Funny how caregiving is the gift that just keeps on giving. We think it is just about the physical care and emotional roller coaster of caring for loved ones. With their passing comes a whole new package of personal work that pulls up all the many things we ignored during the times of providing care.
Some of the issues are easy to work through, while others are landmines. This is a short story of one of the latter.
The Bad Son
The funeral, while expected, was not really an ending but another beginning. This time the person I was having to help was me.
At first there was the guilt of feeling relieved and happy at Dad’s passing.
I wasn’t supposed to feel good about such a thing, right?
I tried so very hard to feel bad but this just amplified the peacefulness that had settled over me.
What kind of son was I to enjoy his father’s death? I had all of these mental images of the tears and anguish I had witnessed at funerals, both real and the Hollywood versions, that just didn’t come.
I didn’t feel like a bad son. I didn’t feel anything really.
Actually, as I found out over time, my experiences were pretty normal. Many of us get to grieve the loss of a loved one while they are declining over time. By the time the funeral roles around, all of our grief is already out and we are ready to move on.
Not to say there haven’t been any more issues about my relationship with my father to work through. That work still goes on today.
Okay, so I really wasn’t the monster I thought I had become, though there were a few family members who might have disagreed. Grief and objectivity are a tough combination when you are expecting to see the public wails over loss. I probably did appear too distant. At that stage, distant was all I could muster.
There wasn’t anything else left.
Eventually I got around to thinking of my last conversations, my last visit- my last everything with him.
Treacherous emotional footing.
The last phone call stood out though.
It was a nice casual banter about how things were going for him in assisted living, grand-kids visiting, etc.
During the conversation, someone knocked on his door, and as we had been talking a while, he said that he had to get that and he’d call back in a few minutes.
Dementia allows often a limited amount, if any, short-term memory, so that call never came but in context of the long spectrum of events over the previous five years, a missed callback was hardly notable.
For all of the events Dad and I weathered, that hanging promise still sticks with me. Not so much as an unfulfilled promise, there were plenty of those, but as a hope that may some day be met.
The little boy vying for the attention of his Dad is still there. (Dad described the same about himself and his father.) I guess that is what makes me his son – imperfections and all.
And thankfully not the bad son. Just the boy waiting to hear from his Dad.
Caregiving leaves its mark on us. No matter what we do to prepare ourselves, the hole left behind looms large.
― Dale L. Baker