I still think of Dad frequently although he died three years ago at age 90. The hospice group which cared for him at the end offered grief counseling. I turned them down. I had been grieving for Dad for two years. When his ordeal ended, peace and relief filled my being.
Dad deserved to pass peacefully in his sleep before the ravages of age destroyed his independence. Dad was the kind of person who would stop and hand a $100 bill to a distraught woman weeping as firemen struggled to extinguish the blaze destroying her home.
He cared for my young, dying mother until cancer consumed her life, then cared for my younger brothers and me while running the family business. He remarried to give us a mother and submitted to a miserable relationship for years—unwilling to hurt my half sister by leaving.
If the point of suffering is to teach and refine the human spirit, Dad earned a Ph.D. in life experience. The only thing he ever asked for himself was not to become a burden to his children. Yet God did not see fit to take my dad before a series of strokes and blocked carotid arteries eroded his reasoning capacity to match his weakened body.
For two years before his death, I grieved for the father I’d lost: The father who followed the news and scoffed at the misbehavior of elected officials—George’s Bush’s deficit spending—Bill Clinton’s unzipped trousers. The father who could haul limbs from a tree without straining his back and hiding his pain until he couldn’t walk to the bathroom. The father who didn’t nap all day and wake at midnight wondering why it was still dark.
As I cared for Dad, I grieved for myself. That I could not make him better. That I found his care a burden. That I too am mortal. That I must either die while life is still a joy or decline into helplessness.
Did I receive benefits from caring for Dad? Of course. I am grateful for his courage and for his gentle, loving disposition which lasted nearly to the end. I’m grateful I learned how difficult taking an elderly parent into your home is. I will never do that to any of my children. But I wish Dad hadn’t paid the price for my learning. He didn’t owe me anything. He deserved a merciful death.