Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stay Awhile

My dad and I talk on the phone almost every day. My husband sometimes makes fun of me and says "daddy" when he sees I am talking to him. He knows I am a daddy's girl -- he can make all the fun he wants, but my bond with my dad is unbreakable. When I call my mom she is often busy, or she will chat for a minute and hand the phone to my dad. When I talk to my dad, he has all the time in the world for me. Except the other day when I called. He picked up and said hello, but then quickly said he had to go. I asked him why and he said he was at the funeral home. I pushed a bit further and he confessed that he was making arrangements for his own funeral to make it easier on us when he passes. I swallowed back my tears.

 My dad didn't coach soccer games, or teach me how to ride a bike, but he was the one who made our family dinner every night, picked me up from school, and helped me with my homework. Compared to my friend's fathers, mine was much older. He was almost fifty when he had me and so now he is eighty eight years old. Over the last ten years he has had some aches and pains. He has had knee and back problems He has had a few surgeries and epidural injections for pain, but he has been free of any disease or illness and has remained relatively healthy. 

Most people at his age slow down, and he has but his version of slow is exhausting just to think about. He may not walk very well now but that doesn't stop him from getting on planes. He travels to Israel for six months at a time with my mom. They live there, rent an apartment and a car, have friends to visit, concerts to attend, and classes to take. The other six months they live between New York, Massachusetts, and find a way to even get out here to California for a visit or two a year. They are not afraid of adventure and my dad says as long as he can do it, he will. My dad does get anxiety and often worries, but the most valuable tool I learned from him is that despite fears, you do it anyway.

My parents absolutely live life to the fullest.  They were both teachers and they took summer vacations to work in summer camps that were located in the country so they could live somewhere beautiful. The loved to travel so they always set a few weeks of the summer aside so they could a trip. They still go to plays, concerts, see their friends, and they still travel. The biggest obstacle for them now is pain though. It can really get in the way. It might not stop my dad but it surely can overshadow joy. When his back began to ache a few years ago, I thought it was just an injury that would go away with a little time. It has taken me a while to accept that these ailments aren't temporary, they are here to stay. As many people have tried to reverse aging, clearly no one has a solution yet.

This summer I took my kids on our annual trip back to the east coast to visit my parents. It was the first time that my mother was also in pain. She has some sort of sciatic nerve pain down her leg and it makes it very difficult to walk. This was the first visit that felt like just that: a visit. We spent time with them talking, eating, and staying with them, but we did all of our adventures without them. The lake to swim, a walk, a museum, a trip to the playground all might have been done together in the past, but this year they just couldn't do it anymore. My kids had a great trip and we enjoyed our time together with my parents, but I felt the absence of their energy. I went home feeling slighted of quality time with my parents and in exchange I felt sad. Was this my new normal? I had this underlying feeling of denial, and stubbornness to accept their health this way. If I had a difficult time accepting this I can only imagine what they feel. Aging is no fun for anyone involved, and as my dad says often "Getting old sucks" 

I suppose he is doing the responsible thing, preparing for the future. Statistically, he is planning all of this at an appropriate age. I know humans can only live so long, yet knowledge and understanding can't even begin to prepare me for the way the world will feel without my father in it. So regardless of what lies ahead, I am going to continue picking up the phone everyday. I will spend as much time I can connecting with my dad, and as little time as possibile thinking about when I won't be able to anymore. When I spoke to my dad on the phone from the funeral home, I waited to cry until I hung up. I told him to hurry up and get out of there. I reminded him that he had a long time before he would ever go back there.