My father wrote poetry most of his life. As his cognitive abilities declined, he didn’t give up poetry writing. Instead, he wrote haiku, a short form of Japanese verse. When he was placed in an assisted living facility, I found sheaves of haikus scattered all over his study. They were numbered, and he’d written one hundred of them. I thought Dad’s ability to adapt to his limitation without giving up a pastime he loved was inventive and admirable. It’s so easy to be upset and angry when our bodies fail us. I’d rather be like Dad and try to find creative solutions to those limitations.
I’m always on the alert for adaptive solutions people employ to meet their needs. Several have stood out over the years.
When my father began experiencing dementia, unable to remember directions, he could no longer take the bike rides he’d enjoyed for decades. Instead of giving up on exercise, he began taking yoga classes several times a week. I once asked Dad what he liked about yoga. He explained that he felt a sense of accomplishment when he mastered a pose. This mastery enhanced his sense of self-worth, in and out of the yoga studio, as he slowly lost his cognitive abilities. Dad replaced an exercise regimen he loved with another that made him feel good about himself. I thought this was one of the smartest things I’d ever heard. As my body changes, I will remember how Dad coped, try to be mindful of what I’m still able to accomplish, and focus on that.
My father died in January 2018. I still miss him badly and keenly feel his absence. I’ve never mourned anyone as much as Dad, and I’m learning things about the grief process that I previously didn’t fully understand.
Last Christmas a friend and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. As the opening credits rolled, I began to cry. My parents separated in early 1966. That summer, on a scorching, humid New York City day, Dad took me to see the original Mary Poppins. I’d already seen it four times, no doubt at least a couple of times with him. But we had to get out of the one-hundred-five-degree heat, and there were few affordable places to take a sweaty six-year-old.
I always thought of my father sitting through that movie for the umpteenth time as a valiant act of fatherhood. So when the credits for Mary Poppins Returns began and the music swelled, all I could think of was Dad and that day. It moved me to tears. I have countless happy memories of my father, and they make me mourn his passing, knowing my memories are all I have left. Despite my sadness, I’m always grateful that this warm, funny, loving man was my father.
While visiting my stepmother recently, we went to the drugstore to buy her toilet paper. Suzy had a particular brand she liked, while I prefer a different one. Standing in front of the paper goods we discussed our preferences. I laughed and observed, We know we’re getting older when both of us care this much about toilet paper. My wonderful stepmother did not disagree.
After my father died without warning, I often found myself crying suddenly. I cried while buying a cookie at a charity bake sale for a nurse who died in Iraq. I got choked up recalling how my high school class stood when our classmate who had cerebral palsy graduated, and became teary as I read about a homeless woman who died on the streets of New York City. At first I was embarrassed and perplexed by the waterworks. Over time I began to accept the unexpected crying as part of my grief process. We can’t always control our grief. Optimally we experience grief as it presents itself, feel it fully, and then let it subside until the next time it surfaces