In A Course In Miracles, author Marianne Williamson shared that peace is being in the present moment without judgment.
That can be mighty hard to do at times, but I had plenty of practice doing so while visiting my Dad a few weeks back in Virginia.
My Dad has likely been living with Alzheimer’s for about six years now, though he wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2011. We could all tell that he was slipping here and there since the early 2000s, but largely attributed it to him having “senior moments”. We did our best in allowing him to remain as independent as possible.
It really sucks to see someone who was once so vital, vigorous become hugely dependent upon the care and watchful eyes of others. He no longer drives, but keeps a car in hopes that one day he will regain his freedom.
He’s maddening and demeaning and belittling at times, as my sisters and sister-in-law can attest to, they having borne the brunt of his hurtful behavior.
Many in our family limit their interactions and visiting times to protect themselves emotionally. One sibling, though, feels relentless, crushing, seemingly never-ending guilt colliding with her sense of duty and meaning of family in trying to decide and do what’s best for him.
In a nutshell, my Dad does not want to be is assisted living-he wants to go home to die. He says he is not happy where he is and that everything is awful, but over the course of spending time with him over several visits while being back in Virginia, his actions and interactions showed me something profoundly different. He has a second family there, and he’s part of an at-times feisty community.
My Dad got to see Erik again and meet his mom as well on this visit, but the following few times we got together it was just the two of us. He asked how both Erik and his mom were doing and had ideas about places for them to visit in Richmond. He was thrilled that we came to visit and that we brought warmer weather with us, as it had been a cold and slow start to spring following a long for Virginia standards winter.
Each visit, he caught me up to speed on how the Yankees were doing as compared to the Mets and Pirates. A fellow resident and baseball fanatic printed out the stats from each Yankees game to share with my Dad, and they would lively debate who either saved or blew the game.
I joined my Dad for lunch one day in the cafeteria, where we joined a group of five men, more or less his age, for soup, salad, sandwiches, and sugar-free dessert.. We sat directly across from someone in his mid- to late-90s (my Dad will be 88 in November).
Dad shouted out to him, “Now that guy is really old!”, and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when the other man shouted back to him, “Shut up, Bud, that’s no way to treat your elders!”.
Another person at the table had a grown son a little older than me who had at one time played on my Dad’s baseball team, and he was happy to be hanging with someone who was hanging with his Dad.
We can all have challenging memories and stories about how we were raised and how we were treated growing up, and it can be astonishing when different parents and siblings have conflicting memories and lingering feelings as to what those times were like.
It might have been Wayne Dyer who said that the past is about as significant as old dishwater, but when you’re grappling with how to best support someone entering one of their last chapters in life, we all slosh around in this choppy ocean a little differently.
I learned so much from my Dad this trip by doing my best to be fully present in the moment with him, without judgment. Even when things got rocky or testy, I chose to keep only the love and the lessons learned, and to let go of the rest.
A friend who we visited who had recently lost her mother, and who also knows my Dad, said it best:
They all once had careers, families and full lives. They all loved someone and were loved as well. They did their best. They remember and savor these moments in life because it helps them feel and remember what it means to be fully alive. They still have their dignity, they still have their souls and their spirits. Their bodies and minds might be faltering, but they once had lives like we do, and they want to be treated with love, patience, compassion, non-judgement and respect. .
Solo walks in nature (as well as with Erik and his Mom) helped me gain clarity as to how I could be more present and at peace in the moment when visiting with my Dad, as well as with family members who found it hard to spend time with him.
Before flying home to Montana, Erik and his Mom and I traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days following a week of visiting and catching up with my side of the family.
A rough-and-tumble ocean and towering dunes of sand was the perfect salve. Wave after ocean wave massaged, released and healed pent-up and unresolved feelings, memories and stories that never really served me.
Into the sea they went, into the sea they all dissolved.
Gentle breezes, children playing and laughing, and pelicans gliding above the Atlantic Ocean gifted me tremendous calm, bliss and peace with what was unfolding in life, helping me to surrender to all that was beyond any one person’s control. Which is just about everything!
From the sea we once came, and to the sea we will once again return eventually.
In the meantime, I’m eternally grateful to have been able to see and be with my Dad in a different light.