Well, another unexpected hiatus from this blog has come and (hopefully gone). The spring was so overbooked with work and fun and family and combinations of those that I just kind of leaned into it and lived – somewhat mind fully.
But today I feel inspired to share. There is a lot going on in our family these days. Micah turned 8 this week. [8!!!] And Tim’s father is dying. So much joy and sadness all at the same time. Kind of like life in general I guess.
All of these milestones have filled my head with thoughts of parenthood, marriage, and even medicine. But particularly about fathers and sons. Tim’s dad has been ill for a long time. We have witnessed him transform from a tall, strong, extremely robust man, to a weak and frail man due to a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. And he is still young. It has been humbling, devastating, and poignant. Now we are on the cusp of the next phase: life without Grampy.
Tim has been the “man on the ground” helping his dad to manage all of this.
Grampy hasn’t had a wife or partner for many years, so this has been almost entirely on Tim’s shoulders. His brother has been a support, but lives far away and has his own feelings, family, and anxiety to deal with. And so it has been Tim who negotiated the health care system to get a diagnosis. Tim who arranged the nursing home placement. And Tim who has borne first witness to the deterioration. Tim has also been communication coordinator, spending countless hours on the phone with far away family and friends who want to know about Grampy’s status. The burden of all this (my word not his, Tim would NEVER say it was a burden) is greater because Tim is a doctor. Everyone wants to talk to him about it. Nobody is happy getting the information from any other family member because they feel they might not be getting all the details.
It has taken a great toll on Tim. I wish I could tell you I have always been a supportive wife, but sometimes I felt resentful of the time and energy his dad’s illness took out of Tim. This, coupled with the demands of his job, has left Tim with little inner resource for dealing with a wife and 3 small children. And, at times, I have resented this. I have wished things were different. I have been angry and frustrated.
But mostly, I have been awed. Tim and his dad have handled this so gracefully, so patiently, and with such dignity, that I can only stand back in the wings and admire them.
Grampy was a flawed parent, as we all are. BUT he did one thing better than any of the other parents I know well: he was/is his sons greatest fan. And I mean greatest fan. He truly believed they were the smartest, the strongest, the BEST at whatever they tried. His sons, of course, were embarrassed by this from time to time. They often had to stand on the sidelines listening to their dad tell embellished stories of their accomplishments. But I can tell you, I know they also secretly loved it. And I can also tell you, as the daughter of realists, that I also loved witnessing this grandiosity. This pure and unadulterated belief that his sons could achieve anything, was a wonderful gift he gave to them. They are both game to try anything: any sport, speaking any language because they believe they can do it! (for the most part, they can, they ARE impressive people, if I do say so myself).
Father-son relationships can be complicated in the same way mother-daughter relationships are often complicated. In my house, Micah doesn’t allow Tim to teach him anything. And Tim doesn’t have the patience to try different approaches with Micah. They often have trouble understanding each other, and Micah’s habits often annoy Tim out of proportion with what they would if it was not his oldest son doing them. There is love and admiration between them, but also expectation and frustration. As I said, it is complicated. But Tim had a great role model in his dad. And when it counts he returns to that as his guide for how to be with his own son. A gift from one generation to another.
We are witnessing the passing of a soul from this world. And we are witnessing as families and not as doctors. We are asking for advice and expert opinions on what to do and how to make decisions, instead of being the experts. However, our knowledge of life and death and realities of what can and cannot be changed, does help. I am struck once again how lucky we are to live this life with each other.
As we spend these days close to home, and close to Grampy’s side, I am struck by the opportunity to think about life and death and love and relationships.
Death is sad. The passing of your parent at a young age, is a tragedy. A long, protracted, degenerative illness can be an awful way to die, but it does allow for one positive: the people around you have time to be with you and to accept what is to come. Tim’s dad deserved to have his sons by his side as he died and that is how it is happening. He would have been proud of the way they are handling this. The truth is, he would have said that they were doing the best job anyone ever did of managing the death of a loved one. I know he would have. And you know, he may be right about his one.