Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Search for Acceptance and Optimism

My last few posts have been primarily about work.  When I looked back today, this is what I noticed.  It doesn't surprise me though.  My work is what has kept me going, breathing, surviving.  My friends are what keep me alive -- and living -- but it's my job that forces me out from under the safety of my covers.  I'm lucky that way.  I'm lucky to have that purpose.  Not everyone does.

It's been a difficult and sad month.  And I think that I've avoided the difficulty partly by refusing to acknowledge it to most people.  But it's time to get out from under the safety of my covers again because a refusal to acknowledge real life does not equal the ability to completely live real life.

Just about 3 weeks ago, something happened that I've known would happen for a long time.  We had to place my dad in a nursing home.  Even just that statement, to say it aloud even to my closest friends has been so nearly impossible.  I tried feverishly to come up with a different way to say it, or just not to say it at all, but it is what it is.  For all of his efforts, for all of my mom's efforts, they had simply lost the physical ability to care for one another.

I'm not sure why it's been so difficult.  In my head, I understand that none of this is anyone's fault.  My dad just drew the unlucky card and was saddled with Parkinson's, a disease I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  And he played the hand the only way he knew how... with humor and optimism first... then with anger and isolation...  with everything he had until he became someone that was sometimes unrecognizable.  He made mistakes, but so did the rest of us.  My family wandered away from one another, sometimes feeling lost and alone, only to realize that all roads eventually lead back to each other.  Because that's how family works, they are yours and you are theirs, no matter how far you run, no matter how rough the road.

I've thought and questioned for years now why any of this has happened, the diminishment of my father, the fracture of my family.  It's easy to shroud myself in self-pity and lash out at the unfairness of it all.  But my struggle is no different than anyone else's, it's just wrapped in different packaging.  Mine, like so many, chooses the costumes of Shame and Guilt.  Shame and Guilt, they are the WonderTwins of damaged emotions.

I talked to my dad a few days ago on the phone.  Because of my work schedule, I've been unable to go the 5 hours to see him.  It was one of the toughest calls I've ever made.  I had never made such a call before, and I was afraid. And ashamed. And heartbroken. Words don't come easy at moments like those, even for me. I was heartbroken to think of my Daddy in a nursing home even though, for 12 years, I've known this would be the eventual result. I was ashamed that he checked in there under the care of strangers, without family, and lived there 6 days before I worked up the nerve to even call him on the phone. Afraid that he hated me.  Afraid that I had let him down.  Afraid to acknowledge that this was all real. 

I made it through that call, but I haven't been able to make another.  Of course, I feel the shame burn in that as well although, in my head, I know I shouldn't. I just wish someone would tell it to my heart.  My mom has been visiting him often.  They play dominos.  They eat dinner.  They watch t.v.  But then they say goodbye.  This is their new reality, our new reality, and it's hard to accept.

Acceptance has been steadily on my mind lately.  Acceptance and faith and my curiosity about both.  My wish for both. My acknowledgment that neither come without effort.  I recently sent an email to my friends about such a thing because it is through even just the slightest thought of my darling friends that clarity sometimes arrives.  I sent the email the night that my mother finally was able to see my dad (she had carried many of the same fears as I had as well, so the first visit was exceptionally difficult).

"I can't say if God is real. I don't know if prayer works. But I've always figured that if He is, I don't ever want to ask for too much. (The fact that I had the same thoughts and relationship with Santa when I was a child has not escaped me, by the way. )  So every day, during my moment of silence, I send a hope into the universe. I think of a small orb of light with one word glowing inside, glowing as brightly as any star in the sky, and I speak that word one time, softly, to myself. Most of the time, I try to devote that hope for someone else because, somehow, it feels wrong to claim that hope just for my own. But for the last week, I did, and my word has been "acceptance". The acceptance of what has happened. The acceptance that my dad will never be my Daddy Dean again. The acceptance of my own shame and guilt and fear. Acceptance that this is a problem with no real solution and no end in sight. I longed for a way to accept all of this, any of this.

But if God is real, then it's true that He will never answer your prayer as you might have intended. Because today, it was my dad's acceptance of the situation, his acceptance of my mother's visit that left me in tears all the way home. Good tears.

I don't kid myself that this will be the normal thing, or even always a good thing. My optimism is not guarded or cautious; it's still hiding under the bed."

I have revisited that email often, wondering if  I will ever find that acceptance, if I will ever feel at peace with all that has happened.  I'm sure I will feel better once I am able to see him finally, but I don't fool myself with the idea that I shall ever understand any of this.

For now, however, I'm out from under the covers, and I'm searching for my optimism again.  But if you know me but at all, you'll know it's a crowded mess under that bed.  It might take awhile.  Bear with me, friends.

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