I know I am supposed to stay optimistic and I am. Life could be all be different in a year, 6 months or even 3.
It doesn’t, however, change the fact that I am experiencing the loss of my dad on a daily basis. He is standing right there, all of him in one piece, just 15 pounds lighter due to his depression. Yet, his spirit, and maybe even to a certain extent, his soul, is gone or at least in hiding. He lost the energy to do anything. Even the busy work that he always had a knack for finding around the house no longer motivated him. I used to joke he had ADHD，which might not have been too far from the truth. Now I have to assign very specific and small step tasks to prevent him from standing there in a heap of lost flesh and bones.
Sometimes as I stand there listening and comforting him in his myriad of imagined troubles–the regular bank statement as an unscheduled charge, the trashman on the mobile phone reporting him for his pile, or the car stopping in front of house as hackers getting his wifi network, I sense a faint but clear urge to shake him or even slap him. It is not just that I felt desperate to awaken something in him, It is also that look of helplessness and worthlessness on his face reminded me of how I was made to feel as a child. His own anxiety, fear of failure and lack of self-worth was fused into his discipline and fear-based education. While he was rarely physical, his verbal threatens and facial expression instilled fear and shame, the very same thing he felt about himself, and perhaps his father felt before him. While I know social, genetic and family factors all conspired against him, I can’t fault the small child in me for feeling the injustice in having been reduced to years of anxiety and unhappiness by a man who turned out to be trapped by fear all his life. The same man is now dependent on me for the smallest tasks, at an intersection of my life that involves marital crisis, career change, and a vibrant toddler. That moment was usually gone in seconds, and I am back to answering his concerns as calmly and gently as I could, while mentally adding one more thing to my long do list. That does make me wonder if that is why elderly abuse can be so common when people take care of their parents.
I am, however, still overall happier than I have ever been. I am stressed, anxious and scared at times, or maybe often. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record in my latest posts, life is ultimately is a beautiful gift with wonderful surprises. The default state in life can seem like it is pain at times, this is one of those times. But when I focus on the moments of love, then beauty stands out. The neighbor who wiped the blood off my mom’s mouth moments after she passed, the aunts and uncles who come multiple time a week to help me with my dad, the friends who show up to counsel my dad, and the knowledge I learn in class to fuel my own self-care and the writing buddies who check in on me and help me remember to keep writing. Even if some of those help comes with unintended consequences, unwelcome advice, or skewed expectations for my gender that add to my emotional and physical burden, the underlining care expressed nurture my lonely and sad spirit.
It is with this intense focus on the positivity of the moment that I remain steadfast in my calmness with my shriveling dad. I have empathy for the suffering he is going through as another human, freeing him from his role as my father. He is, in effect, my other child at this moment. He is the one I can’t pick up and put in the stroller, the one who is still conscious of everything but powerless to do anything, and the one incapable of feeling anything but sadness and fear. I behold his vulnerability in my heart, aware and accepting of my inability to help him out of a hole he could only climb out of himself. I make sure he gets his medicine and gets to his doctor appointments. Only the modern wonder of science, his own body and whatever sense of self he has built up over his 67 years of life will save him. If the poverty, political turmoil and emotional disconnect he has experienced in the first 40 years of his life have not completely buried his soul, he will come back with more renewed rigor for this life.
I am hopeful, but I am not invested in the outcome. I have so much else to live for. Whatever the process or end, he will have my compassion. I can hold his pain without being taken over by it. I will help without losing myself.