I think they call it the Long Goodbye.
I arrived early. I’m always early to my shoots-it’s part of how I handle my anxiety.
So I arrived early and I sat there in my car with the door propped open playing on my phone before one of my photoshoots when I heard the rustling. I looked up and literally saw hundreds of chipmunks and squirrels scurrying around. They were rustling the leaves already on the ground as they were collecting food for winter, the birds were chirping and I could hear the wind blowing softly thru the tree limbs……and I put down my phone and put my head back against the seat and was just present in the moment.
I had just left the hospital where my Pap was staying for the past few days after he arrived by ambulance. He suffered another stroke and although he is alert and talking, he’s not really the same person-but if I’m being honest, he really hasn’t been since the very first stroke many years ago. It’s just this time it’s more exaggerated. I sat quietly in the corner of the room as a million doctors came in and out to do tests, evaluations and administer medications. He lost all use of his right side, which was very limited before anyways, but he could at least get around and walk with a cane. He was slower than molasses but he was still mobile. But that day, I watched as he laid in the bed unable to have any use of his right arm, he was trying to feed himself with one hand and being the stubborn old man he is, he refused any help. I watched as my Grandma sat with a worried look on her face because I knew what she was thinking. “How am I going to do this?”
Up until then, she had been his sole care taker. I use to say, she needed her own care taker because if you’ve ever had to care for someone full time, you know it can take a toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally. She was fragile in every sense of the word. She’s only a little over 5 feet tall and has always had a tiny frame but she seemed like she shrunk smaller as she listened to all the technical terms, medical terms when the caseworker was explaining all the options. I could see her eyes gloss over. It was too much to absorb at one time but that was why I was there.
The last doctor left the room and it was just us. Pap laid in the bed bitter. Who can blame him. I always remember him being so active. He’s mad at God, he’s lost his dignity, he’s embarrassed that he can’t do things for his self anymore and he’s bitter because I’m sure he never thought he would “age” this way. I tried to crack a few jokes to lesson the tension in the room but he didn’t joke back like he used to.
They don’t teach you this in school. They don’t have classes on how to deal with aging parents/grandparents and if they did, I would have never guessed I would have needed them. My family is young and up until a few years ago we had 5 generations alive and well. These past few years I’ve watched their body’s age, I’ve watched wrinkles form, their body’s slow down and it’s hard for me to witness because I grew up with my Grandparents who were the same age as some of my friends parents- they always seemed so young and vibrant. Conversations that used to be about fun things, turned into conversations about living wills, power of attorney’s and what their wishes are. Every time it gets brought up, it stings.
I think it really hit me as he laid limp in his hospital bed and was just getting ready to be wheeled off to one of the procedures. The nurse asked if his breathing stops or if his heart stops beating during one of the tests if he wanted CPR. He said “NO” before she even finished the sentence. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
Do you want to know what I was worried about earlier that day? My house getting cleaned, returning emails fast enough and whether I was going to be able to get back from the grocery story in time to pick up little man from day care. I found myself sitting in the corner of the room thinking maybe my house being cleaned wasn’t soo important- it can wait. I listened as Grandma’s phone rang over and over from people who they haven’t heard from in months….even YEARS, call and act concerned.
You know how news travels fast. People started hearing that Pap was back in the hospital and the phone calls start rolling in. I listened as she relayed a message to my Pap from someone who just called. They still speak so highly of people who make no attempt to come visit or make any attempt to make them a priority in their lives. I couldn’t help but battle with the thoughts that some of them are just calling so that they don’t feel guilty or regretful because at least they could say if something happened, they spoke with them “not to long ago”. I also battled with the thought that I even thought those things. People are busy, I get that and how dare I think that because there are people that I haven’t reached out to in a while-look who is calling the kettle black. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt to see Grandma long for people to reach out who haven’t in a very long time and it hurts my heart and makes me super over protective. Like I said-there’s no classes on these things.
I’ve experienced death before but it was sudden. My sister died in a car accident that was unforeseen and like a bandaid being pulled off, we found ourselves shocked, unprepared and left to grieve without warning. But this time around…I think they call it the long goodbye. His body is failing him. His mind is slowly deteriorating and the man that we once knew is slowly slipping away. This time around, we have time to prepare. It’s somewhat bearable now because he still knows who we are, but when the day comes that he doesn’t it’s going to break all of our hearts. He already doesn’t look like the same man with his frail body, he doesn’t have the personality of the same man I remember growing up….. but I hang on to the fact that at least he still recognizes my face and knows my name.
I am at the confronting age in my late 30’s where the realization that my loved ones are no longer invincible. For most of us, we grow up assuming that our treasured parents/grandparents will surely be around to deliver a speech at our wedding, witness the birth of our own children and experience for themselves the joy of being grandparents for years to come. And if you’re among the fortunate enough to have that time, take that opportunity to make the moments count.
So as I sat in my car with my head against the seat, watching the squirrels gather their food, getting ready to photograph a wonderful family and their Grandma who had been recently battling a rare cancer – I thought about how this family is making the moments count. During that session, we laughed, we giggled and although they were oblivious that I had just left the hospital, it was exactly what I needed.
Here’s your reminder- make your moments count.