Sometimes it’s difficult for me to write when I come back to my childhood home of Arizona. I’m a broken record and tend to write about the same things over and over. Nothing reminds me more of how powerless I am to change certain seasons of life than trips back home.
The last few times I’ve come back, I’ve made the trip without my family. I try to make it home at least once a year to see my dad who (as many of my readers know) suffered a bad stroke about 4 years ago. It left my active and independent 72-year-old dad paralyzed on his left side, bed ridden, and completely dependent on others. Visiting with my dad is always bittersweet and it’s hard to put it in the “vacation” category. My dad sleeps most of the time and is now suffering from vascular dementia (and possibly the onset of early Alzheimer’s too). During my visits home, finding a window of opportunity when he is awake, alert, and able to carry on a conversation is a challenge. It’s hard for me to ask my family to come with me to Arizona for “vacation”. So, this year, we decided to combine the annual trip with a brief detour to the Grand Canyon. My son had never seen this stunning sight before.
Sean kept his eyes down and focused on the ground as we made our way from the visitor’s center parking lot over to the rim. As we neared the edge, he squeezed his eyes shut and my husband guided him over to the guard rail to experience his first breathtaking glimpse. He was blown away.
The next day we hiked for a couple of hours down into the canyon.
And we did a lot of this too…
We toured around on wheels one afternoon too.
We all agreed that this was the most scenic route we had ever taken on a bicycle.
Then we drove down from the Grand Canyon to Tucson and went directly to see my dad at his assisted living home. When we arrived, he was sleeping. Frances, his caretaker, told us that he was having some pain when he awoke that morning and had requested a pain pill. She reminded him that we would be visiting and that the pain pill made him sleepy. She suggested he try to make do with just Ibuprofen if the pain wasn’t that bad but he opted for the stronger medicine instead.
We woke him up and tried to converse with him but, like most visits, it was a challenge. It’s almost like there’s a delay somewhere in his brain that makes it hard for him to respond back. I asked him if he wanted Frances to get him up so he could sit outside with us on the back porch for a while. He nodded yes.
As we sat together outside, my dad rested his chin on his fist and closed his eyes. It’s a common position for him and a mental image forever ingrained in my mind whenever I think about my dad.
He lifted his head and asked me if I’d seen my mom lately.
“No, Dad, not lately…not since she passed away 25 years ago…but it sure would be nice to see her.”
“Dad, did you forget she passed away?”
He looked at me with a blank stare.
I wish I could say it gets easier, watching a parent age, but it doesn’t. It’s such a strange journey. My mom was only 54 when she died and it was a completely different experience than watching a parent grow old. Both experiences hurt but I guess this time around that underlying feeling of powerlessness lasts longer.
Yesterday morning, as my dad and I sat on his back porch, he looked at his lap and asked me who was lying on his lap.
“Dad, there’s no one on your lap.”
“Then whose head is this?” he said and pointed to his lap.
“Dad, there’s nothing on your lap except the sheet Frances put over your legs before we came outside.”
These are conversations I never imagined having with my dad. I don’t know what category to put them in…but they just don’t belong in the “vacation” category.
After this visit, as I was driving back to my brother’s house…to go do some great vacation things with my family, I had the same numb powerless feeling I get each time I come back to Arizona. It’s that aching feeling that reminds me that if we can’t change a circumstance then hope is what my heart longs to stay anchored to.
Hope that this isn’t it. Hope that light is more powerful than dark. Hope that broken things will be made new. Hope that pain ceases. Hope that the lame will one day rise and walk again…or better yet…fly.