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2020:  Year of the Pandemic?  For Me, It’s the Year of Dad

By Lori Welch Brown

2020:  Year of the Pandemic?  For Me, It’s the Year of Dad

Pandemic, pandemic, pandemic.  I am tired of all the attention you are getting.  I’d say you are distracting us from what is really important, but in some sort of messed up way, perhaps you have helped us do just the opposite.  I already had an incredible appreciation for dear ol’ dad, but not being able to visit him since March has really put things into perspective.

Dad relocated back to Virginia last April.  I was thrilled to be able to see him more than twice a year and not have to deal with connecting flights.  He was splitting his time between my home in Alexandria and my brother’s in Stafford.  For two week stretches, he and I would wake up, get our coffee and start our days together.  I’d get him some cereal, help him do some standing exercises, and tidy up until his caregiver arrived at which time I’d run off to do some ‘busy’ work.  Busy, busy, busy.  Always stuff to be done.  I’d circle back at 3:00 p.m. when his caregiver turned into a pumpkin, and Dad and I would settle in for an hour of Judge Judy.  It was my favorite time of day.

I didn’t always do it with a smile on my face.  Some days I felt stressed and overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a high-fall risk 90 year old who hasn’t been able to regain his ability to walk since his hip transplant in early 2019. Helping him in and out of the bathroom was often a death defying undertaking.  Once the mission was completed safely, we would high five, and I’d say, “Good job.”  What I meant was, “Thanks for not falling and landing on me,” or “Thanks for not splitting your head open on the bathroom floor so I’d be stuck with that vision for life and the guilt of killing my father.”  I learned to have my cell phone in my pocket at all times just in case.

Some days I felt like a prisoner in my own home.  On the four days we didn’t have help, I couldn’t be farther than his alarm would sound (about 300 feet).  Ugh.  And that alarm.  When it sounded, it was 1,000 times worse than the TV bomb warning screech.  I’d be sitting downstairs doing some yoga or painting when all of the sudden the high-pitch RRREEEEEERRRRRREEEBBBEEEEEEEPPPP would sound and send me into cardiac arrest.  Seriously, if I were lying in a coma, that noise would bring me back.  I still have nightmares about it.  One day he sounded it, and I ran up the steps three at a time, breathlessly rushed out to the sunroom to find him sitting happily (no blood anywhere).  He looked at me as he was handing his phone out and said, “Can you call Diane for me?”

We did this for eight months before a trip to the hospital around Christmas morphed into a stint at a skilled nursing facility which ended with the painful decision for him to go into assisted living.  It was a hard decision, but he is happy and has great round-the-clock care.

The irony has not escaped me that here I am trapped in my house yet again.  This time without Dad, and it is breaking my heart.  I miss seeing that big smile.  We are able to “FaceTime” twice a week, but it’s not the same.  It’s a blessing though so I’m taking it.  I cherish hearing him say, “You got that right,” after I talk about how crazy this situation is.  I smile when he prefaces pretty much everything with, “Well, I’ll tell you what…”

During these brief 15 minutes calls, I’m focused and present.  I’m watching his every movement and listening to all his witticisms while admiring his tenacity and perseverance.  Not once has he complained.  Most days he smiles, laughs and jokes.  Always he is flashing that smile and flirting with the aide standing nearby helping him with the call.

He can’t walk or see well, and has been sitting in a room alone (give or take nurses/aides) for going on three months, but still finds a reason to laugh and smile. And, at 90, he has made new friends.  A friendship with a lady friend was starting to blossom before COVID-19 ground all socialization to a halt.

I’ve always known Dad was resilient.  After his wife of 52 years passed back in 2006, my brothers and I watched our Dad re-invent himself.  He met and built a life with a new partner which took him away from the state he had spent his entire life.  He was 81 years old at the time.  When that relationship ended last year, he got on a plane, moved back home, and started over again.  Months later, I traveled by his side as we flew to Oklahoma to bury his first born, my oldest brother Phil.  He was 89 years old, in a wheelchair and still recovering from his hip replacement surgery.  I told him he didn’t have to make the trip; everyone would understand, but he insisted.  We had the suit he wore at my wedding dry cleaned and off we went.

I am amazed that after all these years and WAY into my adulthood, I still have so much to learn from the man I am privileged to call Dad. Every day he is on this planet, he teaches me something, but perhaps the most important lesson of all is to just keep going.  One foot in front of the other, or one push or roll, but keep moving forward.  And, you might as well smile while you’re moving.  A positive attitude is healthy and you’ll need it when you’re 90.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, especially mine.  Big shout out to my husband also.  He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a loving, supportive dad.

And to all the moms pulling double duty, hats off to you.

And, please say a prayer for all the folks like my Dad who can’t hug their family.  May they stay safe and well until they can hug their loves ones again soon.

If you’d like to read more of Lori’s work, you can follow her on Medium at Lori Welch Brown.

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