10 of 30 Thinking Outloud About My Father

What do you do with a dad, fully recovered from quadruple bypass surgery, who spends 22 hours a day either in his recliner with the wooden arms or in the once new bed you bought him as a recovery gift. What do you do when he won’t take walks, eat healthy or enough and won’t socialize 95% of the time with anyone besides family. It’s been 2 years. I don’t do anything. I don’t remember giving up trying but I did.
When he’d been home from the hospital a month, post heart surgery depression flattened him completely. I sent out prayer requests to friends all over the world. A few hours later, not knowing I’d sent out a request, he lifted himself the slightest bit, craned his neck around and smiled, reporting that he finally felt just a little bit better. I was standing in the kitchen door way behind his chair. Many of these friends, from as far back as 40 years, sent him messages I later forwarded. He delighted in reading every one. That was the first inch of progress. A few months later, he was still fairly sunk in mire. So I posted a note to facebook, tagging everyone my dad knows. I asked not just for prayers, but for people to send him loving letters. Many did and it had a positive affect, but he was still scratching the sides of a deep well of nothingness mixed with anger.
That Spring, his brother took him fishing in the north woods of Wisconsin. This brought him out to where he could at least see, smile openly with his grandsons, begin to joke around. The year following was static. The next spring his brother took him to the north woods again. This trip was magic. He witnessed an eagle swoop near his boat over and over as one of his companions presented the beautiful bird with food, placed close enough that the amazing creature came within a few feet of their boat in it’s graceful dive and return to flight. That wasn’t the only magic, but those parts are not for me to tell. They’re his to cherish.
For weeks after that trip, my dad was willing to go with us on small errands. Over and over he said how much he missed Wisconsin, how he wanted to go back, how he hadn’t wanted to leave. He was happy in his sadness. At this point my dad made it out of the well and into the sunlight but he didn’t leave the ledge to explore his new surroundings. At least a smile comes easily now. Months have passed. An unusually hot summer came and went. Now autumn. There’s a chance his brother will take him to the woods before winter. I haven’t heard.
But what can I do? I don’t ask in hopes that someone will hand me the magic solution. I ask because a few minutes ago I realized I’ve given up and that makes me sad. He does take care of our 4 cats that have all adopted him. He gives them generous love and attention. He gets their special allergen free food from the vet across town. He buys grapes for his grandsons when he knows they’ll be over for a movie-a-thon. He’s interested in our family life, in the most recent adventure, an ever changing report. But he barely leaves his house and doesn’t eat enough to have sufficient energy on the rare occasion he goes out socially.
I get it! I get that I don’t get it. I know the number of times, in my own life, when well meaning people have missed the mark trying to help me out of some emotional wreck I was managing internally. It’s like this. I’d go to his house every morning at dawn, open all the windows, brew fresh coffee and blast Beethoven if I thought it would help. Rather, I do think it would help, but not if I walked away soon after, leaving him to have to close a curtain if the sun’s too bright, or close all the windows if it rains. Leaving him to himself in a wide open space, full of emotional triggers, like a gentle breeze or natural light. I have an affirmation I must say sometimes or suffer. “I pray for the willingness to accept the prosperity in my life.” I get the need for this kind prayer from my dad. Too much beauty hurts.
Maybe I didn’t give up. Maybe I’m simply being more respectful than I used to be. I used to make his private world up to be serene to me, because I assumed it would be so to him. Instead he’d get uncomfortable. He’d sigh and politely ask that I return his things to their proper place.
I haven’t spent much time at my parents lately. I’ve been busy home schooling boys, doing my best to maintain a clean and loving household, baking for the business we decided not to continue, teaching with Soul Miners Children’s Theater Company or out on my own for much needed Heidi time while my mom and dad watched their grandsons. But when I am there long enough to cook a meal, I try to make what he likes. Meat. I can’t manage beef, but I’ll prepare buffalo. I don’t ask if he’s hungry. I hand him a bowl of meat, rice and vegetables with salt and butter on top, a spoon and napkin. Then I walk away. He smiles. He eats.
Maybe we’ve simply turned a corner in our relationship. I can no longer be the daughter who spends long afternoons at his house, cleaning (because I’ll clean almost anyones house if they let me), looking through family photos, telling him eagerly all my new insights about life and the world, listening to him unravel magic tales of meeting spiritual giants back in his 20’s or carefully framing advice I didn’t ask for so it doesn’t sound like advice. He’s good at that last one.
I guess it’s time I love him just as he is, grateful for every inch of progress, every smile, every act of generousity, every spontaneous visit to our house, every enchanting story of his childhood, even if it’s so much less than before. Love him just as he is. Yes.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 10 of 30 Thinking Outloud About My Father

  1. Katrina says:

    I have a parent that I’ve all but given up on too. I want her to be who I need her to be instead of loving and accepting her for who she is at any given moment. Isn’t that what anyone wants, to be loved and accepted just as they are?

  2. Amy says:

    Heidi, love, you’ve done all you possibly can. Know this: if you were with him 24/7; if you had no husband/children/life of your own; if you gave every ounce of energy and love you possess (considerable resources), it would not be enough. Trust me on this. I’ve been trying to lift my father’s depression for nearly 50 years now. When a person falls in love with their own misery, there is no remedy. Nothing is enough. I’ve only recently let myself off the hook by realizing that I am not responsible for my father’s happiness (or misery). We can never be responsible for anyone else’s happiness. Your dad is the only one who can do that for himself and it’s very clear that either he doesn’t think it’s possible or that he is unwilling to make an effort. It stinks, but there it is. You can continue to do the things that he responds to and enjoy those moments. It’s better than nothing.

  3. Heidi says:

    Katrina, It’s true. People say it all the time. But practicing loving people as they are is harder, so hard we often don’t realize we’re imposing our expectations onto others, at least I didn’t until I wrote this.
    Amy, Lotta wisdom here. A lot to ponder. The biggest relief is that I let myself off the hook when I gave up. It’s surely the healthiest response for all concerned. I’ll have to think about the idea that one can “fall in love with their own misery.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *