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Is this goodbye?

Diving into the unknown of care taking for an elderly, ailing parent.

I called Delta Airlines to change my flight two weeks earlier because I thought my Papa was not going to make it.

Papa, Dad, Babbo is my father. He has been living in Europe with my beloved Pam, aka English Mummy (stepmom) for nearly two decades. As much as I hate him living so far from me in New York City, I am thrilled that he is surrounded by amazing friends, and has been really happy living there.

I could give you the list of his illnesses and life challenges, but why? They all suck! But here goes; spinal stenosis, heart issues, severe arthritis in hands and feet, a new hip 8 weeks ago, semi-wheel chair bound and more.

So I decided to walk into the unknown. Pack up my life in New York, leave my husband and mini-schnauzer and go live in Spain for a month, to take care of my Papa. But what did that look like? How would I finance it? How would I handle all my ongoing work projects and commitments? I took a page from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book, “The Universe Has Your Back” and trusted that all would be okay.

What I was not prepared for along this journey, was the layers of emotions that I would go through. Like a roller coaster ride that was unpredictable. So if you wish..I would like to take you along for the ride.

LOVE. The first emotion was connecting to the deepest love that I felt for my Papa. Sharing small moments where he would just say something that would truly take my breath away. They may have been whispers of love, but the feeling was so deep, it moved me to tears. I think it was the same for him, but rarely would he let it show. Papa kept all his deep emotions tight to the vest. It was hard for him to be present with real intimacy. Or at least hold it for a long time.

SADNESS. The next emotion was deep sadness. My Papa was a charming, vivacious, proud man. You would feel his presence whenever he walked into a room, and he was the best storyteller ever. He would captivate everyone’s attention, from the minute he spoke. But that was not my Papa today. He could barely walk. He was silent a lot. He had lost the lust for daily activity. And even when I tried to get him involved in podcasts, books on tape or even play music, he would prefer to watch CNN.

FRUSTRATION. I was not prepared for the level of frustration I would feel. I thought it would be all roses and hugs. Yeah right!! My Papa has a real stubborn streak, so humor was the only way to get through the tough times. What I realized after a few days was the frustration my Dad had was not towards me. But towards himself, his own situation. He hated where he was. He hated that he could not walk. Or do the many things he used to. He hated that he was living in a shell of a body, and missed his own self. The best lesson I learned was to leave my ego at the front door. None of this was about me. And the quicker I learned that, the easier my time was. But it wasn’t always easy.

ANGER: So we had a fight. A stupid one. Aren’t they always. It was over nothing but I so did not want to leave it alone. I told him he owed me an apology. I am not sure it was me or the 15 year old me. I think the latter. At 56 years young, I have never felt more grounded and strong in my body so I think I was making up for all the lost times where I had lost my voice during a fight. It got ugly. I was in tears and left. Coming back I saw the sadness in his eyes. So I grabbed his beautiful hands and said, “Papa…love only love….” and he said, …”Yes, but I want more time with you, I don’t want our time to end”….Every night when I tucked him into his hospital bed, we would have sweet words. That night he said, “Let that be the first and last time that ever happens”. I love that he thought it was the first and that he wanted it to be the last.

GRATITUDE: I have many friends who have lost their parents. I am the lucky one. I have three parents. And I have my Papa. He is super smart, wicked sense of humor, never complains and has a strong will to live, to be with his beloved wife, seven children and sixteen grandchildren. But how grateful am I that I said YES to walking into this unknown journey. How grateful am I to have this deep, insightful time with a man I love so deeply.

Early each morning I meditated on the terrace, while listening to the roosters chat away!

I thought about the emotion that was the freshest in my mind. And I promised myself each day that no matter how hard it was, I was truly going to stay present to each one of these emotions when I felt them. I was not going to push them away. I was going to stay right in the thick of it. And I knew that when ready, that emotion would pass and a new emotion would enter.

What was more important was knowing that TODAY Papa was with me. But one day he would not be. So truly holding each one of these emotions close to my heart was the best healing I could do.

photo 2010

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