Today it is I who feel every bit like the child. I am picking one of my favorite sister-in-laws up at the airport, with my kids in tow, to cushion us both from the pain of taking the next step. Although I will be very happy to see her, I also feel otherwise. The purpose of her trip is not a happy one. She has come to be with our close family as we lean on one another for emotional support, as we put my father-in-law (her and Mark’s father), a man who has shown me what a father can and should be, into a nursing facility.
My father-in-law is in the end stages of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. Separating him from the woman he has been married to for close to sixty years is heart-breaking. But, it is time. His needs cannot be met any longer by those who love him the most.
My youngest kids never knew the healthy grandpa. He has been slipping away. There is no indication of the special, dedicated man he was. Holden has many memories and Josi a few years of them. I have memories too. Of:
~ his signature, “Be careful!” whenever I left his presence,
~ his twinkling blue eyes every time he greeted me,
~ him claiming me as another daughter,
~ his gentle offer to walk me down the aisle to marry his son,
~ years of shared vacations and meals,
~ walks on the beach,
~ decades of conversation and laughter,
~ him flirting with and teasing my mother-in-law
~ how close he was to his only son (my husband),
~ the quiet pride he had in his family,
~ the fine role model he was as a father and husband,
~ and being accepted and loved unconditionally.
The kids have been patient, compassionate and loving. We adults, children ourselves in times of grief, will need to draw upon the strength and joy our children bring as we all take this next step in the journey of good-bye. We need to show our children how we care and support each other. And the child within me will need to be held as she holds others.