“Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
I have been offered this sage advice by many dear friends over the last few weeks and months, and I truly appreciate it. I do. It comes from a place of deep caring and wisdom-filled experience, and I take the advice to heart. I also know, however, that for me, in this tender time of waiting and holding, that caring for myself and caring for my father are the same thing.
During the times when I am away from my father, while one of my sisters is with him instead, I use the time to catch up on my life – laundry, dishes, spending time with my cat, Oliver. I have also used that time to write or have coffee or lunch with a friend. Sometimes, I just try to “be.” But always, my mind is with Dad. And my desire is to be with him in every moment that I can. If my wish is granted, I will be with him as he makes his final transition, holding his hand and telling him how much I love him. I hold that wish as gently and lightly as I can, as I know there is no guarantee it will be granted. And it will be ok.
Dad is not too responsive at this stage. A few days ago, he slept until 2:30 before finally waking up enough for me to feed him “breakfast.” I was so grateful he wanted to eat. It would be his only meal of the day, but it was a meal. I started by offering some pineapple sherbet, then a whole banana, followed by some donut holes with OJ and coffee. An impressive meal. Yesterday, he ate only a banana. Today, he has been asleep too much to eat anything and likely would decline the offer of food.
Until today, bananas have been our saving grace. He will almost always eat a banana when nothing else holds appeal. One morning, while feeding him a banana, I said, “Dad, you know what song I always think of when I eat a banana?” He did not. So, I sang the song that he sang to me so many mornings when I was young, while we shared our breakfast bananas. “Yes, we have no bananas! We have no bananas today!” A silly novelty song from his youth. He smiled as I sang, and he said the words with me. That prompted him to remember some other lyrics – “The politician’s daughter was accused of drinking water.” Turns out, they belonged to another song he loved from that time period, “The Coffee Song” by Frank Sinatra, but no matter. It brought him some joy to recall the words, and it brought me joy to share the memories. Self care.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve done lots of self care. I’ve gotten Dad a drink of water. I’ve adjusted his pillows. I’ve helped him to the bathroom. I’ve talked with him about old family photos filled with people I never knew, and some he never knew. I’ve shared silly songs and poems with him. I’ve listened to classical music with him. I’ve read the Bible to him. I’ve shared time with my mom and sisters, who have all been amazing through this journey. I’ve shared meals with all of them. And a few tears. I’ve sat on the front porch with Dad while we watched my nephew blow bubbles in the yard. I’ve taken walks in my childhood backyard. I’ve sat next to my father, holding his hand while he slept. And I’ve told him I love him more times than I ever have during my entire life.
“It’s ok to go, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too … so much … You’ll all be ok. Is this Sara?”
“One of the best.”
Self care doesn’t get much better.