It’s an interesting view, as a child, to witness the decline of one parent and the subsequent rise of the other as a need for caretaking develops.
I’m not sure when it began for my parents, but it was certainly the reverse of what we all had anticipated. My entire life was made up of comical blurbs of what would happen when my father declined (first) and where my mother would end up after. It has instead been the opposite and I think it is still something my brother and I are having a hard time wrapping our brains around.
Mothers are for caretaking. Not fathers.
Yet my father, oh, how he has risen.
My wedding was seven years ago - the pictures from that glorious day show both of my parents glowing, though my mother did have more confidence in using an elevator to go up one floor than taking the stairs. Was it at my brother’s wedding then a year (or two?) after? Mom needed assistance getting to the backyard spot selected as the focal point for his vows - and a chair (the only chair) as she didn’t feel comfortable standing for the short ceremony.
I can’t remember when Mom started falling regularly or when her mental prowess started drifting downward. She would have brain hiccups and then quick, deep dives as if her faculties just needed a few months of rest from thought. It wasn’t until two summers ago, during a big family vacation, that we all realized that the problem was serious. It wasn’t until then we all realized just how much my father had shifted in his role from devout husband to the devout caretaker with nary a complaint (or notification of title change).
No, he never even thought to tell us, the kids, when he had begun taking over the roles of chef, cleaner, driver, and nursemaid.
We never knew that we needed to ask.
When the spotlight switched on, our focus was on getting Mom better. Now, my brother and I spend an equal amount of time, if not more, discussing how we can keep Dad healthy. Is he overdoing it? What if he exhausts himself? Will he ask for help if he needs it? Why doesn’t he ask for help?
We have become a bit too cheerleader-y when our father mentions hiring someone to do tasks that he used to take on without thought. Just yesterday he had someone come to wash the windows at their home - BRAVO!
“Spend the money, let us treat you, however you make it happen - you deserve it!”
Our parents, thus far, have brushed off requests to move closer to “the kids.”
We get it. They are at an age where a move means an upheaval of routine and, in my mom’s diminishing capacity, routine and familiarity are essential to both of them. But, more importantly, I suppose a move also means an admittance that they are nearing the end of their lives, so much more than just boxes and a forwarding address.
“The kids” are not in the position to zip in for assistance which is terribly frustrating but, I suspect, also by design. My father stubbornly stands by his vows of nearly sixty years ago. He will be by my mother’s side in sickness and in health. In health, first. And now in sickness. Our distance keeps that conversation closed.
He will give everything that he has to her.
She is everything he has ever and will ever want.
I could not have imagined a time when my father and I would be sharing recipes or tips on cleaning or chatting about soap operas. The reversal of roles, I wasn’t expecting it.
Oh, how he has risen.
I know it’s hard.
I am my mother’s daughter. I know her moods and impatience and inconsistencies and unappreciative tone - all trickling from the anxiety that she’s likely not even aware she carries.
Oh, how he has risen.
I take each phone call with hope - will this be a good one or a bad one? Will I hear the story of a “normal” day, less frequent now, where there was laughter and silliness? A day that was laced with a touch of quiet hope that maybe things are turning around this time - that Mom is getting back to her old self.
We will never convince my father that he is amazing or extraordinary or that he can acquiesce.
This is his path and we can only offer our own undying support.
But I do hope, someday, he understands just how he has risen.