He came bearing gifts

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Until this year, I have never taken care of my elderly father. He lived quite comfortably in Illinois in a retirement community with my step-mother. They were happy and well-adjusted there. Then, this past spring, my step-mother died and my father asked to come live with me and my husband. There was no hesitation on our part. We recognized managing his care from 1,500 miles away would be difficult at best.

There was no way to know what to expect in this situation. Would it work? How would we manage? What would it do to my relationship with my husband? How would Dad fare? Even though we thought we had an idea of what we would experience, we wouldn’t know for sure until we actually went through the process. And, like most life experiences, it went much differently than we anticipated.

What I was unprepared for were the gifts of this experience. For decades, I lived far away from my father and step-mother. As their ability to travel diminished I increased my visits to see them. But those visits were short – a couple of days after which we went back to our lives connecting through frequent phone calls to catch up and make sure they were happy and healthy. Now my Dad occupies the first floor master bedroom in our home and I see him all day, every day.

“Hello, dare” is his morning greeting when he emerges from his bedroom ready for a cup of coffee followed by breakfast. Every time I hear those words I remember correcting him as a child, telling him “Dad it’s there, not dare!” Now I smile when he says it and he smiles back.

While living with us I have witnessed my father’s tenderness, generosity, gratitude, and humility. Dad may have had these qualities before, but like many members of the Silent Generation, he was not good at expressing emotion. I have heard “I love you” more in six months than in the last 60 years.

Dad and I have had deep and meaningful conversations during this time together. I have learned about his career, his relationships and friendships, his service in World War II, as well as the joys and sorrows of his life. I have held his hand and comforted him and I have laughed uncontrollably with him as he shared stories, some I’ve never heard before. As a result of this time together, when he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “I hope I’ve been a good father” I was able to say “Yes, Dad, you were.”

I love his razor sharp wit which has always been there. Last week while signing some paperwork, the woman helping him said to Dad “We’re going to take a pause.” He peered over his glasses and said to her “Okay, as long as it’s not a permanent one.” We all laughed at his thinly veiled reference to death. I now know from where my sense of humor comes.

Sitting with Dad over the weekend and watching him watch the birds at the feeders outside our living room window I was filled with love and gratitude for the time we are spending together. His delight at watching the flickers, juncos, sparrows, wood peckers, chickadees, and even the squirrels, became my delight. His presence makes me aware of the precious nature of our time together – time that will someday end and leave a huge void in my life.

Dad and I are closer to each other now than we have ever been before. I didn’t expect that. The deepening and strengthening of our relationship is the greatest gift my father could ever give me. No other gift this holiday season will compare to the memories I have of the days, weeks, and months we are spending together. He came bearing gifts, indeed.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.