My dad is exhausted. He has spent the day moving into his new cottage. This is the first time he has ever been completely responsible for furnishing and decorating his home. He’s going slow both on the décor and the furnishings, trying to get a feel for the space, figuring out what is really essential. But he is very clear and definite about what he wants and what won’t work for him. This is his to do and manage. This afternoon, he was so exhausted that he asked me if I would be willing to make his bed for him and I did so, filled with respect and deep admiration.
We kid my dad about his lack of cooking skills, and how he has introduced crunchy fried eggs to our family. Yet, I was strangely touched, watching him pore over the instructions for the induction hotplate he’s bought for himself. That, and the new microwave, will be what he’ll use for his cooking. Imagine being almost 89 years old, used to getting all kinds of help and learning how to do your own laundry, your own cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, all the big and small chores of running a household. Sherod and I help but are also trying to give him space to find his own way.
A few years ago, in one of the moments of shocking realization after my mom’s death and Maria’s move to BARC, I wrote something to the effect that it was awfully strange to find that I had to define myself increasingly by subtractions rather than addition. I was—and am—clueless. I have not had to watch my spouse die, not had to sell the house built with dreams of retirement, not travelled to visit a daughter and ended up allowing just about everything else that defined my life to slip away, just like that, while I find my way in a foreign land.
Dad looks happy, as well exhausted tonight. He had this small, very satisfied grin as he looked at the shower curtain he had just put up in his new bathroom. The new beds he got for Mouse and Pia are already in the house and he has a case of Campbell’s vegetable soup cans good to go for several meals this week. Even with all the subtractions, all the wrenching losses, he keeps going, keeps being as courtly and unfailingly polite, and determined to make the best of an awfully hard situation.
This. This is what real courage looks like.