I’ve walked around the past few days with a big knot in my stomach, almost in tears. On Friday afternoon, after all the stress of getting my dad’s dogs safely home, I found out that construction on my dad’s house had reached a critical point. To manage costs, Sherod and I had decided we’d do some of the last finish work ourselves, and the project moved more quickly than we’d anticipated. So by last Friday evening, Sherod was reviewing what we would need to get done this week. Sharing living space with two sets of dogs proved to be a lot to manage in a matter of hours as well. So, after some quick calculus, I asked to take most of this week off, which is what I have done.
That knot came when I slowed down enough to realize just how radical the change has been, making room for my dad in our life. After all those years in Florida, parenting our girl Maria with all her needs, serving as priests in uncharted territory—heck, just managing Southeast Florida traffic—the move to this small farm in Lowndesboro gave us back our lives. It wasn’t that our life became self-absorbed and turned in on itself, but that there was space—financial space, physical space, emotional space—to breathe again. After years and years of doing well just to get through the week, Sherod and I began to dream and imagine what might be possible. They were pretty modest dreams, but nonetheless, the kind of dreams you have when you can look up for hours and see how big the sky is and how many stars sparkle in the night.
My dad arrived on the 16th of December and life moved at a vertiginous pace from then on. We’ve taken all but the last step related to the application for him to become a permanent resident here. His household in Panama has been closed down. As I write, we are less than a week away from being able to move him into his new space which he calls “La Casita Blanca” which means The Little White House. The dogs are here. Work has been demanding and rewarding and intense in all this time and our girl Maria continues to show small improvements and still causes me to hold my breath in fear and anxiety when she hits the rough patches of her life.
This is the most time I’ve taken off since I began to work full time on September 1st of last year, and the days are filled almost to overflowing with the tasks I am trying to get done to further settle my dad into his new life. Along with the work on the house (which has actually been less than I expected) there are endless questions, stops and starts and trials and errors as Sherod and I try to help my dad retain some kind of sense of agency and independence, and make sure this change does not pull out all the oxygen from our own life together.
Dad will not drive again so I thought we’d try out the meal service program Mark Bittman of the NYT has started called The Purple Carrot. It’s a subscription program that delivers a box of all the ingredients to prepare a set of 3 meals for two people on a weekly basis. My dad doesn’t mind left overs and this seemed a good way for him to get healthy, tasty food without relying so much on Sherod and me. The Purple Carrot is a class act and the food is really good. But I found out this week that it requires far more food prep knowledge than my dad has. So it is back to the drawing board to figure out what we can do so he can manage most of his meals himself. He and I will take his dogs to the vet today so they can get on heartworm meds and there are about 7 or 8 other to-do’s on my “dad list”.
When the week started a little more slowly than planned on Monday, I realized that within days of my father’s arrival in December, when we began to put the pieces in place for him to stay and live with us, Sherod and I quit dreaming, had to push all those small and lovely plans we were just beginning to cook up, not just on hold, but in deep freeze. We’ve come to realize that we may end up having to let go of them altogether. We’ve seen too many times when, despite all their best efforts, folks have lived so long that their assets have run out. We have to make provisions for that possibility with my dad. If it is hard for me, I am profoundly aware of how very much more is being asked of my husband; that is what truly breaks my heart.
So yeah, that stinging behind my eyes and the knot in my stomach? They signal that my life is going through another fundamental redefinition.
AND. The “and” is important. This is what it looks like to live and love and have the kind of enormous privilege Sherod and I know. I can look out the door next to where I am writing and see the flowerbed where the foxglove and daisies and amaryllis and roses are gently swaying in the breeze that hasn’t fled the heat of summer yet. I have a job I simply love. It is messy and stressful right now, but the person I work alongside of has this magnificent sense of the absurd, of humor and mischief, everyone works hard together, the congregation is amazing, and you can hear laughter just pealing down the hallway of our offices most days. When I drive back home in the afternoon, with minimal traffic, I get to see the fields change as spring layers more and more life and color into those open spaces. Some of the sheep at one of the farms I go by seem to be having a lot of babies and my God, those little lambs are delicious to look at. A reminder of what I have learned and re-learned so many times before: I am the recipient of grace, both harsh and beautiful.