I’m glad I’m not French. No offense to the French, I actually love the country, the food, and the people… but twelve years ago on Bastille Day, our lives changed forever. If it were any other normal day, I maybe wouldn’t remember the anniversary (which is a weird thing to say) of my dad’s stroke. But it’s Bastille Day in France, and I remember hearing the Marseillaise on the news in the airport as we waited for our flight from Dallas to Chicago. Now the Marseillaise is forever associated with my father’s stroke (hence, I’m glad I’m not French), which means every July 14th – I remember. Extreme crisis can do that: take one thing and affiliate it with another unrelated thing – forever. I’m just glad it wasn’t pizza.
In the back of my mind, I’m writing a book about this experience, I’ve tentatively called it 4,092 Deaths and Counting. The title is a work in progress, because today is officially 4,380. Four thousand three hundred and eighty mornings of “different.” Of love, of loss, of joy, of heartache, of gratitude, of patience, of frustration, of fear, of anger, of relief, of hope. 4,380 days of being human and living alongside dying. It’s not for the faint-hearted, I can tell you that.
Almost exactly a year ago, dad transitioned to a care facility. So, we’ve now had almost 365 days of a different kind of “different,” one that requires both more and less fortitude. Easier, in some ways, and more challenging in others – overall, though, this doesn’t get easier. I think there was a time when I thought it would. Alas, I was wrong. I wrote about it in an article a few months ago: Trapped Out of Love. (If you haven’t read it – you can read it here.)
For his part, Dad seems to be doing well. He enjoys the activities and commotion at his new residence, something that was sorely lacking here at home. The staff love him and call him “smiley,” because he is always smiling. Some call him “Judge,” because he was a lawyer – which, as you can imagine, he gets a kick out of. Mom goes to visit him several times a week, and I am able to get there every weekend – usually bringing him his favorite contraband in the form of lunch. (The pizza gene is strong!) In nicer weather, we take walks outside where there are ponds and wildlife galore. Dad also really enjoys plane-spotting, as the campus is somewhat in the flight path of two airports. All in all, it’s a simpler life for him, one with a grace and ease that accompanies living in a care facility.
For us, it’s a relief to know he’s being looked after by medical professionals 24/7, while still causing some guilt over not being able to keep him at home. That’s the conundrum of aging and illness, isn’t it? Deciding on what’s best for the patient, as well as what’s best for the family. Often times, those needs don’t match up. And even though he’s not physically at home, he’s still here in some intangible way, every day.
So, each time I think of counting the days, I hear the lyrics from Rent in my mind: “525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year… how about love?” I’m pretty certain we’ve measured 12 years in love… alongside all the other emotions that come with the territory. And so, we continue to do so – for how many more days, nobody knows.
Now, perhaps, there’s a reason for the Marseillaise after all, with it’s simple echo of: “Marchons, marchons!” And so we do.
Afternoon walk with Dad on a summer day