Many of you have lost your parents. Some were lost in an instant; one minute they are there and the next they are gone. Some of you, like our family, are accompanying our folks on a slow, but inevitable, decline.
We've had our fair share of warnings. Heart attacks, stroke, cancer, arterial bypasses, tremors, falls and off and on forgetfulness due to stress. It doesn't make it any easier.
Dad has always been one of the most robust men I have ever known. He also has always had and continues to have one of the quickest wits in the world. To watch his steps become so guarded, to witness his struggles to get up and down breaks my heart. But the part that hurts the most is watching his heart break that he can't climb up and down the bank of the river in the back of his yard; that he feels he can't maintain his beautiful park-like acre.
We had a great work party at the folk's home. Four generations of family showed up to clip, chop and pull the "overwhelming" out of their beautiful yard. Since then, Dad works in the yard several hours a day. One might think he just putters but he works hard. Some might say he works hard for an 87 year old man but he works hard for a man. Mom is out there, right beside him, working to keep the place inviting and serene.
They love their yard and have always had a great pride-of-ownership ethic. Now that the family work party has taken the "where-do-we-start" aspect out of the mix, Mom and Dad can see the individual projects that need their attention.
Mom had Dad rip out a whole wall of ivy (thank you, Frank, for digging out the roots) and now Mom is replacing her half-wall with a bit of custom lattice work. Dad dug out a tree trunk that was at least 3 feet across and 3 feet high. The more they work in the yard, the stronger they seem to get. Dad is steadily building up his stamina.
Its been a battle but thank God our parents taught us persistence and determination. We kids have finally convinced them to let us help. We drive them to doctors visits; interpret doctor-ese for them. We often make calls to various entities to clear up miscommunications. Little stuff for us but big stuff for Mom and Dad.
Early this week my sister drove them to an annual physical exam (where all was pronounced well!). They did some grocery shopping, went to a see a barber and completed a couple of other tasks that needed to be done. Stress free because they didn't have to drive.
Last night, my husband changed the filter on their well, then we sat down for a great dinner. After our meal, Dad and Frank headed out to look at the Chipper, which hasn't run in five years. Mom and I visited inside where the air conditioning protected us from the 100+ heat outside.
I could hear my father's and husband's voices in the back yard as Mom and I talked. Couldn't make out the words but the conversation was steady. Suddenly, the sound of a small engine starts, runs for a second or two, then stalls. Their voices got a little louder and were filled with excitement. A minute or two later and the motor starts up and its purring.
Two sweaty guys walk into the house a short time later, chests out, arms held just slightly away from their bodies like the body builders on those late night Bowflex commercials. They did it. The chipper is running. Mom and Dad are excited to chip the mountain of bark and tree from the side of the yard.
Those two happy men joined our conversation with a cold soda. Success is sweet.
As we talked, Dad made a simple statement, several times, which warmed my heart.
"I can feel the stress leaving my body!" he said. "Its just dropping away!"
Mom and Dad are truly the most self-reliant people I know. They are do-it-yourself-ers from way back and its been hard for them to ask for help or to accept it. This week they finally discovered that letting their children help them is a gift they are giving us. A small return for all they have done for us.
They taught us to work hard. They taught us that it was good to take pride in our accomplishments but jump back in and work some more. They taught us the importance of education, not just formal education but that self-education was a life-long task (and duty).
Dad even joked that he remembered me changing out the carburetor in my old Plymouth Satellite while teaching my oldest son and his friend how to do it. My husband reminded him that I also changed the clutch's master cylinder in my younger son's Toyota and the brakes in our old Mazda.
I reminded them that I knew I could do all those things because my dad had taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to and he taught me that since day one! It also helps that my husband is a mechanic and has taught me lots and that I rebuilt my first motorcycle engine on the floor of my living room when I was eighteen.
We talked some of Dad's days with the telephone company. Thirty-five plus years. He was always the man that the foreman wanted to lead the team. When it was a tough job for Lockheed or Moffett Field, NACA (forerunner to NASA), Ames Labs, our dad was the one the companies wanted.
He was often pressured to accept a promotion to foreman or manager and he consistently declined the promotions, usually adding that he wanted to 'work for a living, not watch others work!"
Mom is one of the most intelligent women I ever met. She skipped 2nd grade and 7th grade, graduated by the time she was 16. She was a lead teller in Crocker Bank in San Francisco by the time she was 17 and one of the first women to work at IBM9when computers were the size of large buildings!).
My mom and dad are a blessing to me. Each time I visit them I learn to appreciate them more and more. I love you both very much.
p.s. Dad, I promise, I'm still trying hard not to talk like a truck driver!