I think I may need to go home for a bit. This is my 11th day straight of being here with my sweet nonagenarian. I have three more days to go and then I’m going to have my break down, cat scan and meltdown. But, even while I am having them, I will miss him. I will miss his silliness, his voracious appreciation for Waffle House and his “I-can-try-this” spirit.
While there’s so much fun at his house, including, this time, a 4th of July visit from the Giselbachs, and a birthday party for my daughter Hannah, there are also some compromises you learn to make—compromises in cleanliness and order, schedules and nutrition. You learn to cut corners. You learn to improvise. You learn that there are some smallish things you just allow to blow away in the big wind of making life the best it can be, even in its decline.
- You compromise on the definition of a dirty towel. “This one could hang around for one more bath.”
- You’re up for sleeping very late in the morning if the nonagenarian is game (which is a rarity, for sure.)
- You give in on your eleventh visit to “the House” and order a waffle at the place that bears the name of that perforated disc of unprofitable calories.
- You find a lot of entertainment value in watching high school kids that you’ve never heard of playing basketball and you even start rooting for something called “east” in said game.
- Although your husband is a clock repairman, you ask him to disable the striking function of that clock in Dad’s bedroom, just hoping it might be the culprit in the gazillion night time trips to the bathroom.
- And that dog! What is so good about that ”best dog he has ever had”?? Best is not what I use to describe that flower-digging, trash retrieving, shoe chewing, mud-slinging, child- mauling, yard littering, deer chasing mutt. But I love that dog, anyway. He brings great joy to the one who thinks he is Lassie reincarnated.
- Does it really matter if birthday presents are wrapped in Christmas paper in July? I think not.
- Do you have to have swim diapers for babies to get in the pool? They’re nice, but nah.
- And does the P-H level in the pool have to be right on? Do all the leaves have to be swept out? I’ve had a great time in a lot of creeks, so I guess, no.
- Can pants with jelly, coffee, mud and ketchup on them be worn to worship? Sure, just make sure it’s all on the tie, too. You need a match.
- Clean carpet may be overrated anyway.
- You can’t worry about money you poured into a pool that’s still cloudy or plants that got dug up, or medicine that got spilled in the dish water, or hearing aids that got microwaved in a bowl of jelly beans. Irretrievable=Forgotten.
- Trade-offs are important. Sometimes you trade a few blood pressure points for a great dessert and a happy camper in the ward.
- Sometimes the safest walker is not the coolest one. So you go for cool and stay very close by.
- When you’re more tired than you’ve ever been, you go ahead and do those band stretches and can lifts right along with him. You know you need them anyway and he is 94! You know he’s got to be even more tired than you!
- Rejoice about the mud in the car. It means he is still going places and that’s why you bought those mud mats anyway.
- Don’t fret over contradictions like “Why is a ninety-four-year-old man applying something called ‘Youthair’” ? Fretting uses up brainpower.
- Don’t worry that you cannot explain everything to his satisfaction. Sometimes you just have to say “Well, I know it might be better sometimes to do this your way, but today, we are going to have to do it like this.” or “I know you are capable of doing this alone, but we are always going to do this together….That’s just how it is.”
- It’s really okay to put the towels in the machine with the dress slacks occasionally. Sometimes you just have to choose between dirty and fuzzy. I pick fuzzy.
- It’s okay to use Clorox wipes on everything…really. Remember, what kills a mouse in a laboratory probably won’t kill a man, and this man’s been through World War II already.
- Does it really matter if something way back there in the refrigerator is getting moldy? Does it really matter right now… tonight? Probably not. After all, you are here and you are getting out all the food for all the meals and you can probably recognize mold when you open it later.
- Does it matter if he wants you to order enough black Pilot pens on eBay to almost certainly outlive him (I mean 100 of them)? no. Someone will use them.
- Does it matter if he wants to engage every stranger who has on an Alabama shirt, hat or even carries an Alabama keychain …I say, does it matter if he wants to engage him about football? No. In fact, people usually even enjoy that.
- Is six eggs a day too many for one person? Well, it’s hard to criticize the diet of somebody who’s made it to 94.
- Is it always just wrong to have the window open in one room while the central AC is running? You have to really think about this one, but when it makes the person who freezes in July comfortable in his little bedroom at night while still making everyone else sleep a little better in those precious hours, I say “God bless it!”
See, here’s the thing. Contentment is comprised of compromise. If you’re unwilling to compromise the happiness and well-being of the one who provided for you when you were small and extremely dependent, you learn to live with other, smaller compromises. After all, he probably did without a few luxuries, made a few sacrifices, got up a few times at night and expended some energy even in some tired times to be sure I made it to this place of calling more of the shots. It’s all good.
I’m surely not perfect at this care-giving thing. My sisters are both better than I. I come to the end of the rope sometimes before I’ve tied the knot. I talk in maxed-out decibels sometimes when I’m not sure the hearing aid is really at fault. I sometimes cry and I fall asleep in unusual places. I’m pretty sure my judgment is impaired at times. I can get to a point of poor listening and quick response. And today, I told the doctor, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you.” …and then I totally forgot what that thing was. I think something about Dad being forgetful.
But I’m hoping the care we can give him is still better than the alternative care by people who do not know him. They might not be willing or able to make all the compromises. They might not even know about the place we are going where there are no necessary compromises, which is really the catalyst for all our decisions for all of life’s challenges. I know that some good people certainly have to rely on care from outsiders. I get that. It’s a difficult compromise we may yet have to make. But for now, it feels right to make other, more insignificant compromises for contentment. Protecting life and nurturing it on both ends of the spectrum, from unborn to elderly, are responsibilities from God. Sometimes compromises: financial, social and practical, are required to try and make sure we do not compromise spiritually. The key is making them with joy. We are still blessed by much joy in the home of this nonagenarian.