MY DAD IS 94. He is still our paterfamilias—the male head of a family.
A few weeks ago we thought he was slipping away. A hospice nurse used the word "imminent". We took turns being with my mom at his bedside. He had reached that unofficial, indeterminate point where quality of life seems to be evaporating. Then he "rallied", another hospice word.
Now, for a few weeks, we've had the opportunity to have more talks, share more memories, tell more stories, hear more stories. We're thankful, grateful and tired. I know mom and dad are tired too.
I'm not going to lie. There was a time, a Sunday morning, when he seemed almost vacant and even anguished. I prayed this: "God you have asked him to fight the good fight. If anyone has ever done, he has. What more do you want from him?"
I confessed to my oldest son that I had prayed for the grace of passing for dad. He said, "You might have a problem there. Your Grand-Girls are praying he'll get better."
They clearly have more sway than I do. Heck, I would put their prayers up there with those of Joel Osteen praying for a bigger house or Creflo Dollar praying for a faster jet.
For many years my dad has worn a ring that says, "DAD". A few days ago, it was just him and me in his room, I thought he was in a deep sleep, a pain drug induced state of little responsiveness, only an occasional grimace. He pulled that ring from his finger and handed it to me. His eyes were open for only a few seconds, no words were spoken. I squeezed that old ring in my fist and felt a weight I didn't want to feel. Being paterfamilias.
I haven't always done well with responsibility; not that I'm a deadbeat dad or anything. I put in an honest day's work and get an honest day's pay. I have the oil changed regularly and the tires rotated on schedule. I knew what it looks like to step up, to do and to be, sometimes I would prefer for the buck to stop elsewhere. In these last days, the decisions have sometimes come too fast; they are too heavy.
Don't worry. I'm not going to run away, or screech at God, or buy me a red golf hat and be pissed at the world. I have help. Don't we all, if we really admit it?
On June 16, 1972, I had another ring handed to me. My Amazing-Missus placed it on the third finger of my left hand, held it there and said a vow. I did the same. This ring seems so much lighter because all these years later she stands with me, still, as she always has. I don't make decisions all alone, in isolation. She is wise and she's been down this path before, too often.
We have a friend. He is our mentor and minister. He literally wrote the book on this end-of-life stuff. His wisdom and encouragement are like scaffolding for me, and not just now; he has been our marriage counselor, therapist, travel consultant and spiritual paterfamilias for many, many years.
And, at the risk of sounding like I'm giving an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, we have so many other friends, and family in this deal. It's like they read that verse that says, "Bear one another's burdens," and they believed it.
A few days ago we visited a nature park with our three Shawnee Grand-Girls. At the head of the trail is a big wooden sign with a map of all the trails. There is a star on the sign and the words, "YOU ARE HERE". The middle of the three, who is seven, asked, "How did they know we were here?"
Right now, we know: WE ARE HERE, at a place many others have been before and will be again. And we are grateful for all those who know this trail because they've been down it and have basically said, "We know where you are. Here's an encouraging word and a prayer."