Heading towards the 1st of January usually gets us thinking about how we're going to be better at something in the coming months, or how we're going to be healthier, fitter, nicer.... in reality these are reflections of what we did to ourselves (and others) over the last twelve months, and that reflection gives us pause to assess what kind of humans we were, and how we're going to be better. It's also a period of time, much like our birthdays, when we realize that we're done with one more year and we better get our shit together... this time... "we promise." Adding years to our lives usually equates to increasing our healthy habits and decreasing the bad ones (one would hope, at least for a month or so). That makes sense. Habits, like clean eating and exercising more often, (drinking less) are standard for health and longevity. That said, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a quote by Abraham Lincoln that really gave me pause. “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” I also thought about one of my father's favorite songs by Teddy Pendergrass. Keep reading.
I actually started writing this post to talk about how hard it has been to watch my dad deteriorate as he's been suffering from dementia. I wanted to talk about living life to it's fullest. I was going to talk about how it was so hard on my mom to manage his health. How everyone's life was a bit upside down. That the health care system we were dealing with, personally, seemed like it was only geared toward those who have nothing and those who have everything, but the good people who save all of their lives and do "all the right things" are the ones who really have it the hardest in the end of their lives. My mother had transitioned from lover, wife, best friend, partner in life, to nurse. She became his sole caregiver. We lamented the unfairness of it all. We wished for some help, or at least some relief, but still my mother showed grace. She showed strength, and in the end, what my mother did was show unconditional love. But still.. how do you live your life to the fullest when faced by these obstacles?
Below is what I had begun writing about what we were experiencing with my dad and my mom, who was never wavering in her care of my father.
My father is suffering from dementia, and nearing the end of his life. He was actually hospitalized today and we are by his side, holding onto each breath he breathes, holding hands; reflecting. Watching this happen to a man whom I love so dearly, rips my heart from my chest and the life from my guts. This is a shameless disease, a disease that robs a body of its executive function, of its memories, of its ability to recognize the faces it once knew so well. I can’t make sense of it; there isn’t a “making sense” of such an indiscriminate and unfair life sentence. To preserve my sanity, I am constantly searching my soul and digging into my reserves to make myself available and strong for my family. I do this by looking for an answer. Not the kind of answer that explains why things happen. That is a futile and unhealthy endeavor. I look for glimmers of inspiration, of spiritual soul food, that can light my path and my heart at its darkest moments. For me, this quote reminds me to focus on living my life to its fullest, perhaps something my father never got to do toward the end and the sacrifices my mother has made to insure his simple comforts. This post is about uncovering the lesson, salvaging the good, and using that knowledge to free myself from the negative weight.
As life or irony would have it, my father passed away in the hospital this past week. We had the privilege of holding him, of telling him how much we loved him, and giving him grace as we shared stories of how he impacted our lives, how he was a wonderful father, husband, uncle, brother, teacher, and that he was safe, whatever he may be feeling. But this goes back to the original feeling of looking for glimmers of inspiration, listening for those signs of love, being open to spiritual soul food. My dad was a risk taker. He defied his own fate. Poor kid, no mom, tough life.... but never gave up. He had a vision of what he wanted his life to look like and what he wanted his family's life to be like. He instilled work ethics, he believed in equality. He believed in hard work. He believed in study. He believed that giving the gift of expanding our experiences as a family was his greatest gift he could offer. Exposure. Tolerance. Love. This is what he strove to give us and he did. He shaped us in this regard.
As we head toward a new year and we're thinking of our past, I encourage you to reflect on the life you have in each one of your years. Sometimes we get caught up in the things that really don't matter to the soul of who we are. Our careers, our stresses, our little irritants; they can tend to consume us at times, and it's understandable. Bills have to be paid, crises need to be averted, obligations need to be met. Still, I'm thinking that if we think of our years as a little more sacred, the priorities we place on things could shift. I reflect on my mother's dedication to making my father's last years filled with love, respect, and care, even when he didn't recognize her, or remember how to unbuckle his seat belt, or remember his grandchildren's names, or his address, or whatever the hell she was trying to communicate with him, she showed what true love is. She showed what humans sacrifice for love. And the one thing about my dad, he never forgot how to say, "I love you too." He just needed one of us to say it first.
In the end I think what I'm trying to say is that we would all do well with a little more love in our life and that means a little more love (life) in our years. I find as I age, my years speed faster and faster from one year to the next and the funniest thing I do is look back and say to myself, "Shit, you looked happy (and young) then", as I browse through pictures of yore. I also have vivid memories of those exact pictures thinking stupid thoughts like "I feel so fat", "I don't like my hair," "What am I doing with my life?" Fast forward to having to say good-bye to my father who could have cared less about what I was wearing, what I was doing with my life, or what my hair looked like. I'm pretty sure he was happy that I could hold him, be with him in his time of transition, and give him unconditional love and assurance that we were all with him forever. He would have loved that I remembered Teddy Pendergrass, and dancing in our living room. A life in my year.. not a year in my life.
So to sum it all up. In celebration of my incredible mother who continues to show what love is, and my father, who defied all odds in his life to give us an incredible taste of what putting life in our years truly means...a couple of lines from Teddy Pendergrass.
Click here to get a taste of what my dad gave us every day he was living in his years and "doing that thing".
Teddy Pendergrass's "Get Up, Get Funky, Get Loose" :
"Although this crowd is full of people
There's room enough for you and me
I can get a chance to hold you in my arms
And whisper something sweet in your ear
When you're having fun the time just slips away
So let's make use of the moment that we share
Let's act like we don't care, do ya hear me?
Free like a bird in the air, come on people."
...it's a party.. whoop whoop.
I miss you Dad, I promise to continue to put life in my years.