This is a difficult time of year for me. Two years ago my dad, “your wonderful, wonderful father” as he referred to himself, was in an accident. It had been raining and a woman hydro-planed and crashed into him head on at 45 miles per hour. The next day I jumped on a plane and headed to Detroit for what was to become one of the most heartbreaking, reflective and poignant weeks I’ve experienced.
We watched as dad went through an unsuccessful surgery, collapsed lung, and damage to the to the nerves in his neck that left a sort of short circuit in some critical, involuntary functions. We were with all with him, telling him we were there and we loved him, as he took his last breath.
Prior to dad’s death, I spent 7 days sitting in his room in ICU with my iPad. I did a bit of work, talked to dad (who was unconscious), prayed for a miracle, grasped at ANY sign of improvement, and kept the rest of the family up to speed on any changes while they were away from the hospital.
During those 7 days I talked to the ICU doctor. A lot. He himself was Iranian who had lived in Iraq until Saddam Hussein had deported his family and retained all their possessions. He talked of his family, of a brother that, for 18 years, they didn’t know what had happened to him until the invasion of Iraq when they were informed he had been killed. Of the brother who had pushed him into medicine, when he himself had wanted to do something else, because – as his brother told him – you would have a job and be able to work anywhere in the world.
He talked of his mother who he hadn’t seen in years, until two months prior, when he went to her because she was ill. He talked about being with his mother when she died. I tried to calm the lump in my throat as he talked about the love and comfort his mother had given him as a child, that he was able to give back to her being at her side as she died.
His own grief was so new and still so raw, but his sharing was preparing me to decide things that needed to be decided. I could see in his grief that I was headed to a similar place where I just didn’t want to go. I did not want to go where he was: to feel what he was feeling, to grieve for a love lost, to say goodbye forever to a parent.
We were each on a different side of the fence in regard to death and dying…he was dealing with death, and I was dealing with dying. We shared two different experiences that transcended time, country of birth, age differences. The experience of losing a parent cuts to the core of human existence and family bonds.
For most of us, parents represent safety and stability. They are our go-to people for answers, to be a sounding board, recipes, and a soft shoulder when we need one. In our adult lives they have become our friends and frequently our confidants. With one profoundly simple statement, the ICU doctor summed it up: “No matter how old we are, we will always want our parents.”
In the last two years I’ve thought about that wonderful doctor, the stories he shared with me, and his simple statement of fact that is now my reality. My dad is gone but I talk to him regularly. My mom is in Michigan and I should talk to her more. I want her for the family history she knows, the great recipes she carries in her head, the serene look she gets on her face when holding my new nephew Henry while working her “baby whisperer” charms on him, for her voice of reason when I call with an issue, for the inferred belief that we are safe and loved and whole.
What we need and want our parents for changes as we age. I wish somebody would have explained that even as adults we always want mom and dad in a way that is still child-like…we need them to help make us feel the world is a safer place and we have a soft place to fall. It is the words of a very wise man, said to me two years ago, that made me realize in many ways we are all still 5 years old.
“No matter how old we are, we will always want our parents.”
That is gospel.
How has your relationship changed with your parents? What do you think about the pearl of wisdom the doctor imparted? Do you still have your parents? Let us know….we’d love to hear YOUR story.