February 13, 2013 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself
When the social worker from hospice care came to visit soon after we moved my dad back home, we discovered he was a storyteller. Michael didn’t just lay out the facts; he illustrated them using the tales of others that have already completed the journey my dad has begun. My sister and I listened avidly, cataloguing the list of landmarks we’d see as he would gradually turn inward to gather energy for dying.
For my dad, however, I can only imagine that this was incredibly difficult to hear. Michael made it easy by couching it in terms of others. I could almost see the wheels turning in my dad’s head as he spun the web of denial that has become second nature to him. “He’s talking about other people,” I guessed he was thinking. “That won’t be me.”
Then Michael turned to my sister and I and told us different tales, those of caregivers and loved ones and the paths they traveled. He singled me out specifically to say “Guilt has no place here.” He was referring to the fact that I was unable to be here full-time for my dad like my sister could and that I, in all probability, would miss the moment where my dad would slip forever from the land of the living.
At the time, I remember thinking: “But I don’t feel guilty.” There was no time. Things were moving so fast. Giving half my time to my boys at home and the other half to my dad was all I could even think of doing.
But the days my dad had left on this earth have turned into weeks. Is this good? I don’t know.
When I watch his face light up as he peruses a new book just delivered by Amazon, when I see him enjoy a warm cinnamon roll, or when we have conversations where he is lucid and alert, I think his extra time here is a gift. Finally, his stubbornness in listening to those in the medical establishment is serving him well.
Watching him vomit up more bites of food than he can keep down, suffer through insomnia, battle weakness, fatigue, confusion, and the loss of the ability to do almost all of the activities he used to enjoy, and I wonder….
For me, the extra time has allowed guilt to arrive. I feel guilty about leaving my sister to take care of my dad alone. I feel guilty about leaving my kids for so long and for so often. I feel guilty about having to rely on others to help my family while I am out of town, and I feel guilty when I’m home and not with my dad, knowing that he has precious little time left.
Guilt, guilt, and more guilt.
But Michael said “Guilt has no place here.”
Is it possible that he is right?
Today I’m leaving on a plane with my sons for a mid-winter vacation we had planned months ago. I’m leaving my sister alone with my dad, knowing that anything could happen while I’m gone. And I’m trying to make peace with the guilt.
Does leaving make me a bad daughter? A bad sister? A selfish person? All of the above? Maybe.
But I miss my kids. I’ve missed every basketball game and indoor soccer game my two oldest sons have played this season. I’ve missed doing homework with them, reading them bedtime stories, and listening to their chatter about their day when they walk in the door from school. I’ve missed lounging by them on the couch on a lazy rainy day, watching the Super Bowl with them, and simply being a part of their daily lives.
Our family needs to regroup. We need to get away and re-connect as a core unit. I need to be in the land of the living for awhile: laughing, loving life, enjoying things again with the people I love the most.
I don’t know what will happen while I’m gone, but I do know this: our vacation is a gift. I am going to soak up every last minute of this quality time with my sons, and guilt is not invited.
But I’m sure it will be waiting for me when I get home.