Saturday, February 21, 2009

When One Parent Dies and Leaves Another

Here are some reflections from Beka Miles, whose mother passed away January 29th. She writes of her dad, a retired Methodist minister who is learning to make his own way without his beloved JoAnn. Beka, meanwhile is in Fort Worth, some five hours away, juggling the responsibilities of her own two children (ages 8 and 10), her husband, and a career. Like many of you, she is struggling with the heartache of wanting to be in two cities at once... of worrying about her dad and trying to be attentive to his needs from a distance, while meeting the needs of her immediate family. This is a one-day-at-a-time, take-life-as-it-comes proposition, as she is discovering:

Dad tells me that yesterday he experienced another first: He bought his own underwear for the first time in his life. Can you believe how pampered that man was? He told me, “Your mama went off and left me, so I had to go out and buy my own drawers.” (For the record, she didn’t exactly “go off and leave him.”)

Dad tells me he also wrote a large check for the first time in 5 or 6 decades. Mom always handled their money. Soon after Mom and Dad were married, they went down to south Louisiana to see Dad’s family and have a wedding shower and celebration. Dad’s grandmother, who had just met mom for the first time, pulled mom aside and told her, “Honey, if you want to have anything in this life, get hold of the money now! These people [meaning her children, grandchildren and ex-husband] don’t know how to manage money and will go off and buy things they don’t need and give the rest away. Get hold of the money!” So, mom always took care of the money. Knowing that dad would often give away whatever cash he had on hand, she told me once that she would always put a modest enough amount in his wallet so that he could give it away without wrecking their finances. Now Dad is learning to manage the money on his own. . . . Maybe I should ask him what that big check was for.

Although his standards aren’t as high as mom’s, dad is learning to keep up with the household. You may remember that day before yesterday, Dad bought underwear for himself for the first time in his life. This morning he was telling me that when he got up to dress, he couldn’t find that package of “new drawers” and was looking all over for it. So I said, “Dad, you DO know that you need to wash that new underwear before you wear it.”
“Darlin’, I ain’t gonna warsh NOTHING I don’t have to warsh.” (Both Dad’s standard of cleanliness and his use of the English language have deteriorated precipitously since mom’s death. And he’s cussing too, but who’s going to complain under the circumstances?)

My older brother John has been there, and this morning, John and Dad went down to change the sheets in the cottage in preparation for a relative who will be there this weekend. Dad told me, “When we were changing the sheets, John showed me how to pull the sheets tight and to smooth them so it looks real nice. I can’t remember when I changed the sheets before.”

One of my spies on the ground in Hot Springs tells me that he is also making his bed everyday and picking his clothes up off the floor (which he was not doing for awhile.) This was a great complaint of mom’s father. After mom and dad married, it irked “Papa Ridgway” that dad didn’t pick up his clothes off the floor but just left them there for mom to pick up. (That’s something Dad has long regretted.) When John and Susan were returning from their honeymoon, they stopped by to spend the night with our Ridgway grandparents. Papa Ridgway pulled John to the side to give him advice about married life. He said, “Son, pick up after yourself. Don’t leave your drawers lying around on the floor.”

So, dad’s learned how to buy his own drawers and to pick them up off the floor. Dad told me this morning, “I’m managing. My house is clean. I’ve got food in the refrigerator. I cook my meals. I go walking. I am writing checks. I’m keeping my bills in order. I’m learning. [long silence and then a loud affirmation] Ain’t NOTHIN’ gonna to separate me from the love of the Lord and my family.”

I would love to hear - and share - how others are coping with this same situation... what challenges have been presented to you and your loved ones? How are you juggling your elders and your younger family members and the responsibilities toward each? Send me your comments and help build a network of support for these and other issues we are facing. Thanks!

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