Make no mistake about it, caring for a parent in the latter years of his or her life can be a near impossible task. And that’s even if your parent is an easy-going person with whom getting along is super easy. Dad is not super easy-going and… well he is far from easy to get along with!
I could list a litany of things in this post as examples, but today I’ll focus on one specific difficulty and illustrate it with (only) two all too recent instances. (SIDE NOTE: I’m saving this for another post, but being around dad at this point in our lives had made me realize I need to focus on being aware that my kids are not the same person they were when they were living with me. For more than a decade now, I have not observed their lives and all the ways they have grown and the experienced that have shaped them WAY beyond where they were years ago when they lived under my roof.)
For those of you who are parents, remember when your kids were little and they had no filters? While funny at times, it could also prove frustrating and sometimes embarrassing. Well, the old adage that older people return to being like a child is true in this area as well.
Today I finished a pretty huge, multi-month project at the house. A project that began with a very negative dad moment and now the other bookend has been tainted with an equally negative memory.
The beginning-of-project bookend occurred one evening when I had invited friends over for a meal to glean construction advice on my project planning. We shared a great meal, enjoyed each other’s company and I was provided some GREAT advice for my project. As we were at the front door bidding the friends good evening, thanking them for coming over, and for sharing construction expertise with me, dad leaned over and in a hushed voice said to the construction expert, “Do you think he can do this?”.
I was mortified and embarrassed. The friends politely finished goodbyes and departed. At that time I chose to let the moment pass counting it up to knowing in dad’s mind no one would ever be capable of anything they attempt… not just me. And thus, the beginning-of-project bitter bookend for this house project was set.
Fast forward several months to today when I essentially finished the project. There were some timing challenges as getting required materials is difficult enough when being the only caregiver for your parent, but add to that the challenge of a pandemic at the close of a project and bingo… delays are inevitable.
(SIDE NOTE: I should mention for the last three of four months, dad has been declining and he now often mistakes me for two or more different people who, in his mind, he thinks cares for him at various times. I’ve been called among other perceptions Myrna – my mother who died 3 years ago, Rick – I have no idea, and Nancy – what I would have been named if I had been a girl when born.)
This afternoon, an hour or two after I finished the project, dad suggested coffee on the back patio (I now think just to see what a sub-standard job was done on this last leg of the project) and I obliged. At this moment I think he thought he was sitting on the back patio with Rick or some other random caregiver… not his youngest son who had completed the project he was evaluating.
As we were sitting there sipping coffee, enjoying the fresh air, the gorgeous view, the new shade added by the completion of the project, and a tasty afternoon snack, he nonchalantly said to me, “I never thought he would get it finished.”, and BAM the sour tasting end-of-project bookend was in place. This was not an attempt to recognize that the project took some time to complete and that he was proud of his youngest son for sticking with it. This was the other side of the thought that prompted him to ask my friend if he thought I was capable of doing such a project.
When the filters are gone, what’s truly in the heart will find it’s way into the light… all too clearly. Now I know if he would have realized it were me sitting there in earshot, he likely would have found some finer portion of the project which he felt should have been done differently to point out.
So, if you are undertaking the task of caring for an aging parent, prepare yourself for some deep disappointments as the filters fade and what is really in their hearts slips out from time to time.