Daddy had been dead a year, more or less, when I sat in the examining room with my husband. It was his routine visit. The doctor’s first remarks, however, were anything but routine.
Maybe they were the aftereffects of examining his previous patient. Regardless, he blurted out that he did not want to live when he became old and useless. He wanted someone to make sure he died. “Why live when I am not of any use?” he asked.
I gave him my answer—the one I received from my father. When he was eighty-eight and demented and bound to a wheelchair and shut up in a nursing facility, Daddy became the father he had not been for sixty-four years.
My father’s alcoholism was a taboo subject that the family carefully guarded both outside and inside the home. No, not even among ourselves did we discuss the secret shame.
Whatever was in our hearts, we bottled up. No fears, frustrations, emotions, or dreams escaped. Confined to a biological definition of family, we were like strangers in a hostel. That changed when our father became helpless.
His remaining five children then had to make life-changing decisions for him. Forced to converse with each other, we voiced our thoughts. Shared ideas. Agreed on responsibilities.
Amazingly, all of us wanted what was best for our feeble father. We did not spew out anger or bitterness or resentment for his past mistreatment. Not one of us dismissed him or sought to get even.
A missing piece of our childhood miraculously nestled into place. We expressed ourselves and, in so doing, discovered each other’s uniqueness.
There was the time, when, after explaining to my second brother how I had handled a problem with the nursing facility, he exclaimed, “Judy, we didn’t know you were smart! We knew you got good grades, but we didn’t know you were smart.”
In Daddy’s end-of-life setting, incredibly, he caused us children to bond. Although he was never cognitively aware of that accomplishment, his children were.
When I finished my answer, the doctor was silent. Directing his attention to my husband, he performed his examination. Then, as he was leaving the room, he turned to me and said, “Thank you for the antidote.”
Who but the Creator has the right to say when a person is “used up”?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB).