kinder version of the dance they have done with each other for over 70 years, and for better or worse, it works. Against all odds, thank God, it still works.
On Wednesday I went with Daddy to his physical therapy. He has been going twice a week for some time now, and they have been working hard to try to strengthen his muscles and improve his balance to lessen the chances of a fall. He, of course, unfailingly tries to do his best and the therapists, of course, just love him. This was his last session there for a while, my sisters are going to start doing the exercises with him at home now. Madi, bless her, took these shots:
**They start the session by tossing a ball back and forth.
**Then they work on strengthening his leg muscles. I told Daddy he looked like a Rockette.
**(He thought that was funny!)
**The therapists are working really hard with Daddy to improve his balance. He looks quite dignified for a man who happens to be sitting on a big blue rubber ball, don’t you think?
** No hands!
** We took a little break while the therapists finished making copies of instructions on exactly how to do each exercise for my sister Carolyn to take home.
**Then they surprised him with this certificate– way to go Dad, you ol’ A+ over-achiever, you!