It wouldn’t take me long to isolate the period of my life when I truly felt like a grown up. It had to be during the last few years of my father’s life. He died of complications due to diabetes – kidney failure, a double amputee, multiple strokes and seizures.
No one ever tells you how to manage your life in a healthy way while taking care of a sick relative. You just try to do your best. I had one brother who would drive dad to doctor appointments sometimes. Dad needed a lot of physical assistance and my brother would help with that. I had another brother that assisted mom with car and house repairs. My role? I lived at home during this time and helped out with practical things like chores, cooking, sharing household bills, and part-time chauffeuring. I also administered my dad’s medicines, which happened to be many and scheduled down to the hour. This did not faze me; I expected this. Hey, it’s my dad so it’s the least I could do.
What unnerved me was to see my father cry. He cried a lot during the last years of his life and I never got used to it. I guess I still had that childlike view of him, thinking that this is the man who could save the world and then some. But even more than that is when my mother finally broke down emotionally. This lady not only married the man who could save the world – she was his rock. My rock. And now my rock was crumbling… and on my shoulder. I listened to her. I cried with her. I even advised her. Me, advise her? That was a first.
But there are two moments that stand out more than all others, however. One was when mom was helping my dad with his bath. She was obviously tired and it was late. She was trying to get him out of the tub but was having difficulty. The door was cracked and as I walked by she looked up in sheer desperation and almost begged, “Help me.” I don’t know whether I was just too shocked or embarrassed to stop and help, but I didn’t stop. I kept on by and went to my room. I thought dumbfoundedly, No, you see, that’s not my role. My brothers and I had specific roles. Helping him in this area was not it. This, however, would soon change.
One day, mom took an evening off while I sat with dad. By this time, he wore diapers. On mom’s evening off, she really didn’t stay away a long time – just maybe long enough to get her hair done and browse in some boutique or something. This day was different as I would soon learn. Dad was feeling sick and didn’t quite make it to the bathroom in time. In fact, he was too weak to get up at all. Now, I’m easily shamefaced, but I get it honest – from my father. He was so embarrassed. I don’t really know by what most though – that he made a mistake on himself or that his daughter would be the one to help him clean up. We even tried to wait for mom. I once heard the expression that when a child falls and the father bends to pick the child up, they laugh, but when the father falls and the child bends to pick the father up, they cry. This is certainly true on more levels than one.
So, as I mentioned before, mom decides (and deservedly so) to whoop it up. After a while, I gingerly enter the bedroom and tell him that I’m going to have to change him. Without looking up, he simply says okay. I get the necessary cleaning items and begin my work. It was very important to me to leave him with his respect. Afterwards, to my relief, his attitude was one of gratitude and humility. I kissed him on his forehead and sat down in the chair beside his bed. We talked quietly until mom came back.
I had resolved not to tell mom until later on. However, he beat me to the punch and blurted out as she entered the room, “Well, your daughter treated me better than any nurse I’ve ever had. I made a mistake and she helped me.” At that point, I knew I had changed in his eyes. It seemed that I had been so careful to give him his dignity and respect, but with those few words, he gave me mine.