The ghost of Christmas future…

Picking up on my last blog… about the universe showing me what I need to see, when I need to see it…Last Friday, I decided to spend the day with my father. I want to spend more time with him outside of arguing about the building methods on the cabin and contradicting his ideas while inserting my own. It’s a hobby of mine, apparently. He participates. It’s a little game we play.

Anyway, I wanted some “Father-Daughter” time. And, we got it. But it wasn’t exactly as I had imagined it would be. It started out well – the evening before I arrived late and we stayed up way too late eating junk food (which neither one of us should be eating) and watching movies on DVD back-to-back. The next day we planned to let me get through my client appointments in the early a.m., then “play it by ear” for the afternoon.

I had to leave at 4:30 to make it to my maternal grandmother’s Christmas event. My mother was already there making preparations and Pops and I had the house to ourselves.

When I awoke, I took a quick shower and started working. I had two appointments that morning, but the rest of the day was cleared for time with him. Just before my first appointment, Pops came in and said “I need you for ten minutes.”

I tried to explain that I had a client appointment ready to begin, but his expression stopped me. I IMed the client that I needed 10 minutes and I’d give him a call. The client said that was fine and I followed my father.

The next door neighbor had fallen, and his wife – a delicate, petite bird-like woman couldn’t physically get him back into the bed. Pops wanted me to help, so he didn’t exert any undue pressure on the man. We went in and I saw a couple in their later years, in crisis. Perhaps it sounds like a minor crisis, but she was clearly concerned and he must have been terribly frustrated to have been held captive by his own body like that.

We got him into bed and on the walk back home, Pops said that this was fairly normal for his life now – people calling needing help with this or that and him going. He said that it made life good. I felt that being at everyone’s beck and call was a nightmare and resented being asked for anything these days, since there never seems to be 20 minutes to call my own. We run every weekend for family obligations, friend obligations or merely dropping off and picking up children to their fathers. I hate being on the run all the time. I hate being on call all the time and I had discussed my “quality of life” concerns with Pops the night before.

He told me that it bothered him to see me burning the candle at both ends (and in the middle) and that I was trading all this pushing and working and determination for an early grave. Now, if you knew my father, you would understand what an odd statement that really is. Maybe he can relax some now – but that’s fairly recent. There’s no way he ever let up when he was my age. And, even now, he’s always on call. He lectures me about my community work, my volunteering and my work load – while he volunteers and stays on call for everyone in the family on both sides and has spent literally MONTHS of his time working on the cabin here on the farm.

We argued about this on the way back to the house and I then held both of my scheduled morning meetings. Then I was “off work” – which was a huge step for me. To take the afternoon off. It was kinda cool, and mostly weird. As we tried to determine what we wanted to do – go to Lexington and look at the new tech gadgets (he’s a geek too) or sneak off and take in a matinee movie and massive amounts of Chinese food, or some other diversion, the phone rang.

Our afternoon plans, not yet fully formulated, changed abruptly. My great uncle was having serious health problems and needed to go to the doctor. My grandmother (the uncle’s sister) called to let Pops know. So, we planned the trip to go pick him up and get him to his doctor appointment. As we got up to leave, I had this amazingly sharp pain in my knee – direct result of junk food from the night before, I’m sure. The problems I have with my joints seems to disappear when I behave, and kicks in with a purple passion when I eat sugar and mass quantities of starches. I knew better and this was my punishment – but it had never HURT like that. I gasped and whimpered. And it REALLY hurt. I’m used to swelling when I misbehave, even the uncomfortable feeling that a joint will “give out” at any moment. But not pure, distilled pain like this. That was completely new.

My father gave me a look of concern and when it finally passed, welcomed me into “old age” telling me that this is how it begins. Someone should have smacked him for me, but I was too busy nursing my knee.

Once I could walk on it again, we prepared to leave. On the way down, we stopped by my Granny’s house. She was recently diagnosed with cancer and is having a difficult time. For the first time in my life I saw this woman moving slowly. This is my grandmother, that late into her seventies was skinny dipping in her pool and tanning herself on the roof in the buff. Yep, that’s my genetic pool. And those are just a couple of her more “tame” adventures. She’s a real character. But this visit, she was using a walker. The medication for the cancer was affecting her knees and making her arthritis kick up.

It was like the ghost of future days needed to give me a glimpse. I worry about her. Nothing has ever slowed that woman down. Nothing. Ever. ‘Til now. And she was talking about her annual Christmas party and saying that she was never going to be ready in time. I know that I should have volunteered to help her out, but with my schedule as it is, there’s never a free second. I’m always overbooked. But, it bothered me, and I started thinking that if I couldn’t help her with this, if I couldn’t be there when she needed me, what’s the use? If I can’t help my fellow man, especially my family, then is my life being lived properly?

My own answer to my own question was no.

We left soon thereafter, I didn’t want Pops to go down to the uncle’s house alone, just in case he was having mobility problems like last time. I didn’t want Pops to get “down in his back” from helping someone else. So I told Granny to take care and I’d come see her as soon as I could and we left. I also didn’t make it to my other Mamaws’ party. No “planned” activity survived this particular day. Not one.

Walking in, I thought about my uncle, who lost his wife several years ago and the only son, now in a nursing home suffering from the latter stages of Parkinson’s disease. He lived his life holding his family together and now his wife is gone and he’s making daily trips 20 minutes away each day to feed his son because he feels that the nurses don’t have the time to feed him properly. Since the process takes nearly two hours, I’d bet he’s right.

And now, he spends his time at home, reading his paper, watching TV and approaching the end of his life alone. And I find it ironic that my father is the one that he calls when he needs anything. I remember being a teenager and becoming so angry with this great uncle because he teased my father unmercifully. I frankly disliked him for years. And now it’s that man, the one he teased for decades, that’s coming to his rescue.

Strange how life twists and turns, isn’t it?

So we go and take him to the doctor, and I look at the sick and ailing patients in the waiting room, and I know that I should feel lucky. But, I’ve been in such a funk, I just can’t. I just feel guilty for not being more appreciative of everything I have, and of all the blessings I have been granted.

From there, the doctor says the uncle needs to go into the hospital overnight for observation. So we prepare to take him, but he refuses to go until after he’s fed his son. We go with him to try to help with the feeding.

The visions of what’s in my future that I’d seen so far this day were nothing in comparison to the sights I see at the nursing home. Many people there are nearly catatonic. They lay in bed. One man in the son’s room (which was shared by four people and is the size of my current smallish living room) was in bed and never moved from his fetal position and one got up and walked on his own. The one that was most alarming was a man drawn about the face, his skin stretched so tightly over his cheekbones and around his always-open mouth, that he appeared dead. The only sign of life were his eyes that darted about the room furiously. They never stopped moving. He looked like a bizarrely animated corpse. The nursing staff used a small “crane” to get him into his bed from the wheelchair where he sat. His body never moved under it’s own power, only the eyes moved while his mouth stayed wide and the skin around his mouth pulled at his lips.

It was alarming. Pops cousin was diagnosed with the disease when he was just a few years older than I am now. He’s been like this for over 15 years – slowly declining. Now, he lays in bed and gets frustrated trying to communicate, and his body shakes more dramatically the more frustrated he becomes. His body is his prison.

That, to me, would be hell. Pure, unadulterated hell.

And although this entire day, the sights, the thoughts and the heart-to-heart discussions on the meaning of life with my father were not what I’d intended, it was an amazing day.

Saying I’m lucky and I’m blessed is one thing – having it so dramatically displayed for me was something else. The universe really outdid itself that day. And, a few days earlier, I’d not have been open to the lessons. I would have been too busy with my own selfish quandaries and thoughts and ponderings to have been able to open my eyes.

Now, I feel even more guilty for not appreciating my life on a minute-by-minute basis – and I have a new-found strength and determination to find a way to slow down and enjoy it more.

I don’t want to look back in a few short years and regret that I wasted my life with things that didn’t matter and used up my years of mobility, health and youth on items of imagined importance.

I still look back on my time at the newspaper and realize that all those hours put into that job took away time from my life, from my tiny son, from the things I could have done, from the enjoyment I should have had. Instead, I rushed around all the time, worked ungodly hours, pushed and pushed even through my second pregnancy – and did it all to save a newspaper that folded within a couple months of the time I left.

All that time, all that life-force, for something that folded anyway. What a waste. Then, like now, I loved what I did. Then, it made me feel important, like I was somebody.

Now, my work is a big part of who I am, but it doesn’t make me feel important. It makes me feel lucky to be able to do – for pay – what I’d probably do for free just because I love it that much.

I write. I help people organize their businesses and convey ideas. That’s who I am, it’s what I do. Now, I just need to do the same for me. I need to organize my life, make hard choices on what’s most important and …

Learn to let go of more. A lot more.

It’s time to pick my battles and remember the quote from that lady I posted a few blogs ago so that I can skid in sideways screaming “holy shit what a ride!” when my days screech to a halt. And, it’s time for me to consider and closely inspect the example my father is setting for me. He may have been on this path at my age-but he did get off, and he wants to help me learn to do the same. He’s setting a good example. I wonder if I can follow it.