Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Gift He Gave to Me

Hi everyone!
While everyone was out searching this weekend for the perfect tie or grill for their dad this Father’s Day, I find I am spending the day finally allowing the grief to set in.  Or maybe I have just been traveling so fast through life for so long that this is the first time in a very long time that I have allowed myself to stop.  And when I say stop, I mean stop.  My many projects have been put on hold.  The many ideas swirling around in my overly creative head have been quieted.  I have stopped.  For the past several weeks I didn’t let grief get near me, but as this holiday drew closer, I felt more and more compelled to take this time to write. 

On May 22nd we lost our stepdad at the age of 80.  Anyone who had ever met Clyde knew that he could have easily been on a meme as an example of the “Hold My Beer” guy.  We had a childhood that was filled with adventure and left me with plenty to write about.  Anyone who had ever had to work with him also knew that at times he could be a bear.  I remember when I was in college and I worked at International Paper, the men who worked for him would ask me, “Does he ever smile at home?”  If truth be told, at times he could also be a down right butt, which seemed to only get worse with age.  However, this is not a piece about what a horrible childhood I had, no this is a piece about what walking someone to the end of life taught me about love.  Or I guess you could say what we taught each other.

My brother and I promised our mom when she passed away almost 7 years ago that we would take care of him.  They had both always been a handful, but we had no idea how daunting this task would be.  Never the less, we did it, my brother and me, down to the last few hours, and even now by making sure his little dog is loved and cared for.  We weren’t trying to be martyrs or earn our angel wings, there was much more to it than that. 

On the Thursday before Good Friday, I started making countless trips to the hospital and learning things about the medical field that I thought was only something my daughter and son would do.  But hospitals are understaffed and he needed me.  It was not the time to think I was too good or not capable of stepping up to the plate.  While it was at times very unpleasant for us, I also thought of how utterly humbling it was for this once “man’s man” to now have to depend on his stepchildren to help him take care of every physical need.  It didn’t matter what he had or had not done prior to this time, all that mattered was he needed us and we were not going to abandon him when the going got tough.  Or as our mom use to say, “When the ox is in the ditch, who is going to show up?”  I can’t speak for my brother, but for me, it was about knowing that one day I will be in that ditch and I couldn’t help but think of the countless people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities everywhere that have no one.  Was he a handful?  Yes, and he had been one for over the 40 years he was in our lives.  Did we make a promise to our mom?  Yes, and I will be first to admit that once or twice in the past 7 years we have looked to the heavens and told her a time or two just what we thought about that promise. 

But THE most important thing that I learned, that really hit home for me, was that when we get married, how many really lean in and think of the vow to “love in sickness and in health”?  I mean REALLY think about that.  I was having a conversation with a dear friend of mine at Christmas and I jokingly said, in my overly confident Jen tone, “I will never live with anyone.  At our age if one of us gets sick and I have to wipe some man’s butt, I am going to be married to him!”  End of story, case closed…or so I thought.  During the countless trips to the hospital and as Clyde’s health continued to decline I had to recount those words to my friend, noting that God often times has a sense of humor.  I don’t think that God was laughing at me really, in all honesty, however what He did allow me to see was what true love, unconditional love for another human being looked like.  I was able to put aside all of the mean, cruel, and just Clyde type things, and help this man who took us in and was the only male figure in our lives.  Did he get this wrong at times?  Yes, but as a parent myself, who doesn’t.  Were there times when we wanted to walk away, despite what we had told our mom?  You bet we did!   But it was in watching this now frail man, who had no control of his body, light up if we walked into a room.  It was in watching this now frail man still argue with us when we told him he couldn’t smoke a cigar and wear oxygen.  It was in watching this now frail man use every last bit of strength he could muster and hold on to my hands for dear life up until the very last day that taught me what real true love, the “in sickness and in health, death do you part” kind of love looked like. His last lesson as a dad to teach me. 

In this age of Social Media overload, people of all ages are so quick to want to judge others based on the pictures they post or the job that they have, while completely overlooking THE most important feature of a person.  Their heart.  What is their ability to feel compassion and empathy?   Where are they going to be when sickness sets in?  And as someone now over the age of 50, let’s be honest, sickness does eventually set in.  I have watched how my own children helped me during this time and I am so very proud of them.  Their spouses will be in wonderful hands, but the past several months have had a profound impact on me.  I remember our high school civics teacher telling us we should never date anyone we wouldn’t want to marry.  Well I think at my age that should be worded a little differently, “Never date anyone who wouldn’t stand by you in sickness and in health.”  Who is going to hold your hands when the going gets tough, look you in the eyes, and no matter the prognosis make you feel like everything is going to be okay?  Whose face lights up when you enter a room?  Who shows compassion and empathy to others when no one is around?  Who is willing to roll up their sleeves and make life a little better for you one day at a time?  I don’t want to see a picture, I want to see your heart.

Clyde was one tough cookie and now we have him and mom looking out after us from up above.  So on this first Father’s Day without him, I am sure they are enjoying an afternoon totty, looking down on my brother and me, affectionately saying, “You did good guys.  Don’t worry, Jen…you’ve got this!”  This “man’s man” who taught me to shoot and trap alligators, left this earth teaching me how to truly love.  In the end, it was a blessing to us both and the greatest gift he could have ever given to me.  So I encourage you to look at your own heart and ask the very tough question, “Can I love those around me in sickness and in health?”  I can promise you this, if you can, if you can love them with complete and total unconditional love, you will receive the most precious gift that life can ever offer.

Happy Father’s Day Paw, we will miss you!  Love, Jen     


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