I guess we never stop being a parent. We never stop trying to teach and guide our kids. I had a feeling this is the way it worked but I now see it is the absolute truth.
When my dad was dying of cancer, there were only two of us who took care of him. Me and his partner Jim. Jim was there 24/7. I had 3 little girls to care for also so I had to go home to my house every once and a while to make sure they were eating and clean. I’m very lucky that I have good kids. The 11 year old totally stepped up and cared for the younger two. I was also very fortunate to live less than a mile from my dad’s. My then husband and I were astranged. He was some where on the streets and of no use to me, the kids or my father. A major factor in deciding to divorce. So just Jim and myself dealing with the ravages of cancer. If you have ever watched someone you love die, well, it is a life changing experience.
There are so many funny stories that happened. And so very many that are just not funny at all. But my dad, even on his death bed continued to be my dad. He was addicted to cigarettes. And being the end, neither Jim nor I could deny him the relief that smoking gave him. But he was too weak to safely hold the cigarette himself so Jim or I had to hold it while he smoked. The first time I did this for him was a riot. I smoked for years when I was young. I quit when I was pregnant with my oldest. So, I knew what I was doing. I lit one up and gave it to dad.He looked at me and said in a very weak voice “Do you want a spanking? Good girls do NOT smoke” He promptly dropped it on the wool blanket and then shook it to the floor where it began to burn a hole in the oriental.
I knew then Jim wasn’t kidding when he told me I had to hold it for dad.He would burn the house down. So, from then on, I wouldn’t let him see me light the damn thing, just hold it for him as he took a drag or two. Seriously, this is a horrifying disease.
Nothing bonds two people like caring for the one they love as they die. Jim and I clicked from the beginning and I moved in to help him care for dad during his last weeks. Eventually dad stopped speaking all together. Jim suggested that I have a dear friend who is an Episcopalian priest and volunteer for hospice come and pray with us. So I call Tom and he comes. As I bring Tom in and thank him for coming he is taking in the whole situation. Tom knows me and the kids and he says to dad ” You must be so very proud of your daughter. I know your granddaughters and they are all so very beautiful just like their mom” And I of course try to deflect the compliments saying “Oh, those poor kids having to look like their mother!” And dad gives me a look and nods at Tom and mouths “say Thank You.” And I meekly say “Thank you Tom” Even after his voice had left him and he could not leave the bed, as death was waiting to claim him, he was still being my dad. Guiding me, reminding me that I am a reflection of him and that he loves me. Jeeze Dad….
Coming from a divorced, dysfunctional family is difficult. Cancer is evil. Hospice and making the decision and commitment to die at home and all that entails is overwhelming. And through it all, my dad never stopped being a parent. No matter that I was doing the caretaking. No matter that the physical roles were reveresed and I was feeding and cleaning him as he did for me when I was a little girl. He always was my dad, always setting the example and encouraging me to do the right thing, the best thing for me and for my girls.
About a week before he died he and I had an adventure. And at the end of the adventure, even though I knew that he was in no shape to make decisions I was still looking to him for what I should do. And he knew. He was at death’s door and he was still the dad. I was still the kid. He had strength and courage and a deep well of knowledge that few unsick people have. His determination is what led us on our adventure. And although it was not the best laid out adventure he and I had taken (the coast of Maine, Tavern on the Green, Cats on Broadway….) it was something I will never forget or regret.
I miss my dad but I am very proud to say he never once stopped being my dad. So, it never ends once it begins. Parenthood that is.