Family dynamics. Just when I think I have grown up and figured out how to be with my family, meaning I know how to show up like a whole person, not simply react and get angry, I find out, I was wrong. That magnetic pull back into old patterns and old stories comes crashing back as I find myself dealing with my dad’s fading health.
Honestly, I thought I could handle this and that in so many ways we were clear. When I visited, I stayed more current and primarily interested in my parent’s as people now. Yet, my father’s declining health and the fact that we as family are being called back together, has me spinning. I am not as good at staying out of the old stories or patterns.
Last weekend my father, at 92 years old, was admitted to the hospital with chronic heart failure. It looked like he might not make it through the night. Now, about a week later he is stable and wants to come home. The problem is that he isn’t quite that strong, and my mother, though a nurse and quite willing to do all she can to make that happen, isn’t young (she is now 86) and strong enough to do that on her own. We are all trying in our own way to figure out what is best. There’s this timing piece of when to come to visit. There’s fears that coming to visit may imply we are assuming he is dying. However, not coming may mean not being there if he does die.
Of course, there are a number of difficulties here. One, I don’t think we do a good job of talking about death and dying. Honestly, for ten years my father has been going through near-death experiences and my mother has become more responsible for his care. We don’t really talk about that. Then there’s our own dynamics that come up. Personally, I would prefer us all be together – Mom, Penny, Melissa and I – and Dad, if he is up for it, talking about death and dying. Yet, I know, or believe, others prefer to wait until after he dies or right when he is dying. At that point, I think the conversation is very different. Still, as the youngest, (OMG, is that really still the card I am playing? You see it’s the family magnet!) I don’t say what I want. I wait. Oddly, I am not really certain what would happen if I just asked for what I wanted. I am often the one outside of my family system known for starting the tough conversation, saying what isn’t being said. So it seems the family magnet is at play once again.
It’s all so hard. Last week, I was saying good-bye to a friend, fifty-four who passed away. In the past couple years, a number of friends between 55-65 have died. Now, my father at 92 in so many ways has had an amazing life. I hear so often how awesome it is that he keeps going. Yet – I do wonder and feel guilty when I have a moment of wishing he was closer to simply letting go. Okay, I said that, wrote it and feel horrible seeing it out on the page. But I am not going to hit delete because I am not trying to be mean. I just don’t always believe living longer is better. I am not certain my dad’s holding on doesn’t come at a cost – may be a cost that is too great.
So many of my friends are facing similar situations with aging parents. I do wonder if anyone else has those moments when they feel as I do or do most people just want their parents to live forever? Last night, I went to a silent auction for a the Tamarack Grief Resource Center here in MT. There were a number of stories shared about how families deal with the loss of loved ones. I had bought the ticket a while ago, mainly because a friend asked, and I thought a worthy cause. Little did I know I would be comforted myself as I listened to the many ways people grieve and the importance of making space for that.
I do hope I can make that space for my family and for myself. It seems my dad will be riding this wave for a while. I must find the best way for me to take the ride as well, and we may not always agree on what that looks like. What I do know is that this is not simply about my dad and his transition. This is really something that is impacting all of us. That larger impact, I think, can so often be forgotten. I don’t want to forget that. I also don’t simply want to live at the mercy of the magnet. Sure the pull is there and may be worth looking at, but I don’t want to get sucked in or totally repelled away. During this time, I want to stand in my own shoes, with family, family dynamics and all.
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