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Posts Tagged ‘losing an elderly parent’

They say there’s no greater loss than that of a child. I know it’s true, for even though I never cradled my daughter in my arms, I held her within my womb for nine months, and she was as rooted to me as the organs which keep me alive. Losing her felt like a thief had reached into my belly and ripped her away while I slept.  Even now, thirty-three years later, those memories make me ache inside. We were joined, and now she is gone.

There is another loss that while different, can be nearly as difficult to withstand. It can shock us in its intensity. It is the death of a parent, the person to whom we’ve been connected since birth. Without them, our identity is altered. We are no longer someone’s child. That part of us, the part that still yearns for nurturing from the person who helped give us life, is now rootless, left to flounder.

I have lived that loss. Ten years ago, my mother’s death sent me into a slow-motion freefall. And now, knowing how difficult that loss was, staring at my eighty-two year old father’s mortality terrifies me. I can’t imagine a life without him in it, but his age is a constant reminder of that eventuality. 

This week, a medical emergency made the possiblity of losing him all too real. A decision has been made. Four days from now, he will undergo an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg. The choice is his, necessary to end the agony of poor circulation. Left as it is, it will eventually kill him.

He is pragmatic. Amputation is a means to an end, something that cannot be avoided. He self-talks and is quickly able to put the situation into perspective. “Don’t pity me,” he says. “It could be worse. I could be blind, or dying of cancer.”

On the night he accepts the diagnosis and makes the decision, he suggests we stop for dinner. He orders a large meal, charms the pretty waitress, leaves the fried potatoes because they aren’t healthy – all as if nothing has changed. His greatest concern is that his family will worry, so he makes jokes to ease the tension. He calls my sister, miles away and unable to be by his side, and says “Don’t think this means I can’t still kick your butt.” He tells another that soon, he will “hop down for a visit.”

My siblings and I send emails back and forth each day, discussing possibilities, passing on his latest joke, all of us in awe of his neverending optimism and courage while facing a life-changing operation. We call him our hero. Each day, his actions remind us how to live. As long as his indestructable spirit is evident, we can hold onto the belief that nothing can hurt him.

His strength is our strength, his joy in life our joy, and none of us are ready to let that go.

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