What Remains

July 8, 2013

“It’s all life until death.”
— Grace Paley

My 94-year-old Dad and the old farm house where he lives

My 94-year-old Dad and the old farm house where he lives

Our family has been blessed with Dad’s long life.  If one of the central questions of our humanity is how to live our lives, trying to figure this out can become a bewildering predicament if we live to a very old age.  While staying with my 94-year-old Dad, I was reminded that one’s value and worth should not depend on what you do, but rather should be inherent in simply being.  Because at 94, life has slowed considerably, and a good day is not filled with lots of activities or accomplishments, but with moments of doing nothing.

A full life is inevitably filled with losses, grief and suffering.  But this post will focus on what remains, what my father is still able to do and enjoy.

Every morning of my stay, Dad cooked breakfast for both of us — usually bacon, eggs, and toast, with tomato juice or half a grapefruit, and once, pancakes.

Dad making breakfast

Dad making breakfast

A cup of instant coffee with every meal

A cup of instant coffee with every meal

And after every meal, Dad helped wipe the dishes.

Dad at the kitchen sink

Dad at the kitchen sink

Putting the clean dishes into the cupboard

Putting the clean dishes into the cupboard

On Mondays, laundry day, and Dad still used the old Maytag wringer machine to wash his clothes and then he hung them on a line to dry outside.

Hanging his laundry

Hanging his laundry

Mowing the vast lawn, a summer job, took several hours (with rest breaks).

Dad mowing the lawn

Dad mowing the lawn

Through the window

Through the window

Dad is now the oldest person in his parish.  He always said grace before and after meals.

"Bless us O Lord . . ."

“Bless us O Lord . . .”

Dad still read the local weekly paper and bought the Minneapolis paper on Sundays.

Reading the paper

Reading the paper

Reading the paper in Dad's favorite chair

Reading the paper in Dad’s favorite chair

Dad continues to play cards — cribbage and solo.  He gets together with two of his sisters, his brother-in-law, and son for a weekly card game.  They take turns hosting the games and then go out to eat after hours of playing cards.

Playing cribbage

Playing cribbage

The days were full of dozing and naps.

Dad at rest

Dad at rest

And all of these things made for good days.  For that we are grateful.


21 Responses to “What Remains”

  1. kittybluhm Says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for commenting. When I send something out into the world, especially something so personal like these posts about my ageing Dad, I am gratified to hear back from readers.

  2. A beautiful reminder of those good days…he reminds me of my dad so much!

  3. Shirley Says:

    Love reading about your dad and how he is aging, a lesson for all of us. Thanks again

    • Rosemary Says:

      You are welcome. The lessons of 94 are different from the lessons of 90 or 59. I find that interesting, all part of the process.

  4. Judy Says:

    Okay–I am crying because…the gnarled, arthritic hands look just like my Daddy’s and the bruises/blood spots on the arms, look just like his and the folded hands as he took a nap, with the newspaper on his lap and even the old farm house–his ancestor’s farm house where he lived his last years. I know it is YOUR Daddy, but he looks just like my Daddy. My Daddy has been gone 5 years–he only made it to 92!! Enjoy him as long as you can. how lucky we are they still have/had their keen minds–how lucky!!! Plus the family history and stories they can tell–elderly people are such a gift of wisdom to us–if we only slow down and listen.

  5. Chris Says:

    Although another bittersweet post about your Dad, it does look like he is still enjoying what he can of his last years and thank-fully, in his own home, which may be one of the reasons why he has lived so long. I have seen so many people once taken from their homes with nothing more to do…no more routines, etc. and that is when they seem to lose their will to live….
    I know it is in their best interest to live in a care facility, nursing home, etc. but is it really? I don’t know sometimes……I guess you will all know when it is the right time….
    Thank-you for sharing these most personal and beautiful posts about your Dad….

    • Rosemary Says:

      The old house was never designed or remodelled for old people, and in spite of the hazards (stairs to basement for shower and laundry, no air conditioning, central heat but Dad uses a portable space heater and then goes back to bed, etc.) Dad has been able to stay there up until now. Hard as it will be to change, he is getting to the point where he needs more help. I would not ask any caregiver to live there, and since the house will be torn down, it is not worth paying for improvements. So . . .
      I know that many families struggle with the same issues. Can we just agree that it would be a very rare 94-year-old who could be expected to manage without help. I wish we could come to realize that independence is not such a virtue. That dependence, and accepting help, can be a gift too, and build stronger family and community ties. I happen to be reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearbyand she makes these very points. When things are falling apart, it can be heartbreaking. Here is what Solnit says about her mother: “. . . we moved her to a charming independent-living senior apartment complex . . . and things began falling apart in earnest. When we’d moved her from her dark, disheveled home we’d pried her loose from a map of familiar routines and layouts, within which she had been able to cope by habit. Or perhaps we hadn’t realized the extent to which she had not been coping.”
      It isn’t helpful when our old family members refuse to give up the car keys or move to safer places. The lesson I’m learning from my family’s experience is that when we have a choice, acceptance might be better than resistance. I hope I remember this in my old age.

  6. Jean Says:

    What a beautiful essay about your dad and your stay with him. It made me miss my own who also lived a full life in his later days on earth.

  7. kittybluhm Says:

    I appreciate your clarity here. I’m saving this to re-read.

  8. Ridgely Hoyt-Whitaker Says:

    This is a precious post. The photos speak volumes. What a wise, wise man to be content in “being”.

  9. Chris Says:

    Rosemary, you are absolutely right about your Dad moving to a safer, place, etc. I didn’t mean it to sound like that was not a good thing to do…of course it is, at his age. I guess I was just saying sometimes it seems so sad to have to do so, when in reality it really isn’t. The sad part is the fact that a person has to do so because they can no longer take care of themselves properly. It’s a very hard thing for all involved when a loved one reaches the end of a long good life.
    He’s lucky he has a wonderful, caring family…..As kittybluhm said….I appreciate your clarity…Thank-you.

  10. camilla wells paynter Says:

    A beautiful tribute. The photos are priceless, as well your commentary, which brings to light so poignantly the dilemma of aging. Your focus on what your Dad is able still to do, the self-reliant acts he treasures, honors his dignity while portraying the inevitable need for change. So lovely. Thank you for sharing it.

  11. Sydney Says:

    It makes me so sad that the elderly seem to often disappear from what society considers interesting or important. They deserve much more respect. Aging is scary, interesting and beautiful. This post portrays that on many levels. A lovely tribute! Thanks to you and your dad for sharing this slice of life.

  12. ebbtide Says:

    You’ve posted a simple and loving tribute here. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your dad’s life.

  13. napperscompanion Says:

    What a lovely post! Thank you. Peace, John

  14. shoreacres Says:

    So many memories here. My dad died in 1981 – he was the same age as I am now, sixty-six. Still, while he was here, there were so many similarities to your dad’s life – especially the newspaper and the cribbage. He taught me to play, and we enjoyed it so much.

    Not only that – he worked at Maytag. We had one of those old wringer washing machines in the basement, and hung the clothes on the line outside (or in the basement in the winter, close to the furnace).

    What’s most amazing to me now is that I understand my father far more than I ever did while he was alive. I was too young, too self-centered to really appreciate some things about him. That’s part of the reason it was such a blessing to be able to care for my mother. In a way, it was a tribute to my dad, and all he taught me.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I love that your Dad worked for Maytag. Our Maytag ALWAYS brings up memories of my mother, and now my widowed Dad. My daughter was fascinating by how her grandma washed clothes!

      You echo Camilla’s comments about how lasting the lessons that still continue to rise long after losing someone close.

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