Tonight I hosted a little dinner party for my BFF Beth for her birthday. Granted, her birthday was a couple months ago but we finally found time to fit it in before the summer ended.
And I found that I could finally talk about that hard topic without washing out into a puddle of messy tears.
That topic is my dad.
I'm OK with the gray hair on my head but when it comes to my parents, the aging process is almost too much to handle. And after a year, I'm finally giving myself space to feel clarity and peace with my dad's stroke.
One year ago, August 10, we took him to the ER. Five days later, after a myriad of scans and tests, he went home with the diagnosis of having suffered a minor stroke. He's come a long way in the past year, recovering memory and ability to communicate thoughts. He's regained some of his confidence. And I am thankful to God for that!! But there are still enough differences in his personality and behavior that make me incredibly sad.
And I realized on my most recent trip home at the end of July that this sadness was grief, it was a deep sense of loss that I had not yet processed. I hadn't grieved the sense of loss that I felt in seeing my strong, reliable dad fall victim to a stroke, no matter how minor. Rather than deal with it, I dove into my work and I traveled and kept myself busy. I never took the time to process what this event in our lives meant to us and what it cost us and what it gave us. I just kept pushing it to the bottom of the "to do" list.
As that last trip home came to close, I was ready to get out of there. Because I knew I had to deal with this grief. But I couldn't do it there; the sight of my dad just was too much reality. Don't get me wrong. It's not like Dad is some vegetable with no reaction to the world. In fact, I encountered several moments with the "pre-stroke" Dad that gave me comfort. But it was the times that I faced the "new brain," as we call it, that I wondered if things would ever be as they were or if the new reality of aging parents (and aging selves) was something I just needed to accept. Grieve the loss and accept the new.
So, I came back to Nashville and I started to process - with myself, with my sister, with friends - and I discovered something: talking about it helps! (Another blog about the need for friends and community coming up!) It helps because I'm not the first person to go through this - plenty of my friends have faced the loss of a parent or the sickness of a parent - and it helps because whether friends can empathize or not, they are willing to sympathize and listen and I don't feel so alone. I can sob about it or just get a little misty-eyed and it's OK.
So, as I've processed and talked it out, I've discovered that one thing which upsets me the most is the idea of aging. I'm just not ready for this "taking care of the parents" business. Even though I know that my mom was my age when her mom started making regular hospital/doctor visits. (And it certainly didn't help that in the months following my dad's stroke, I kept finding gray hair on top of my head.) The idea of growing old, especially of my young-at-heart parents growing old, shouldn't be on our minds yet.
The other thing which upsets me is that anyone I introduce to my dad now won't know the old dad in his entirety. We have moments with him now but it's not all the time and that's hard. Because you never know which dad, or which brain, you're gonna get. New or old. That old brain was a wonder. Dad has always been the quiet one, observing and listening. When he spoke, you listened because you knew his words were carefully chosen. Loyal as the day is long. Gentle but firm spirit when it came to discipline. “Measure twice, cut once” showed his thoroughness; his brain worked in a very linear fashion, with a tendency toward perfectionism. And a sneaky sense of humor, that if you hung around long enough, you’d see it often.
People tell me, like Beth did tonight, that given time, it could all come back. I pray that's so. Cuz I miss that dad. That's what brings tears to my eyes; I miss him. But even if it doesn't, I know life, as it does in many cases, will take on this new normal, and that'll be OK, too. And like I said in my previous blog entry [Here] the same power that conquered the grave lives in me and in my dad, and while things might feel less than whole and less than perfect in both me and him, by God's truth, they are not. And it's there that a smile takes over my face.
The tears still come from time to time, but I find they are shorter in duration now and less frequent. And I'll keep talking about it with friends and family because I've discovered that really helps. And hopefully for next time, I'll remember not to run and hide but to face it and deal with it.