When the child grows up to care for the parent…
Walking Between the Worlds
One woman’s journey with her father in the twilight of his earthbound life
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
–As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
When I read Shakespeare now, it’s as if he whispers these truths of life for only me to hear. I can perceive where he is in the telling by how his breath strikes my ear. The rapid light pant of the infant gives way to the hormonal cadence of a youth lusting after life. Now, a chorded regimen who soldiered and judged, swims through the canal to bang on my drum til only one retires into a wispiness I no longer recognize and can scarcely comprehend.
Was my college-age read of As You Like It, the first time I ever thought about life in seven year increments? Yes! The answer is always, yes!
The average life span has elongated since 16th century England was a stage to the likes of a nondescript man named Bill. My father’s name is Bill, though his parents were as far away from awareness of all things Shakespeare as I am from Jupiter’s moons. Even so, there might be something to being named Bill because, like the bard, dad is a storyteller extraordinaire.
In these twilight years, when his body seems to be outliving his mind, Dad’s stories feverishly seek a moral at a time when they are rapidly losing their coherency.
“I was telling …..
what’s the guy’s name? ….
you know the one who looks like the movie actor, what’s his name? …
why can’t I remember his name?”
Honest puzzlement is written across his forehead in chalky hopscotch lines.
“I don’t know how that happens, Barb.” It’s as if a rain has washed the sidewalk boundaries from his face. His statement is genuine. “I’m there in the middle of a thought and, all of a sudden, I just forget what I was saying.” He’s more perplexed than disturbed. Curious, than troubled.
Upon first hearing, I empathized, making light of memory lapses. “I know what you mean, Dad. Just happened to me on the way here. The name of the mainstreet, around the corner, just disappeared from my brain. I could not remember it if my life depended upon it.”
I meant it as a point of levity. A balm to his fears of faculties diminished as they return to childishness.
In the beginning, it did seem to ease Dad’s distress some, but no more. We’re now a couple years in the journey down the road toward what the Buddha called “the other shore”. The road we trod is called dementia.
There are over 50 million people worldwide on this road. The number of people diagnosed with dementia is expected to double every 20 years. Every 3 seconds someone is diagnosed. The prospect of the common traveler on this dead end road was lined out by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s. I read her landmark On Death and Dying as part of my studies at the School of Metaphysics. We can deny our own mortality plunging into anger, blaming an unseen force for our misfortune, or we can respond differently, with loving-kindness and open-minded surrender. How we do anything is how we do everything.
Practicing denial every day does not open me to the blessing of dementia. It tethers me to a past I cannot change. Resisting change is fodder for grieving what has been and is no more. Dementia frees its captive from the grief of constant change.
The people “left behind” must make different choices to be relieved. How does this happen?
If I expect to feel the blessing of passing on when “my time comes”, I must be willing to live a blessed life now. I must pass on what wisdom I can offer from walking between the worlds with dad, so I may learn the fine art of passing through. This is why I write.
I can only speak with one voice. It is a voice supported through a lifetime as a counselor and minister to people in all stages of life’s journey. It is a voice cultured by daily disciplines in mindfulness and momentary practices of breathing. It is a voice of a daughter who is growing in love and compassion as she walks with her father across the stage of life into his oblivion.
For me, this archetypal journey began one afternoon with a simple phone call. ∞
This blog is dedicated to all dads,
and the daughters and sons who love them.
Watch for posts