Beverly MA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 6, November-December 2004, p. 209-210
Six years ago as I was giving birth to my only child, my father who, at the age of 77, went everywhere my mother did, followed her into the delivery room at the hospital. He was gently ushered back into the waiting area. But since he was never a man to be far from the action, he soon returned. To my surprise, my mother offered him a seat in the corner. There he sat and gently urged me on as I actively labored. The man who had never seen any of his four children come into the world sat quietly by my side and watched in awe as my daughter was born.
Because he was with me at the birth, it was easy for me to breastfeed in front of him. There was never even the slightest twinge of embarrassment for either of us. In fact, it was my father who first told me about La Leche League. Anna was almost three months old when he handed me a notice he had clipped out of the local paper about a breastfeeding support group that he thought might interest me. Little did I know how much that small piece of paper would change my life and that I would one day become a bona fide LLL Leader! Little did I know how much the "art of breastfeeding" would influence my ability to "nurse" my elderly father six years later.
Last summer my dad suffered a fall and his many ailments began to catch up with him. Heart problems, lung problems, and diabetes had all taken their part in slowing him down, but it was the increasing dementia that disheartened us the most. By Thanksgiving he no longer knew my name. Instead, I was referred to as the one who "worried too much." My mother struggled valiantly to keep him home with her as long as she could. Each night at sundown he would insist that it was time to take him "home," and no amount of arguing could persuade him that he was already there. Finally, in February, he was hospitalized again. To the surprise of everyone, most of all his doctor, he pulled through and the decision was made to place him in a nearby nursing home.
As relieved as we were that the burden of caring for him no longer fell entirely on my mother, it was painfully obvious that the situation at the nursing home was far from ideal. Because he was unable to walk without assistance, he required constant attention lest he get out of bed and fall. And so a pattern of family care evolved.
Each morning while my daughter was in kindergarten I would drive to the nursing home and sit by his side until my mother arrived in the afternoon. She would then stay until my brother took over in the evening.
My mother kept insisting that we were doing too much, but my brother and I simply told her that we were where we wanted to be. Even so, it was a difficult adjustment. Our jobs and our families already took up most of our time. As my father’s condition went up and down, we found that uncertainty was our constant companion. How long would he go on? Would it be days, weeks, months, or even years? No one could tell us. But each day the answer was obvious. My father’s needs were stronger than our "need" to be anywhere else.
It wasn’t long before I realized how much caring for my father was similar to nursing an infant. The amount of patience that was needed was the same. The need to focus and let the rest of the world go by was the same. The need to just physically be there was the same. But, just as it is with a newborn, the process was exhausting and overwhelming at times. For weeks I kept questioning how long I could continue. It was a cousin who put things in perspective for me. She said, "Kathy, it’s just like when our children are young, it seems like forever. In reality, the time they are little is really very short. Your folks need you right now. It seems impossible, but when you look back on this period later, you will realize how short a time it really was, and you won’t regret any of it."
She was right. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that the time spent with my father was my favorite part of the day. It wasn’t long before I gave up begrudging the fact that I couldn’t get a lot of tasks completed while I was with him, and I began to enjoy the way he could make my world just stop.
After about a month, I noticed that my fear of the uncertainty, of wondering constantly how long this would go on, had also disappeared. I remembered that it had taken me about a month to adjust to nursing my daughter, and I laughed.
Everything that I needed to know about taking care of my father I had already learned when I became a mother. I already knew how to feel centered, I already knew how to love completely, I already knew how to give myself over to someone else. Nursing my daughter had taught me all that.
Watching my father sleep one day, I thought back to the time right after my daughter’s birth, and I remembered waking up in the hospital to find my parents quietly sitting next to my bed while my baby girl slept soundly in my father’s arms. Together my mother and father had sat there, still in their winter coats, not saying a word so I could get some rest. I wondered how long they had sat there like that. It must have seemed like ages for them. It must have felt like forever, but I realize now that it was really just a blink of an eye, and that those moments of quiet—those moments of doing nothing but being there —- are the most cherished moments of all.
I wish you all many more moments of being with your children, being with your parents, and being with your friends. As for me, my time with my dad is now over. He passed away, and I can honestly say I cherish every single minute that I spent with him.