Little Van

A lot of miles were put on Volkswagons in our family—from Bugs to Carmen Ghias to Westfalia Vans—Dad loved them. My parents made many trips to Tucson in their white Westfalila to visit my sister and her family. Dad, the Eagle Scout, liked to camp, Mom liked hotels. Dad liked to sail, Mom preferred B & B’s. He usually won because, well, because he was Bill. Once he had an idea, he was set on it. Mom was a trooper.

Dad loved road trips and could drive straight through from Milwaukee to Tucson with just a few hours’ rest while Mom took the wheel. He had a CB radio and worked his way into the truckers’ VIP circle with a little van as only Dad could. He would talk through the night to the truckers while Mom tried to sleep—like pilot to pilot, or sailor to sailor, only this was trucker to the guy in the VW van. He told me he’d have great conversations and would sometimes get help with directions. Halfway across the country one night, on wide open interstate, Dad heard, “Little Van, Little Van! Your turnoff is just ahead!”

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After that van was sold, Dad regretted it, and before long was on a search for a new one. When he found a used one in California, he talked Mom into flying out with him to pick it up. With a couple boxes of camping equipment in tow so they could take their time and enjoy the drive home together, they were off to California. They landed in pouring rain, loaded their equipment into a taxi and went in search of the van owner’s address. It was still pouring when the cab driver dropped them off with all their equipment, and it was still pouring when they discovered the van was filled with mildew. Mom said, “You can buy it if you want but I am not riding in that vehicle with you.” She called a Honda dealership and bought a little bronze CRV  which she loved and they had a great trip home staying in B & B’s and hotels.

It’s the same little Honda that arrived to pick me up every Sunday morning for church with Dad these past five years. It’s the same little Honda that would pull up our driveway to pick up Sam and me for trips with Dad to the Island. It’s the same little Honda that Todd and I drove  out to 80th and Capital this afternoon to have shipped to Tucson for my sister’s daughter, Kira.

And now it’s the little Honda named Billie Dee. I know Mom and Dad are smiling.

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Shoes at the Door

Todd and I have had continual banters about leaving my shoes at the top of the stairs at home so I don’t track dirt across the carpeting. He’s put a nice big swatch of extra carpeting there to remind me. I use it to wipe my feet like a bull getting ready for a stampede but he says dirt travels. He can support his position, he says, by the trail I’ve created from the steps to my closet. I don’t see it. It’s amazing we stay married. I have come to believe he’s part saint.

I think he’ll be pleased to hear that while I’ve been staying at Dad’s I’ve gotten into the habit of kicking my shoes off at the door. Things change.

Things change when you step inside a door closer to life because you’re nearer death. Time becomes timeless. Space loses boundaries—morning becomes night, and night, morning. Dad and I were up in the night and he was talking about going to the Island today. It’s 10:48 a.m. now so I know we won’t be getting an early start.

“How do we do this?” my sister and I ask each other. “How do we do this?” What do we say?—call me when you think you’re dying again, Dad. I gotta go now.” We miss our husbands—but I can see mine every day. She’s 2200 miles away from home and work—I’m within walking distance to both. The world goes on around us, where days are measured in minutes not breaths, where shoes are carelessly worn across carpeting, where death is seen as the end and life as finite

Don’t talk about death in front of Dad—not death where it’s the end. Don’t bring up the end because to him, this is a new journey, a new beginning—a new life. Don’t mention grief. “We are celebrating here,” he tells the nurse.

“It’s so beautiful here in your condo, Bill,” she responds as her eyes search the photos that stand in layers on the shelf beside her—it’s as if she’s searching for an explanation. She won’t find it in the flat, two dimensional reflections of our images. It’s a Living Presence she senses which brings a timeless beauty, that dwells within and fills the room where my shoes are sitting at the door. “I can feel the family’s love,” she says. “You all seem to be doing just fine.”

I think we are. This is a time to be treasured not measured.

When heaven begins to open, you find yourself standing on holy ground and you just know inside—you know the time has come to leave your shoes at the door.

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Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”

“Yes!”

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Morning Light

imageThe storm passed through in the night and I didn’t even notice. I woke up this morning and the light in Dad’s room was on. He was sitting up reading his devotions as he used to do. He hasn’t been able to sit up on his own for a while.

“Dad?” I walked over and he looked up at me.

“I’m not dying! This is exactly what I was afraid of.”

“Well, you have a little energy. This is a good thing.”

“I swung my legs around and sat up.”

I smiled.

“But I told Dr. Tschopp I was dying.”

“Well Dad, it’s true, we all are.”

“But I told her I need hospice.”

“That’s good. I think we do.”

“Joanie’s coming home. I’m supposed to be dying.”

“You’re hardly eating. You don’t have much strength. I think we do need Hospice and it’s great Joanie is coming. She wants to see you. I guess God’s giving you a little extra time to get your heart right. If that takes ten years…well, what can I say?”

The doctor called then and we talked through a few things. By the time I hung up the phone he was back asleep. Do you think he’d notice if I make a single serving of Cream of Wheat…?

The New Bed

 

It’s Saturday morning and the phone rings as I’m making coffee. “Debbie, I can’t find the mattress protector.” Dad bought a new bed this week.

“Didn’t you buy one?”

“I thought so.”

“I’m pretty sure John (my brother) said you did.”

“Louis (his friend) put the bed together for me so I’m not sure what he did and I don’t see it. I want to go over to the store and have them show me what it looks like.”

Pause. “Do you want me to go with you?”

Pause. “Well, that would be ideal. I’m just ready to eat my breakfast. I’ll call you back.”

Todd said to tell Dad to look around for it because It’s probably right there but I called Steinhafel’s instead to check out his order. I didn’t have any success and got totally frustrated with the salesperson. (I found out later he bought it at Mattress Firm.)

After a while, just as I was walking out the door to go to Dad’s, he called back to say he had talked to the store. It was on the bed and things were all straightened out. What he thought was the fitted sheet is also the protector.

“Oh, I was just on my way over,” I said.

“Well, I hate to ever tell you not to come over.”

“Okay, I’ll come over anyway.”

When I got there I had to check it out. All I found was a fitted sheet. “Dad, you were right the first time. It’s not here.” I hear the squeak of his boot as he makes his way down the hall.

“They said it looks like a fitted sheet. It’s there.”

“That is the fitted sheet. You have a mattress pad and a fitted sheet but no protector.” As he walks into the room I notice a small box sitting on his dresser. “What’s this?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t open it.”

I read the type across the front, “Mattress Protector”. We look at each other.

“I guess I should have opened the box.”

I love my dad.

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Who Says You’re Getting Older?

There was a turning of the tide this past Sunday. It was a day I realized that trying too hard to be good can be bad.

Dad had overslept and texted to tell me he’d be late picking me up for church but still wanted to try and make it. I could have offered to pick him up which would have saved him some time but since summer had finally arrived, I started putting winter coats away. Todd had left to work on the boat and I suddenly found myself enjoying being home alone with time to organize—something I don’t do much of anymore. I go from week to weekend, to week to weekend with a similar routine, week after week.

Over the past couple years, since Mom died, I have spent a lot of my spare time with Dad, or worrying about Dad—trying to fill an impossible void unnecessarily, similar to the way I did for my son after my divorce.

How did you sleep last night Dad? I always ask and really want to know.

I was up three times.

Did you walk this morning? My way of checking on his breathing.

Not today. I immediately get anxious.

Have you had lunch yet? I like to ask this question. I enjoy hearing about what people eat….but this is different.

No, I just finished breakfast.

I was over-mothering, something I tend to do. Taking care of other people keeps me from taking care of what I need to in myself.

Dad eats dinner at 5:30—usually. When we’re together, I arrange my day around it. My husband comes home from a day of work and often waits an hour or more for me to show up. When I finally do arrive, our conversation goes something like this. He says, I spoiled my appetite on cheese and crackers waiting for you to get home, or I stopped for a latte and ate the whole cookie in the car because I figured you’d be at your dad’s, or I had Pakistani for lunch. All of which mean I won’t have to cook dinner. “….Popcorn?” I ask.

The one who probably wouldn’t mind some over-mothering is my latchkey kid husband but I leave him to fend for himself.

After all these Sundays with Dad, this past Sunday something felt off. I changed my clothes a couple times—my first solution for straightening out my head. Then, as I was carrying up and tripping over the third armload of coats, I realized I was tired—tired of more than deciding on what to wear to church or of hauling weights of wool around.

I texted Dad back and told him to go on without me. This would save him time and me some sanity. He wrote right back, OK.

For a moment I didn’t know what to do with the free time. I could have called Todd to let him know I had stayed home and we could meet up, but I didn’t. Instead, I cleaned and found a piece of peace in me. I let go of worrying about Dad being alone and realized he would have time to be with the many people who love him without my hovering shadow of a presence. He could be himself—an independent, intense, wise, wacky, wonderful 85 year-old with a life of his own to live. And I could get back to mine.

Even so, that evening I couldn’t help myself. I called him to check in.

“I was thinking Dad; maybe we should break up our Sunday ritual a little. There are so many people who would love having more time with you.”

“I think you’re right. It was kind of funny this morning. John and I were there for quite a while after the service and at one point there was one person talking to me on my right, another on my left and a third crawled up on the chair in front of me. I had three conversations going on at once! It’s nice that John comes to church now too. I don’t know if this means I don’t pick you up anymore on Sundays….”

“Oh, I don’t think we have to decide anything definite but I think we can be more flexible. Mom had told me to take a year and just go to church with you on Sundays. It’s been two, hasn’t it?”

“Two and a half!”

Why did I suddenly feel like I had overstayed my welcome….?

“Debbie, I love the time I have now. I love being with you and Todd and John and all the family. I’m reading, writing, getting things in order. Did I tell you I have a new friend named Todd at the bookstore I talk to? He orders my books for me and we get talking about things. I’m just enjoying my life…….you know something? I can’t find my book on George Washington! It’s the one you and Todd gave me. Why I love that book. I write notes in my books then lend them to people and miss them. I was writing a letter and wanted a story from that book.”

“Well, I’m sure we can find another, I mean, I’m sure you can find another one,” I said catching myself. He went into a story then about the Hessians and winning the battle—a story of courage and faith, his favorite. Normally, I would have raced for a pen and started taking notes but this time, my eyes met my husband’s and I was ready to hang up just as Dad was getting another call in.

“Debbie, Mike’s on the phone, do you mind if I get it?”

“No Dad, ‘night.”

“Good night.”

What an unexpected twist….I thought my Dad needed me and as it turned out, I may have needed him more. Never underestimate an aging parent or you may find out that you’re the one who is aging while they’re getting “younger” all the time.