A few weeks ago you may have noticed (or not) my absence from the website and email correspondence. I had to make an emergency trip back home (Iowa) to be with my father and family during his last days on this earth. Our amazing Valerie, came to the rescue and ran the show while I faced the most difficult week of my life thus far. She is truly remarkable for taking on so much without even an inkling of complaint, at least not to me anyway and I'm truly grateful for her friendship and sacrifice.
I've been going back and forth as to whether or not I should share what was such a personal and emotional experience for me. Then I realized that not sharing the things that have been most difficult for me to face in my life has been at the root of my emotional eating for years and I'd really like to continue in moving forward in fighting this battle. Also, there are many of you who have shared your joys, your sorrows and your struggles with us so, ready or not, I'm facing my fears today and leaving myself vulnerable to your comments...big breath...here's my heart on my sleeve, folks.
At 81 years of age, my father's health has been failing for the last few years as he has struggled with various physical ailments and advanced dementia. After several hospitalizations in a short time, I knew it was time to start making plans to travel back to Iowa. I debated whether or not to make the trip right away or to wait because Dad has a knack for kicking the tough stuff to the curb. I hated that the biggest decision maker was finances. Of all things. Each year we barely squeeze out one trip to visit my family, but in my heart I knew it was time and despite the sacrifice, we would be okay even if it was really tight for the next few months.
Valerie, being the great friend she is, was willing to make a quick trip back with me over a long weekend in October. Those of you who follow us on Facebook probably saw our goofy restroom workout pics that we posted...yeah...driving 24 hours straight through can make ya kinda loopy....anyway, I had imagined my time with Dad at the nursing home would be full of interacting with him, even if he didn't recognize me or have the ability to verbalize his thoughts clearly, but those expectations were too high. The night we arrived he was hospitalized once again and this time was different. He was so exhausted and would hardly open his eyes the entire time I was there. Though there were a few moments of tenderness; when my family and I were singing, "You Are My Sunshine" to him, his eyebrows would raise and his mouth would move as if to try to sing with us, and when I leaned in to say "I love you" he seemed to be trying to form words and my heart knew that he loved me, too. The weekend went too quickly and we had to dash back to Idaho knowing it wouldn't be long before I received another call home.
Just as I was getting back into the rhythm of my life (a little over a week), I received news that Dad likely only had a just a few hours left and it was time to return home to support my mother and siblings. I had planned to leave that weekend, but I felt an urgecy and left Wednesday night instead with two of my little ones in tow, but this time with two adult neices, one with two littles of her own. The next few days were a blur filled with the reunion of all eight of us siblings with our parents gathered together sharing memories, singing together, laughing together and comforting one another as we stayed near to our father and mother all through the nights. Instead of a few hours, Dad held on a few more days.
I believe Dad had a few more lessons to teach his family, even without the ability to verbalize it. I believe he wanted us to have that time to reconnect as a family, to make time for one another because the relationships we have with our families are the most important part of this life. Dad had taught us all to love and appreciate music through his example and encouragement to develop our vocal and instrumental talents. Music is powerful and has the ability to stir memories and emotions long forgotten, but it also has the ability to soothe and comfort the weary. Those nights spent at his bedside were filled with the music from the hearts of his children. It was difficult, it was emotional, but it was also full of healing power. I believe he also wanted to teach us to be strong and endure to the very end, which is what he did. With a fever of over a 105, he hung on through the physical pain and what must have been unbelievable mental/emotional anguish as his mind and thoughts were trapped in a body that was failing him.
Early Sunday morning surrounded by his wife of 56 years and loving children, we watched the strongest man I've ever known peacefully take his last breaths of this life and then felt the warmth of his love surrounding all of us. Filled with an sea of emotions that varied from gratitude to grief, I knew I needed to run. Not just jog, but run. After all of the necessary arrangements were made and I was certain Mom was situated, I left straight from the nursing home to run back to my mother's apartment. As I ran along the main streets I realized that I needed to take a detour. So, I ran home. Literally. I ran to my childhood home, though no longer owned by our family, it was the home I'd spent all of my childhood growing up in and I felt I needed to return. I just sat, cried, prayed and recalled all the wonderful memories of my father teaching us through his example life's greatest lessons: work hard, be strong, be generous with your time and means, share your beliefs and sacrifice for your family.
I've been blessed to have found ways other than burying my emotions in a plate of food to deal with the death of my father. Hopefully, they'll help you sometime in your life as well.
Get out of the house/office. Even if it's cold outside, sunshine can improve your mood.
Go for a walk or run. No matter how you're feeling when you leave, you will always feel better when you return.
Whether you sing it, play it or just listen to it, uplifting music can heal the soul and help you cope with the circumstances you face.
Take time to be still. Take time to listen. Take time.
Seek out someone to give assistance. It needn't be an overwhelming or time-consuming project. Just a simple note of appreciation or thoughtful phone call (yes, some people still make those) can lift your spirits as you lift another's.
Even with the previous suggestions, there will be moments of sadness and tears. That's okay, it will get better a little everyday.
Thank you for your listening ears and allowing me to share this very personal experience. I won't say that I haven't had a couple of really hard days and didn't reach for the sugar/food to soothe. Sadly, I have, but I have also been able to thus far pick myself back up quickly and try again. Have you faced a difficult trial and used a positive coping skill? What has worked for you?