Role Reversal

I am currently in a situation that, while new to me, is not new in our culture or American society. I have been overwhelming my penpal with emails. When I have a lot of emotions and energy that has no immediate outlet, I turn to pen and paper. This is my pattern. This is what I have done for years. This is part of who I am. 

Generally, I keep my musings on this forum contemplative, somewhat light hearted, and related to my travels and experiences therein. I do take a deep dive now and again though the topic is generally related to my life experiences. I will now take a turn. This turn takes me down an unfamiliar and foreign road. It is a road that is poorly lit, hard to navigate, and highly emotional. This turn is down the road of an aging parent in need of care. 

My Pop being silly.

During the course of my life I have lived very far away from family. I left the place in which I grew up for a place that felt more like home. I was also bound and determined to carve out a life of my own, on my own. Nature and the mountains called to me in a way I could never answer in my youth. I decided to use my newly discovered adulthood as an opportunity to learn more and explore that part of who I was. I did so about 2000 miles away from everything and everyone I had ever known.  

Now, some 35 years later, neither of my parents and only one of many siblings are near where I grew up. In fact, my siblings and loved ones are scattered literally across the country, end to end, side to side. My cousins and remaining Aunties are right where I left them oh so many years ago; they are the exception in this scenario. I do not regret my choice, but a wave of melancholy hits now and again when I think about how the story may have changed had I raised my daughter and myself with more family close by. I chose differently. We move on from there.

High School Graduation June 1982

I am currently in the bustling nether regions of Phoenix taking care of my Dad. This has been a very, very rough year for Pop. His life has been turned upside down and inside out. We happily celebrated his 85th birthday together just a couple days ago. Nothing fancy, just some take out pizza, fruit my brother sent and cookies I made. Simple, yet meaningful. I am grateful to have this time. I am also mentally and emotionally exhausted, having spent hours and hours of my time straightening out the current messes that have become his new life. 

I will skip the gory details so as to protect his privacy and dignity as he is not proud of what got him here and he beats himself up daily for making poor choices. Be that as it may, he was hospitalized and gravely ill, causing him to be physically and mentally stripped of who he was. He was months in recovery. He was left homeless and alone sans the ability to manage his affairs but without the wherewithal to know it. He did not receive assistance when it was needed and he acted too quickly to take back control. I am playing catch up, clean up, looking back only to move forward.

Everything he knew in his life has changed, except the family and close friends that continue to love and support him. He has had some hard life lessons during a time when they are not warranted or deserved. Then again, in his life view, God is in charge of all of that. Apparently the lessons we are to learn and the patters we establish during our lives, if left unattended, will remain with us until our last breath. Like literally your entire life! Do your work now while there is time, while it still matters, while you can still remember. Learn your lessons or they will haunt you.

I have stepped in with patience and love. For me, anyway. I can be very intense and focused and many people interpret that as angry and difficult. I am more mellow these days, but still focused on the goal. I am cognizant to preserve the dignity of my Dad and not to steam roll over his feelings or desires. I am working to leave him more stable than when I arrived. I am creating longer term solutions for shorter term problems and giving him tools to be a more active member in his care. He is starting to participate and is still wrapping his head around all that has happened. This will not be a short or easy road. I have run him ragged with appointments and phone calls. I have also taken him to the places of his former life, given him permission to grieve and be sad, and then encouraged him to embrace this next and new chapter. He is still here for a reason and it is not his or my job to question that. Apparently, he is not done. 

I am actually talking about feelings, which is a step for me to break historic and destructive family patters. I have been working on that a lot lately, reliving childhood stresses and dysfunctions. I have been working to undo those ways in which I was raised. I do not blame or resent my childhood, as my parents loved me and my brother, though they passed their dysfunctions on to us. I am working to recognize, understand and then break those patterns. I am working to approach my emotions and feelings in new ways, to understand what they are and express them in ways that are more authentic, better for me, but still scary and new. Again, it is never too late to make a change.  

I am doing a better job with Dad than in the past, though he may not even know the difference. I am putting some of my learning into practice and that is good for me. The last time I saw my Dad he was in a wheelchair in an adult family home. He was living in a 10X10 room and unable to care for himself. His hair was buzzcut into a style he never would have liked or approved. He was in the same clothes the entire time I was with him. Now he is talking and walking and mobile. He changes his clothes on his own every couple of days and his hair is in a style I am used to seeing. He mind is still fuzzy and he is easily confused, but he is better. So much better. 

He deserves the lowest stress environment possible. He deserves to have a quality of life. He deserves so much more. He is also experiencing the consequences of his choices and not even God can change that. I am working as his partner and advisor. I am caring for the parent that has cared for me. I am providing for the man who provided for me. The child has become the parent and the parent now in need of care. How times change. 

God continue to grant me patience and wisdom, forgiveness and grace to lead my Dad through this next, and probably final, phase of his life. God please give my Dad the same. Let’s work together to make his remaining days on Earth full of peace and joy, serenity, laughter and love. Clearly, his life is not done yet and his final chapter not yet on paper. Let’s make it a good one!

Bless us both. 


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