I am sitting across from my father in our kitchen table, which was designed for 4 but where usually a large crowd of 5-6 gathered for meals on recent weekends. We try to replace the loneliness inside with the number of people in our presence.
Now we are alone for our weekday dinner. We both feel lonely while we chew our food, which I cooked and I am sure it doesn’t taste that good to him. I don’t and can’t cook like my mom. He is missing her, missing his old self; I am missing my mom, my energetic even if anxious dad, my child who is thousands of miles away and even my partner in my troubled marriage.
When I said “watching the fading of life” in one of my discussion emails a few months ago with my husband, as part of our negotiation about where to move to in order to be closer to my parents and find the help to repair our marriage, I didn’t know I would be doing exactly that so soon. My father is in deep shock and severely depressed. Watching my dad suffering this way is literally watching his life fade. Of course, I am still hoping he will recover and lead a fulfilling life and maybe even have another great romance. It will take time. I am trying to strike a balance between staying optimistic and being realistic that his condition might not improve as fast as he did 10 years ago when he got depressed due to work pressure. This will give me more resilience during the caregiving process. His depression is not just eating away at his mind but also his body. He lost a lot of weight despite eating well at every meal and feeling very physically weak. A simple dog walk makes him feel strained, whereas he has always been strong and physically active. He has a dull look in his eyes, that I couldn’t tell if it is depression or the slow onset of losing his mind. I am just as worried as he is that he might have a hereditary predisposition as his own father for Alzheimer’s, and this shock might overwhelm his mind and push him into it prematurely(I have no idea how Alzheimer’s works of course or even if this fear makes sense).
I am not afraid if he has Alzheimer’s or dementia and become dependent, I can take him to live close to me and arrange for care. But the worse is when it is in between when he is aware enough to know he is not well and is terrified. That is watching him suffer, as I have been. He is trying really hard and battling against the psychological and biological forces that are pushing him down, with the help of some medicine which at times can make him feel worse. If he is entirely oblivious, I can be happy for the life he can still lead as if he was a disabled but happy child. It is heartbreaking to lose my mom(and not really have time to mourn her) and immediately start to feel like losing another parent. So I have skipped my mourning just to double it. Still, life is special, even in its inevitable coming and going, happiness and suffering. I am allowing myself to feel the sadness and fear. In doing so, I feel okay, strong and even joyful about life.
I cry occasionally for the disappearance of my mom’s earthly body in between chatting with my toddler on skype, writing emails to my husband, dealing with life insurance agents, retirement account administrators, attorneys and most importantly handling my father’s health and psychiatric care. I wonder how much more tears I have yet to release for losing my mother so suddenly since it is not natural in our culture to cry in public or even in private, as my father believes. I am not averse to crying in private, but I have to make an effort to access my feelings. It is not exactly spontaneous. I have to give myself cognitive permission to access her memory or look at a photo of hers or connect a household item with actions she normally would use it for. I have started to think so many of our troubles in life and relationships stem from our inability to access and assess our feelings: our tendency to quit things we failed and pretend we didn’t like it instead of admitting we are afraid, my husband inability to find the time to respond to my communications or ask how I was doing as I mourn my mom and caring my ailing father while away from my family, my tendency to be angry at him about some small things when I am simply missing his tenderness, or my need to win arguments with people around me because I am unaware other people’s successes threaten my own sense of self-worth.
Even after we do access and assess our feelings, we do not know always how to hold them. Often the sadness, fear or loneliness can be so overwhelming, as they probably were the first time in our lives we felt them as mere children, we try to avoid feeling them as much as possible until we eventually we lost the ability to feel them. Only drastic events that cause dramatic emotions, most likely pain and suffering, have the potential of reopening those blocked emotional channels. This was what happened to me when I found out my loyal husband was flirting with his colleague, and now my mom died without warning and my father’s capacity for life has diminished overnight. The pain and grief are acting like shock therapy for my body and re-opened the lost connection between my mind and my body. Perhaps I am young and supple in my heart, my writing and friends and family network have given me strong emotional support along with wise counsel from my therapist, instead of feeling overwhelmed and driven to depression, I am feeling rejuvenated and more positive about life more than ever. This is even while I am facing a lot of sadness, stress, and uncertainties about the future. I finally discovered that if I allow myself to feel all that I am feeling, no judgment, no analyses, no trying to “solve” it as a problem, I find that I feel okay. The acceptance of my feelings is a form of ultimate acceptance of myself, and that we know is the ultimate sauce of happiness.
Okay, I might be simplifying it just a ted, but I am truly feeling okay, strong while feeling the weight of caring for my child and my ailing dad, positive while aware of the potential of emotional and physical exhaustion the next decade of caretaking and career pursuit will hold for me, happy with myself while knowing that I am lonely in a marriage with a man who is limited in his empathy and emotional range. Most of all, I am excited about all the life ahead of me, the excitement and nerves of a new career, the uncertainty of my family’s trajectory, and my struggles and feelings through all life’s challenges.
Be with me in your hearts, my friends!