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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Impermanence


The other day, our family had to move my Dad into a care facility for the first time. Things at home were getting too difficult and the decision had to be made. We were told that we would be given 48 hours notice once a space became available.

And then it was about sitting on pins and needles, trying to prepare emotionally for what was to come. I had just come back from a trip to Maui when the evaluation was done, and had to speak to my Dad, explaining what was going to happen. Because of his dementia, this was difficult. On several occasions I had to tell him again, and it was as if he had to get used to the idea all over again each time.

My Dad is a pretty easy going and adaptable person, and on those occasions when it had sunk in for a time, he would assure me that he knew it was inevitable and that he would get used to it.

What it really came down to was ME getting used to it, along with the rest of the family. It is literally a life-changing experience for a whole family to have to put an elderly family member into a care home. You have to adjust your thinking about everything. How will you stay in touch, how will you know when they need something, who will take care of the medications, the laundry, haircuts, what do you do when you want to take them out? There are clothes and other items to mark with his name, there are countless papers to fill out...some of them regarding future possibilities that are not too pleasant to think about. There are literally dozens of questions littered amongst the fears and anxieties and the doubts about whether or not you are doing the right thing.

There have been questions about elderly care homes in this province (as I'm sure there have been in many other places), and whether or not they get enough funding or have good and qualified staff who are able to pay enough attention to all of the residents. There have even been occasional stories about abuse in these facilities. Only a few days before my Dad was to go in, there was a story on the radio of some such abuse. It certainly wasn't the greatest thing to hear just then, nor is it at any other time, for that matter.

Every three months I take my Dad to one of his doctor's appointments in Vancouver. I live in Victoria, so I have to travel on the ferry each time. Every time we go, my Dad introduces me to his doctor :-) He forgets that I have been at every appointment he's had there! The doctor said to me once that I would be surprised at how many people abandon their elderly parents once they become less able to take care of themselves. Who am I to judge others and their situations? But I don't understand how it is that we have such little respect, sometimes, for those in our midst who have worked so hard for so many years and are now dependent on ourselves and others to care for them. These people who have so little time and energy to devote to their elderly parents seem to have no idea that they may also, one day, be in the same position. Maybe there will be some karma to pay!

For me, this has all been a very real lesson in impermanence. Nothing stays the same, not even for a moment, no matter how static and still and solid it might seem. If you sit and watch a flower bud long enough, you will see it bloom. And if you sit for some time longer, you will then see it wither and fall. In Buddhism, we learn about letting go rather than grasping and clinging to objects of our desires, to memories and circumstances and to people. This is an extremely difficult aspect of the teaching, and right now I'm in the middle of a great struggle between wanting things to be the same as they always have been and knowing that it is impossible. I am lucky to have wonderful and kind and supportive friends and family to help me through my heartache.

And my father is still here, he is still able to laugh and joke, and to walk in the garden, share a cup of coffee and chat a little about the inclement weather. His world has become a little smaller and a little different, but he is still here.

I love you, Pop.