Thankful

I write these words
the day before Thanksgiving.
Later today I’ll drive
to Warsaw, Indiana
and pick up my father.
He’ll stay with us
for three days.
He wants to be among family this holiday
but he’s also a little fearful.
Physically and mentally
he’s much more compromised
than he was last year this time.
He’ll require—
and he’ll accept with grace—
a lot of assistance.
He won’t talk very much.
He’ll lie in bed several times.
It will be a different holiday for us.

I lived most of my life
without thinking what Dad’s last years,
what his last Thanksgivings,
would be like.
I suppose I thought there would not be
all that much change.
And for a long time there wasn’t.
Until quite recently,
my father has been strong and able,
like I’ve always known him to be.
So there is a certain pain and grief
in witnessing what is now occurring—
for him, for me, for our whole family.

Ted Bowman in a current issue
of the journal Illness, Crisis, and Loss
uses a metaphor to describe the experience
of ending up in a place where
you didn’t expect to end up.
He quotes a mother who gave birth unexpectedly
to a child with Down’s syndrome.
It’s like getting on a plane, she reported,
bound for Italy, and once you land,
you find yourself in Holland.
You’re easily shocked and saddened
by this seeming mix-up.
Then Bowman quotes this insight:
If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, very lovely things about Holland.

Dad and I have landed in our own
internal version of Holland.
We didn’t quite anticipate this destination.
We’re not seeing what we thought
we’d be seeing about now.
And yet…and yet…
as we explore these new surroundings,
there are some very special,
very lovely things to experience.
This Thanksgiving I find satisfaction,
even a quiet joy,
in caring for my father’s numerous,
sometimes almost child-like, physical needs.
I have come to feel grateful
that he and I can sit in long silence,
watching the lake, admiring the trees,
attending the ways of the hummingbirds,
without the encumbrance of words.
I enjoy these days watching him take
such pure pleasure in his chocolates,
such simple comfort in his bananas.
I now feel blessed that,
when I end a telephone conversation
by saying, “I love you, Dad,”
he says, “I love you too, Jim”
with a conviction and affection in his voice
that I have never heard before now.
This place we’ve landed—
it’s really quite lovely.

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One Response to “Thankful”

  1. christen Says:

    tears…lots of tears as I read this.

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