When he looked at me, it was clear my father wasn't sure who I was. And as I looked back at him, I wasn't sure who he was, either.
My father had just endured two heart surgeries and 6 days in intensive care. He'd returned to the hospital where he'd worked for 40 years. It was the hospital where all his children had been born. And as he sat in his bed gazing at me, I knew he might never be the same. The doctors said that he may have a long period of confusion after the surgeries. And because he's eighty-six, it may be many months before he returns to normal.
It's also possible he may never be "normal" again.
The roller coaster of feelings we've had the past week have settled a bit. Now, we simply wait. We wait to see if the memory comes back and the confusion fades. We hope that he regains what he once had, as we realize who he was may be "gone."
It's a realization that feels a lot like death.
To spend two days wondering if your father will live or die brings you many things. It allows you to appreciate every moment of life. It fills you with memories, and it fills you with pain. It reminds you of something that can easily be forgotten as you run around in your busy life: life is incredibly fragile, and can be taken away in an instant.
I sat there in this hospital room, spoon-feeding the man I've seen as powerful and capable my entire life. It felt like the full circle of life had come around us. It was both satisfying and frightening. It felt good to support him, yet part of me wanted to tell him to "be normal" again. I wasn't sure if I was ready to accept the full meaning of it: that my father may never be that powerful and capable person again.
My mother has been married to my father for sixty years. During the darkest time before the second surgery, she said, "You have sixty years with someone, but you just want more."
Pain and suffering have visited my family, as it will visit all families. And while we hesitate to face pain and suffering, it has great lessons to teach us. Pain and suffering are well outside of the boundaries of our everyday life. When it comes, it shatters these boundaries and turns our world upside down. We become a family with all of the others who have known pain and suffering. And we have another chance to prioritize what's truly important in our lives.
This crisis will pass, and we'll all be changed by it. The healing hands of time will do their work. I'm thankful that I've told my father everything I've wanted to say to him. And I'm thankful to have my family to lean on during this difficult time. We'll all be challenged by this to show more support, care, and love.
This is as it should be. Sometimes, it takes a crisis to remind us of why we're all here.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches busy parents by
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