Twenty-four days until my new roommate comes to stay. At ninety-five, it will be a challenge for him. He’ll be leaving the only home he’s known for the past fifty-one years. All his memories are locked up between those walls – the joys, the fears, watching his four children fly away one-by-one and the tears over the loss of my mother. I look at what we’ll be taking, and it’s all very simple: a few clothes, his hospital issued bed, his wheelchair, and the threadbare recliner in the living room.
“Dad, what else do you want?” I asked, surprised that no pictures or family heirlooms were included.
“That’s all I’ll need.”
I was shocked to see how minimal his life had become. This brilliant World War II Navy Vet whose mind is like a steel trap where nothing gets by him, but lives in a body that has totally abandoned him, only wanted the basics. I, on the other hand, would want the whole damn house!
On my recent visits, we prepare for his new homecoming, what our days together will be like and the things we’ll need and want to discuss. There’ll be walks in the sun, his daughter pushing his awkward metal chair around the neighborhood. I’m sure he’ll aspire to know about every neighbor and their children. These quarter-mile jaunts will most likely take over an hour as we stop to talk to anyone who’s willing to say hello. And if it’s on a day with no visible neighbor in sight, we discuss the architecture, landscape, and color of the quadrant I call home.
When I first swallowed this was truly going to happen, I became terrified. It’s what I’ve wanted for quite some time now, but was I fully prepared? It was killing me watching how his daily routine led to absolutely nothing. He has twenty-four-hour care, but that’s all they do. No mental stimulation, no discussion, not even a “how are you?” Just clean the body, shave the face, change the diapers, and a feeding here and there. All his friends are gone. There are no visitors except myself. This couldn’t go on any longer.
But as I embraced the upcoming adventure, I realized the gift will be more for me than him. He is the last of a long line of Irish immigrants who suffered greatly so their children would have better lives. He is the only family historian left – the keeper of the Madden Family Secrets. I want to know them all!
Do I think this will be easy? Hell, no! Changing my father’s diapers and screaming in his ear just so we can have a conversation was not something I planned for my future. But each time I visit I realize how limited my time with him is. This sentry of the guard’s mission is coming to a close, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. Once it’s over, I will have many more years to call all my own. I know God has put this here to be one of my greatest life gifts of all and I can hardly wait!