“How are you?”
When I was 13, my dad almost died right before my eyes. I always preface my reflections on this era with my age because it adds to the drama, but it really does matter. I turned 13 the day my dad was moved from CCU to a “regular” hospital room. And then the rest of my life happened. There was adolescence and there was teenager, young adult and now. There was my daddy and then there was a new dad, with new abilities and inabilities. There was my happy, childhood family and then my family, with all of the reality that comes along with being the family of a disabled, differently-abled, different dad. I’m honestly proud of myself that, at an age when girls are usually learning how to flirt and practice make up, I learned how to change a colostomy bag and clean a catheter.
And people wonder why I’m so weird…
Years later, not just immediately after the “accident” or injury or whatever we decided to call that life-changing event; for years, people would ask me, “How’s your dad?”, “How is he?” I would get so pissed off. I would get angry. If I had the acronym then, I’d be like, “WTF do you think?” Of course, in reality, I’d say, “He’s doing well. He’s getting stronger. He’s getting better.”
There was a point in my adulthood when I realized my answer to that dreaded question could no longer be, “He’s getting better.” I recognized that my dad had met his body’s limitations. He had reached a plateau and what was important was that he took care of himself there as best as he could. Weight was always an issue, but what most people did not realize was that he could not exercise to lose the weight and that he retained a lot of water. It wasn’t just as simple as my dad “going on a diet” or even taking diuretics. There were always many factors involved that kept him in a range of obesity.
Like all of us, he had years where he found an exercise regime that worked for him or did a little better about watching what he ate. Due to the never-ending issues with his physical body, it was hard for these things to ever last. New medications or injuries from overexertion would take their toll and again he would have a setback. None of this is that different from what you and I deal with when trying to be healthy, lose weight, or get in shape, but people didn’t usually see it that way. My family and I, we saw how people looked at him, with his walk that kind of rocked in that conspicuous way. We saw the judgment.
What was so hard about these looks and snickers was that these people didn’t know what – who – they were missing out on. They didn’t know the friendship, support, inspiration, humor, and unconditional love that this man had to give, despite a life of chronic pain and physical limitations. What was especially hard about these looks and snickers was how they carried even into the hospital when he was fighting for his life. It was painful for me to see someone, whose job was to care for him, make jokes with a coworker outside his door. It was painful and so difficult to trust these people with the life of my dad, who had done so much despite the pain and disabilities and was stronger than they could ever imagine. But I had to. Living with a dad like this, with so many challenges, and so much pain, taught me how to trust. It taught me a necessary lesson about control, perceived control and the lack-there-of. It taught me faith.
And in this new phase of my life, the dreaded question has moved from, “How is your dad?” to, “How are you?” I understand that both of these questions are a way to show care, a way that people are trying to show that they are thinking of me and my family. I know and understand all of that. But. But, please don’t expect any kind of real answer off the cuff, especially if I am at my work place. Especially, if you see me trying to focus on a task or get things done. I just can’t go there. I want to give a real answer, but if I do that I wouldn’t be able to get back to the place where I need to be to get my job done. And if you are genuinely wanting to show you care, or that you’re “here” for me, send me a note. If you can’t tell, I like writing. I appreciate it the thoughtfulness and time that comes with it. I do appreciate your care and that you want to show it, but I will appreciate the intent of your question much more if it comes in a way that I can hear and respond in my own time.
So how am I? I am. I just am. At the end of my dad’s life, I am tracing through our life together, finding the threads that follow as far back as I can remember. Following the threads that are most tightly wound around my heart. Distinguishing the pain of loss now, the loss then, and all of the in-between. I am relishing the gift of a life with this amazing man as my dad and wondering how I will be able to continue on without this immense force of life cheering me on through the rest of it. That’s it. That’s how I am. I’m okay. I’ll be okay. But I’m working through it and it’s hard work.
Please know, if you see any personal resemblance to the remarks written, this is not personally about you. These are my personal reflections and processes as I work through my stuff. The “who” that I am writing to is a basic, Anyone, not you personally. The stuff I’m writing is just that – my stuff. If it is a help to you as you struggle through anything similar, than I am grateful. I’ll probably be writing more of my work through grief as it comes, but, as they say, grief does not have a timeline.
More about me and dad: I Called My Dad (Mostly) Every Day for a Month and Here’s What Happened