It’s Sunday and I’m back in Sonoma after spending eight days in the Midwest hanging out with Dad, visiting friends and family, and making new friends with the residents at Briarwood where Dad lives in Perham. It’s an independent senior living facility. At 92 he’s not the oldest person living there, nor is he the youngest. We spoke on the phone today and he told me the residents are still buzzing about my visit. That’s good. I’m sure that makes my departure a little less painful when people tell him nice things about his daughter. However, he was quick to ask, “When will you come back?”
For the last few years I’ve been going back two or three times a year. My twin brother Brent and I were there in August.
The reason I went back now is that I wanted to skip my usual January visit. You can see why. This is the weather I faced nine months ago. You don’t even go outside when it’s like this.
I knew that in October I’d be able to drive Dad’s car (no ice or snow), go to the Nest to do my morning writing, and get Dad out for an adventure or two.
A little morning frost was all I had to contend with. I couldn’t find a scrapper in Dad’s car so I had to improvise. One of the residents told me later in the day that a credit card works well. Brilliant. I tried that trick the next morning and it worked.
Last Sunday morning with Dad
I always plan to be there for at least one Sunday. Dad loves going to the Sunday service and I love going with him. I promised to be back from The Nest and in Dad’s apartment by 9:45. I opened the door and he was in a blue dress shirt and a pair of pinstripe trousers that are too big. He cinches them tight with a canvas belt. He was adding a cardigan sweater, but he struggled. His shoulders don’t work so it’s very hard for him to get dressed alone. You never realize how much you raise your arms (which he can’t do) to get a cardigan to sit on your shoulders or a dress shirt collar to fold over nicely.
Mother would always straighten everything out for him. She was his dresser, lover, friend, and companion for sixty-four years. She was his everything. He misses her desperately.
Sitting in church next to Dad
“Here, Dad, let me help you,” I said. In just a minute we were ready to go.
Church starts at 10:30 but Dad wants to be there by at least 10. I walked briskly behind him as he rolled his electric scooter out the back door of his facility and across the big parking lot and then into the side door of a nearby rehab facility. Then it’s right and left and right and left and an elevator ride as well (I was lost!) until we got to the community room where a few chairs were set up, but mostly there were big blank spaces. That’s because most of the residents that come to church are in wheelchairs.
When we first arrived there were about three other people sitting around folding tables. Pam, the minister, brought us coffee in a thermal cup, napkins, and half a pumpkin donut each. Dad’s half had nearly disappeared when he looked over at my half and said, “You don’t eat donuts?”
“Not so much,” I answered. “Maybe one every six years.”
“Well, you’re not overdoing it,” he said. I handed him my half. He said, “Thank you for the donut.”
Pam came around again to give Dad a refill and asked him if he’d like another donut half. He nodded.
As it got closer to 10:30 and the room was nearly full, I said, “Well, we should probably find our spots.”
He wheeled over to the back row and I grabbed a chair to sit next to him.
The first song we sang together was What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
I remembered singing that song in Sunday School in the basement of Spring Creek Lutheran Church in Hastings, ND when I was about six. Harriet Peterson was our Sunday School teacher.
I followed his voice. Between verses he leaned over to me and said, “I hear us singing that song as a kid back home.”
Spring Creek Lutheran Church is where he was baptized, went to Sunday School, confirmed, and got married. We came along and all four of us kids were baptized in that same church. His parents, his wife, and his youngest son are all buried in the church cemetery nearby. That’s where the rest of my brothers and I will be buried as well. We already have the stones laid and engraved for when that day arrives. When I spearheaded that family plot project, I had no idea that two of them—Mom’s and Todd’s—would be filled so quickly.
Dining with Dad and the residents
After church I raced again to keep up with Dad and his electric scooter. He always broke the speed limit.
Now it’s time for dinner or lunch as we call it here, the noontime meal.
The dining room is filled with tables and chairs. Some are four tops, some hold six. It’s my chance to catch up with everyone. There are some new people. I want to know their names and find out where they’re from. Stories and updates start spilling out. Dorothy’s sister in Central California isn’t doing so well. She’s going to visit her sister in November. Dorothy is 95 and still has her two siblings. I leave our four top for a few minutes and go over and talk to Emma who is 103. “Your dad was so happy you were coming,” she said. “It’s so nice of you to make the trip. How are you doing? How are your kids?”
Joe and Yvonne were all dressed up for Sunday; they always are. Yvonne wore full makeup, a pretty floral top and a vest. She had on a gold link necklace and gold earrings. She’s still taking dialysis three times a week. She’s got a number of medical conditions but they aren’t the main source of conversation.
Shirley just moved in in September. She’s liking it pretty well. Another Dorothy, slim Dorothy, finally moved in. I met her in August when she was still trying to sell her house and get situated at Briarwood. It sold. Her daughter was none too patient with her as she went through the move. “I’m just not as fast as I used to be,” she told me. Her daughter didn’t seem to get that. Slim Dorothy was a bit hurt by that. It sounded like her daughter expected her to be like she’d always been. I probably felt that way about mother and my kids probably feel that way about me.
I asked Pat if she’d take pictures of me and Dad. She said, “You’ll have to tell me what to press.”
I’d never noticed that her hands shake. The phone camera was moving this way and that. I didn’t have high hopes of clear photos, but here we are, the cardigan kids.
I don’t remember what we were laughing about in this next picture but it’s my favorite picture. Dad and I find lots of things to chuckle about. His grief stole his humor for a couple of years, but it’s returned. We feed each other lines much like he and Mom did together.
He was talking to somebody—I think it was Shirley again. He was telling her about this keynote speech I gave at a professional conference of my peers. Dad wasn’t there to hear it, but he heard the recording. After that, he thought for sure I should drop everything and become a motivational speaker. “She can inspire people and people need inspiration,” he told his friend.
I had to interject. “Dad, it was so inspiring because I spent much of the speech talking about you! Afterwards, everyone came up to me and wanted you to be their dad,” I reminded him.
He had a laugh over that. When the chuckling stopped, he said with a grin, “You might as well pass out my number then.”
“Okay, Dad, I will.”
Moments can be filled with such sweet emotion or sweet sorrow. Will you share a recent moment that meant a lot to you? I’d love to hear those stories.