44: Can I Do This?

44: Can I Do This?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Can I Do This?

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.

~Euripides

My dad and I had never been close. He was a funny old man and, honestly, he embarrassed me. When I was a teenager, I was sure he was way weirder than my friends’ dads, with his short, stout body, curly white hair, silly beard, and nerdy glasses. His awkwardness at conversation didn’t help.

When I became a mother, I realized how much work it is to be a parent, and my respect for him rose. Still, though, when we visited him, the conversation was awkward. I felt like we never got anywhere meaningful.

And now that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer and was probably dying, I said he could come and live with me. My older sister was always the one to take on the “hard stuff” in the family, and I wanted to prove that I could do it, too.

My husband, our two young children and I opened our home to my dad one day in March. My brother drove him up, dropped him off, and wished me good luck before he drove the two hours to the town where he and my sister lived. He was as surprised as the rest of the family that I, the baby of the family, a 30-something baby, was going to do this. Even my mom, long divorced from this little old man, was worried it would be too much for me.

I seriously had no idea how hard it would be. We set up a room for him off the kitchen. He settled in okay, enjoying his computer, spending time reading while the children played with their toys on his floor, and eating our good food. And, oh, how he loved to eat. At first, it wasn’t a big deal. What was one more plate to fill? But my kids were still young. They needed meals, snacks, monitoring and attention—constant (it seemed) attention.

“Mommy, Max is writing on the floor!”

“Mommy, I’m a fireman!” (Max pours water on the couch, which is apparently on fire.)

“Mommy, I fell!”

“Mommy, I’m hungry!”

“Mommy, I want you!”

I was used to all that. It had been my life for the past six years. It was hard, it often wasn’t fun, but it’s what I’d signed up for, and I did it as well as I could. But now I had another person in my care 24/7.

“So, what’s for lunch?” My dad would sit at the table and watch me cook. He was too weak to help, but happily able to anticipate eating the next installment of whatever I served him. Three meals, three snacks. Every day. “Crackers and cheese? Good.” “Spaghetti? Good.” “Ice cream? Good.” He ate it all with gusto. And somehow, the more he ate, the more resentful I felt.

It got to the point where I wished I could feed my kids without him knowing, without having to feed him, too. And then, of course, I would feel guilty for feeling that way. He was sick. Dying even. How could I be mad at him for liking the food I gave him? It didn’t make sense.

My sister and I had always been pretty close, but this was a whole new world for us to dive into. She was extremely grateful that I had agreed to take Dad into my home. She, unlike me, knew it would be very rough. After a long day of taking him to various doctors’ appointments, standing in line for him at the pharmacy, feeding him and feeding him and feeding him, and spending (what seemed like) hours rubbing his feet with lotion, I would call Jane on the phone.

“How are you doing?” she’d ask, true concern in her voice.

“I’m exhausted,” I’d tell her.

“You’re awesome,” she’d say.

“Guess what he did today,” I’d say, and I’d go on to tell her the outrageous thing he did, and how I managed to keep my cool. “I could do it,” I told her, “because I knew I’d talk with you tonight, and we would laugh about it.”

Like the time when the doctor entered the room at an appointment, and my dad thrust his jacket at me and said, “Here,” in a very rude way. Even the doctor was embarrassed for me. Later, in the car, Dad almost apologized by saying, “Doctors are very busy and important people. When I have an opportunity to speak with one, I need you to be my hook.”

“Your hook?” What could that mean?

“You know,” he said, “for my coat. You have to be a hook for my coat.”

“Um, sure, Dad. Okay.”

I’m his hook. When I told Jane that one, she laughed so hard that it got me laughing. She was able to get me to see beyond the painful inconvenience of caring for my dad. The laughing helped me lighten up and lessen the complaining. She listened with a loving ear, never judging, always reminding me that what I was doing was really important, and I would never regret it. Really.

And she was right. One night, I sat folding laundry on the living room couch. My dad sat across from me in his chair. He had lost most of his curls, his skin was loose and pale, and his stomach was distended from the cancer. As I folded tiny shirts with tractors on them and little striped tights, we talked. We talked about the kids, how much they had grown, how great they were. We talked about my husband, whom he adored. We talked about the photos he had taken of the flowers back at his house, and one of a moose that had sauntered into his yard. We talked and laughed, and I suddenly realized I had been given a great gift. For the first time in my life, I was totally comfortable with my dad. In fact, I enjoyed being with him. Slowly, throughout the weeks he’d been staying with us, we had been building up a sweet friendship that had been absent my whole life. Hey, I liked this guy!

The next time I talked to Jane, I told her about it. “Of course, he’s great,” she said. She and our dad had always been close. “It’s about time you found out. It’s about time you and Dad had a relationship.”

It’s about time I grew up, I thought.

I will be forever grateful for the hard time taking care of my dad, and for the love and friendship that formed with him. His lasting gift to me is beyond gifts: my new best friend forever, my sister Jane.

~Lava Mueller

More stories from our partners