Finding the Way

As a child, dozing in the back seat during long drives back to my Grandmother’s house in our old home town, I would look out the car window and ask:

“How can you find your way?”

My mother always answered, “We just do”.

Returning to the U.S. ten years ago, after a summer sojourn at camp and a train trip to the Arctic Circle, my wife and I needed a ride to the train stop on the outskirts of town. The express trains bypass the small city on the far outskirts of Stockholm, and travelers have to make it up on a platform on a large railroad bridge, visible in the distance from my parents’ apartment.

My father drove and my mother co-piloted their Volvo. He seemed to have trouble finding the way, so my mother reminded him that they had been there just recently. We were right near the newest shopping center. He eventually got us to the train stop, not quite recognizing any of the landmarks along the way.

Many years before, my mother had asked me to promise that if anything happened to either one of them, I wouldn’t put them in a nursing home. I answered her with a question: How can we predict now what will be the right thing to do in an unanticipated situation years down the road? She accepted my unwillingness to predict the future.

As it became obvious, years later, that my father had dementia, my mother adapted to their new circumstances. She learned how to care for him, reluctantly also letting strangers into their home to assist her. When his disease advanced, she found her way to acceptance of a nursing home placement for him.

Every day my mother went to visit my father at the nursing home. At first she walked, resorting to riding the bus only in bad weather. Over the course of his years on the dementia ward, she started using a walker, but still climbed on board the noon bus every day to spend the afternoon with my father.

She always found a way to see him, sometimes took a taxi, sometimes even got a lift home from the staff when no taxis were available. The nurses and aids became part of our extended family, caring for my father as if he were their kin.

My mother has always praised the nursing home and the care they provide for my father. She knew in her heart that she had done the right thing by making the choice she said she would never make.

My father never complained. He seemed puzzled why my mother wouldn’t stay for supper and overnight, but he delighted in her arrival every day. He was never restless, never frustrated. As the years passed, he stopped speaking and gradually stopped moving his limbs. He stopped feeding himself and soon also stopped swallowing even pureed foods. Soon, even liquids wouldn’t go down.

Searching online for flights to Stockholm, I found my way back in time to sit by his side, hour after precious hour. As I listen to his respirations, the physician in me registers the significance of their waxing and waning, the son hears his dad still breathing, still with him.

My father was never very demonstrative with affection, although I never doubted his love for me. I, in turn, didn’t tell him often enough that I loved him. Last night, as the hours passed, I held him and told him again and again what a good father he is, how proud I am to be his son, and how much I love him. His blue eyes softened and kept looking right at me with an expression of peace and contentment.

You are sleeping peacefully now, Dad, and I have told you that everything is okay. I have told you that you can hold on or let go, either way. I have told you that I will always love you.

At my age, I am still learning things from you. I am learning patience and acceptance, seeing how you handled your fate.

Whatever happens to me next and down the road, Dad, I hope that just like you and Mom, somehow, I will always find the way. 

1 Response to “Finding the Way”

  1. 1 Paul Kim October 22, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I am so very sorry for your loss. Through your recent posts, I am reminded that though a young and “busy” physician, I have to spend time that I cannot regain in loving those who have meant the most to me in my life. Bless you and your family. My prayers are with you.

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