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Beginnings and Endings.

The calendar year is ending, and I've had a series of transitions in my own life lately.

I'm meant to sign my divorce papers tomorrow.

My uncle Wynne, who my youngest son is named after, my mother's older brother, passed on yesterday.

That's a lot of endings. But we also have beginnings.

My Dad left his home in Kansas City last Friday and moved into the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans yesterday. I flew down and drove him back to Grand Rapids in his pickup in one day, an epic road trip with my Daddy.

In one day, without a word or a backward glance, my Dad left the home he shared with my Mom for the last decade of his life, ate for the last time at the diner he loves, and drove away from Kansas City, a place he is unlikely to visit again.

Off and on during the day, I watched him doze off in the cab of his pickup as I drove, and I thought:

"Rest, Daddy, Rest."

His fatigue was palpable. I know how much care he gave my mother, and what it took out of him, and what I saw was that he hasn't ever recovered. He is soul-tired. He needs care of his own.

Sunday, I started opening his boxes that he had packed. I razored open the 24"x24" boxes I had wrestled into the truck alone at 5am, praying to The Lady to help me lift them without dropping them as my Dad watched, concerned. He apologized that the boxes had been too heavy for him to lift. He felt embarrassed.

"Oh, no worries, Dad. They were light! I probably needed the exercise anyway!"

What I found when I got them open left me weeping behind my garage, hiding my tears from Dad, lest he feel this work burdened me: What he could manage to pack, the material things he felt were important from that life, jumbled and disorganized, boxes too heavy for him to carry. Clothes unclean and covered in cat hair.

He apologized that the things were not organized and he wasn't sure where anything was.

"Don't worry one moment about it, Daddy. I'm capable and happy to do it. My pleasure. We'll just get some of this washed and folded and I'll pack you a suitcase. Can you go find a movie for us to watch? I'll just be a minute."

I went out into the yard and hid behind the garage and lay my head against the siding and wept. For the enormous effort it must have taken him to do what he did, alone. For his loss. For the picture of my mother, wrapped in one of his shirts, cushioned by pillows and old towels.

When I stopped crying, the feeling that washed over me, oddly, could only be called gratitude.

My Daddy needs help. I have two hands and while I have a lot on my plate, I have a Lot on My Plate, if you know what I mean. Not everyone has as much margin as I have.

As much as moving him here is a change for me, it is a net gain. For him, it's a lot more loss.

I'm grateful to be able to care for him, and hopeful that he can let me. I have compassion for him and can only hope that when I get to his age, I have someone who doesn't just tolerate my need, but looks at it as a privilege to help.

For the first time, I feel so clearly how mothering has changed me. I think 10 years ago I would have been short tempered, scared, and exasperated with him. Now all I feel is tenderness.

It's a lot of change. I keep reminding myself that change is the way of things, and that it's really the illusion of permanence that is the lie. You only lose what you cling to.

When I took him to be admitted to the GRHV, he wouldn't take his suitcase out of the car. He insisted he'd leave it there. I saw his fear, and it made me hold his hand all day. I hugged and kissed him and chatted like a magpie: silly stories about my kids, political mockery, jokes about "our fair city".

"Dad, it's going to be great. What should we make for Christmas dinner?"

When I kissed him goodbye at dinner time, I made sure he knew what time I was coming back and where I was on the process of getting his car for him.

This morning, I was on time at 11:45 on the dot. Because it was important, today most of all. I was glad to do it, right and fully. Everything else could wait.

I am a person who has panic attacks. I had one this morning, at 4:15am, and I lay there in the dark, flat on my face, arms pinned underneath me, using my body weight to self-soothe. I wanted someone there, and I wanted to be shook to my core, held and weighed down, until it passed.

No one was coming, I get that. I have learned to look to myself for the comfort, instead of outwards. It works. I can manage it.

This, and mothering, have taught me empathy for people in need of care. I know how grateful I would be in that moment for someone's intervention on my behalf.

When I see someone else struggling, I KNOW. So I do. Because I can. That's what makes caretaking a pleasure.

I'm so grateful to have my Dad here. Really privileged. So much.


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