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It was a slow waltz, one that started before any of us were ready to face the music. Barely a hint of the melody could be heard in the distance but it inched closer, ever so slowly, pulling us towards the dance that would change the dynamics of our family and wrap us closer together.
I remember it clearly. My Dad and I sat in a small San Francisco seafood restaurant enjoying a bucket full of fresh crab legs the night before his flight back to Ohio the following morning. Visiting me was his first real vacation in decades and he marveled, as he cracked crab shells, at how kind the airline pilot had been to let him look in the cockpit on his flight out from Cleveland.
Dad's health was not great and hadn't been for a long while, partly because of bad luck, and partly because he was not able to discipline himself to follow doctor's orders. After a nasty fall that complicated things further, and to some degree sealed his fate, he was on disability and unable to work even though he was only in his early 50s at the time.
He walked with crutches, in a painful kind of way. The crutches were to steady himself but did little to ease his deteriorating bones and joints. Our time together demonstrated just how difficult his mobility was and that he was putting on a good face so as not to worry me. But I could see for myself, things were far worse then he let on.
The father of five children, Dad was the head of the house-- the "go to" guy of our very large immediate and extended family. He ruled the roost, so to speak with a huge heart and a kind smile, but even though we were all adults, some with families of our own, he was still our Dad and we were still his "kids". We all lived very comfortably and happy with our "chain of command" and never gave it a second thought.
As we finished our crab dinner on a happy note and contemplated dessert options, I tip-toed into uncharted water as the first chords of our waltz began to play. Asking about his true health condition, and his medical and insurance options brought a screeching halt to the conversation. We sat motionless for a long moment.
Dad saw no options and had no back-up plan. His health "was what it was", in his opinion, and other then government assistance there was no medical insurance. He needed help and the music played louder in my head.
The first slow steps of our waltz started during a difficult and sad conversation about life not ending up quiet the way Dad had hoped. Ailing and living alone, he knew his home was becoming too much for him to handle, especially with his bedroom on the second floor. He knew too, that his employment options had evaporated with his health issues, and his bank account was nearly empty. Tears welled in his eyes as I tried to protect his dignity and pride knowing this was difficult father-daughter exchange.
Growing up in our family, we were raised with the "pass the hat" and "circle the wagons" mentality. If a loved one needed financial help, we passed the proverbial hat around and collected as much money for them as necessary. If someone was down and out, we'd bring the family together and circle those in need with love and support. Through it all, Dad especially watched out for his kids, no matter what our age.
But the hat had never been passed or the wagon circled for our Dad like this before and that was a painful pill for him to sallow. We talked and danced around his need for help, but that night at dinner, without a doubt, our roles had changed and the waltz had begun. I think Dad noticed the dance too, but his grace through the conversation was heart-warming with no words spoken on the subject.
By the time his plane landed in Ohio the following evening, I had talked to my siblings to hatch a caregiving and support plan. The wagons were circled and all five of us engaged-- each in our own way, but each committed to his well-being.
With any dance, someone leads, someone follows, and you always hope not to step on the other's toes. As the transition from children to the adult caregivers started, my siblings and I all had our eye on dear Dad's toes.
Over the next seven years, life became increasingly difficult for him as his health furthered deteriorated and cancer introduced itself to the dance. It was not pretty and at times it took a major toll on Dad and his spirit. But we all continued our delicate dance, protecting his rightful Head of the Family status and cheering on his every step.
Eventually, Dad was no longer able to care for himself or watch out for us-- his five adult "kids", like he used to. He accepted our circle of love graciously and when the time came for him to move in with Baby Sister and her family, there was an audible sigh and look of relief on his face.
Two years later, Dad was blessed to see the birth of his seventh grandchild. Despite being so incredibly sick, he was joyful and began looking forward to more little ones. But that was not to be. Three weeks later, Dad died, in his own bed in Baby Sister's family home, surrounded by my siblings and their spouses.
The dance-- the one that started between a Father and daughter in a San Francisco restaurant ended with the Father as the one cared for and the grateful daughter happy to know her Dad's quality of life had been full of love, secure and safe.
I visited often and called daily but my three sisters and brother, along with their spouses, really carried the family flag and the enormous weight of his actual care through Dad's last few years, literally taking turns towards the end, around the clock, to help Dad and assist the nursing staff we eventually needed to hired to meet his medical needs.
When he was gone, the music we'd all heard playing for so long, stopped, and it was deafening-- Dad was no long there to watch out for his kids. The waltz was over.
The following days passed in a blur of heart-ache, grief and sadness. So many times I'd reach for the phone to tell Dad about something that had just happened. Each time I stopped myself, mid-dial, hanging-up in a puddle of tears.
Then on a warm September afternoon my phone ring. Carol, Dad's night nurse was calling with a message.
On many a sleepless night, Dad and Carol had talked to help him through the non-stop pain. Apparently I was occasionally a topic of conversation because Carol knew all about our San Francisco trip, the plane's cockpit, the crab dinner and ever other detail of our time together.
She told me Dad, knowing I wasn't the tough cookie I pretended to be, had specifically asked her to call a few weeks after he passed away. Dad wanted her to make sure I was alright because he wasn't around to watch out for me anymore.
This wonderful gift-- that last watch over me from Dad-- left me speechless. It was then I knew he was once again leading our waltz-- A waltz that is forever in my heart.
Welcome to www.TheFiftyFactor.com - Joanna Jenkins