Standing at the door to my bedroom, my father stood in his dark blue suit tapping his foot while staring at his sixteen-year-old daughter. “Jackie, hurry up. We’re going to be late,” he ordered.
In the Madden family, punctuality was right up there with perfect manners and good hygiene. We were never allowed to be late for anything. Being tardy for school, church, or dinner, was equivalent to a mortal sin. It was a sign of disrespect and punishable with near death, or at the very least, a good grounding.
“Dad, I still have five minutes,” I hissed, desperately trying not to be insolent. “You can’t rush a girl when she’s in the final stages of fluffing herself.”
Doing his typical “harrumphing” when at a loss for words, he pointed at his watch, and said, “you just wasted one minute. You have four left.”
Since I was a child, I’ve always found it amazing that he could shower and shave in less time than it took to pour a bowl of cereal. I, on the other hand, seemed to need an entire day. Picking out that special outfit took time and deliberation. And hair and makeup? That took an eternity. But now the tables have turned, and I watch my 96-year-old father slow down as he gets ready to make his final journey home.
Each day say starts with the same simple routine – a sponge bath in bed and fresh adult diaper. Next, he’s dressed in sensible sweatpants and easy to slip on a cotton shirt. Finally, he’s wheeled to his breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and medication. All this takes about one hour, then it’s off to his tattered and worn-out recliner for a day filled with what appears to be devoid of anything substantial. With his eyes closed, he looks like he’s asleep, but I know better.
Jack Madden is a gentle man that converses with the Lord daily in his mind, body, and soul. In those quiet hours alone in his chair, he connects with the spiritual world. I know my mother is calling him to be with her, but he’s not ready. He has things to think about, a lifetime to remember, and people to pray for.
My caregiving journey with my dad has me constantly re-evaluating the gift we call life and a family’s role in it. Why do some die young and others live way past what is deemed reasonable and even necessary? Has medical science gone too far in keeping people alive longer than they should be? Is it a requirement that an adult child now be responsible for their aging parents after just launching their own children? Sure, our parents cared for us when we were young, but that was their choice. They wanted children to complete them just as we’ve done. Will we be expecting the same from our children? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. Only what works for the people involved.
Years ago, I made a promise I’d never leave my father in a nursing home. Has it been easy? Hell no! The house constantly smells of dirty diapers and the floors and walls are permanently scarred with divots from the metal spokes of his wheelchair. I have no freedom for he can never be left alone, and I feel trapped, and often angry at the unfairness of it all.
Does it have its rewards? Absolutely! With my dad by my side each day, I’ve learned not only about my heritage and the incredible human being I’m proud to call my father, but about humanity– especially mine. I’ve been able to care for another human being despite the hardship and pain to me. I’ve learned to set aside my negative emotion and selfishness because of a treasured life. But most importantly, for me, because it’s been the right thing to do.
So, as I watch him get ready to give me that final last kiss good night, I pray, “God, give him all the time he wants. Let him stand in front of that mirror in his mind and study every line that traverses of his handsome face for it’s the map of where his life has traveled. Let him look into his closet and take hours to pick the perfect outfit to wear and allow him more time to comb that beautiful white hair for as long as he wishes.”
As far as I’m concerned, this is one time my daddy can be impolite and throw punctuality out the window. I’m thrilled he’s too busy to die because I’m too selfish to let him go.
Being a caregiver is never easy, but the rewards ultimately wrap your shoulders in warmth in an often cold, self-indulgent world. Have you ever been a caregiver? What was your experience?