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.
AnonymousOctober 30, 2018 at 12:31 am
It’s about making memories now.
A recent one was of us waking up early on a cold, windy Saturday for breakfast at the zoo. Dad walked the fastest with his walker. It was a birthday party for some special animals, and we went to celebrate dad’s birthday, too. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since. It brought back memories of all the times we went to the zoo with dad and mom when we were children. Then there were the trips with mom, dad and the grandchildren. So much has changed.
Our next memory mission will be the fall supper at church, joined by my friend who started going to dad’s church because he does. Fun, food and fellowship are an annual tradition. The youngest grandchild will be home for this.
Every new memory is a treasure.
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:46 pm
And I treasure your memories and your share. It’s so vivid. I see all those trips to the zoo. Thank you, dear A!
RamonaOctober 30, 2018 at 4:57 am
I love reading about your dad. And I know you wish you lived closer to him or vice versa! Keep him close, Brenda! Love your posts!
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:47 pm
Thanks, Ramona. You’re right, I sure do wish I could live in two places at once. I love our visits so much!
Barbara EastmanOctober 30, 2018 at 5:38 am
Such a touching post and I love that you share your family with us. My parents are both gone now and I miss them everyday. I too, grew up in the midwest and attended a small church where my husband still pastors. You are a dear daughter. God Bless!
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm
Wow, Barbara, that’s so incredible that your husband pastors at that small church. Those small churches are so special. I love your share. God bless you, my friend!
cindy hattersleyOctober 30, 2018 at 5:54 am
What a lovely post and tribute to your father. He sounds like a wonderful man, just like his daughter. You were wise to go now instead of January. I haven’t been to the Midwest in winter since the mid 70’s!
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm
Wow, you’re pretty smart to stay away in the winter. Even though I made that trip in October to avoid January, there’s this part of me that’s saying, ‘You could probably handle it again, Brenda. Besides, they say it’s going to be a mild winter.’
Please shake me if I get too close to pressing send on that airline ticket!
Linda HermanOctober 30, 2018 at 6:17 am
My dad, age 90 and I laugh about EVERYTHING. When I call him up, I mispronounce his last name, “Mr Seedel?! This is the IRS.” He then replies, “He NOT HERE.”
On a recent call, he said, “Wait a minute, I have to turn down the CD player; I’m auditioning hymns for my funeral service.”
Like your dad, everyone wishes my dad had been theirs. I’m unabashedly proud to have a faithful, rock-solid, kind, funny, delightful but quirky guy to call dad.
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:51 pm
Oh, my, I am in a fit of giggles. What a crack up he is! And you too. I’m so happy you make each other laugh like that. Oh boy, I just love your dad.
jodie filogomoOctober 30, 2018 at 6:32 am
Your story telling is like no other Brenda. You bring everything heart warming into your words and photos.
I’m with you…the photo of you guys laughing just makes me smile. And you are so sweet to share this with us!
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:53 pm
Thanks so much, Jodie. Every time we’re on the phone and we’re saying goodbye I say, “I love you Dad.” He says, “I love you so much.” It feels my heart to capacity every single time. Thank you for responding to these stories. I’m so happy to be able to share him with you!
Cindy ScurryOctober 30, 2018 at 8:06 am
This post reminds me so much of my time with my dad. I’m going to see him again this week for 5 days. He is such a sweetheart and I treasure our time together. We love our Dads! I’m glad you dad is finding his humor again after a sad two years. I’m sure you lift him up like no other! You are such an inspiring person! I absolutely love your writing, your style and basically everything about you! 😉
BrendaOctober 30, 2018 at 11:40 am
Thank you, Cindy. Enjoy your visit with your dad. They certainly are precious to us! Thanks for sharing!
SandiOctober 30, 2018 at 8:07 am
I loved this story as I always enjoy your writing and must add a personal note about your dad. I’m still laughing at his comment about the picture of my husband Paul wearing his neck gear after the operation to fuse vertebrae in his neck. Don looked at the picture and asked why Paul had to have the operation. I said it was because of his mom. Your dad said very seriously “well that must be quite a story”. I still laugh thinking about how quickly he came out with that comment. I had to explain it was because of genetics. Your dad is the best!
BrendaOctober 30, 2018 at 11:38 am
Oh, I’m laughing about that now too, Sandi. I’m so happy you are getting to know him!
Elaine @ Following AugustineOctober 30, 2018 at 9:30 am
What a beautiful post! Your love for your Dad just oozes out between every line!
BrendaOctober 30, 2018 at 11:37 am
Thanks, Elaine. You are right, I sure do love him!
CarolOctober 30, 2018 at 9:50 am
I visited my 92 year old dad in January in Florida. A little warmer than Fargo. He passed away in April so I am so grateful for every moment of that visit.
BrendaOctober 30, 2018 at 11:37 am
I know that these visits won’t go on forever although at the moment, it seems they will. I’m glad to hear your story about your dad. And my heart goes out to you. Hugs!
ChristineOctober 30, 2018 at 10:29 am
Ok… I need to go my Kleenex!
Very touching. Best post I’ve read in a long time.
BrendaOctober 30, 2018 at 11:35 am
Thank you, Christine. That means so much to me.
MarlaDOctober 30, 2018 at 11:53 am
Your dad is just lovely, he looks so cozy and warm! His smile reminds me of my own dad, who will have been gone 19 years as of tomorrow, he was only 77. I regret that we don’t have any recordings of his voice. One of my favorite memories is that every year, he would sing me happy birthday. I confess, each birthday since he’s been gone, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is sing myself happy birthday in his voice.
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:44 pm
I have tears rolling down my cheeks. How very precious! I do have my dad’s voice on recordings. And I write down things he says. The other night we were on the phone and man oh man, he put something into perspective for me that was just brilliant. I told him so. He’s just being my dad but he does it so well. Hugs to you. I don’t know if I’ll think of a birthday without thinking about your dad’s voice, Marla.
Lisa ZahnOctober 30, 2018 at 1:33 pm
I recognize that January get-up! Looks like exactly what we wear to walk the dog in January in Minnesota. It’s toasty warm, anyway.
My in-laws just drove to visit us in Minnesota, from Virginia (the state), and they’re 86 and 84! It’s crazy, but they made it here and back home and we were so delighted they could come see us. They really wanted to see our new-to-us home and my father-in-law refuses to fly so a drive it was. I cried as they drove away, knowing it was very likely the last time they’d come. We made some wonderful memories over their 4-day visit, and having both my husband’s parents and mine for lunch one day was such a treat.
DarleneOctober 30, 2018 at 4:05 pm
What a heartwarming post. The time with your dad is very precious, as you obviously know. I was both touched and drawn to tears with memories of my own parents and grandparents in their final years. Thanks for sharing. Lovely.
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:42 pm
You’re welcome. There will come a day where I’ll be shedding lots of tears. I may need your virtual shoulder to cry on. I’m so glad it brought memories back to you of your loved ones. They are so precious!
LA CONTESSAOctober 31, 2018 at 8:49 am
A WONDERFUL POST!MADE ME SMILE THROUGH OUT………….
PS.Did you see I made ADVANCED STYLE BLOG AND INSTAGRAM!
OH JOY!ME AND MY PIGGY!
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:40 pm
How extremely exciting! Yes, I commented all over those posts. You’re a rock star! Love you!
LindaOctober 31, 2018 at 9:22 am
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:40 pm
Trinnie qNovember 1, 2018 at 10:38 pm
How beautiful ! I am going tomorrow to see my Dad, who has just been taken to hospital . He has advanced end stage cancer, and has been in agony. I pressurised the doctor to put him in, Quite a mess all of it ! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story ,and Life with us. Angels, keep us safe x
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Oh, Trinnie, I can’t help but have tears in my eyes. I wish comfort for your dear Dad and comfort for you too, my friend. Love from Sonoma.
Mary DanaNovember 3, 2018 at 5:53 am
What a lovely story, Brenda. I grew up in the Midwest, too, and remember those days waiting at the bus stop when the wind chill was -60! I think about my dad a lot this time of year. He was a minister, but spent most of his career teaching religious studies at a small liberal arts college. One of the holiday highlights was when he and my sister and I would treck to a nearby tree farm to cut down our own tree. My dad always came equipped with the essentials: a hand saw, hatchet, and some strips of cloth we would use to tag our favorites before we made our final choice. He was always hale and healthy, and came from a family of long-lifers. He would joke about stretching his money so he could get to at least 90. He died very suddenly at 80, and I still miss him so much. On the first anniversary of his passing, my sister and I took some of his ashes to one of his favorite beaches at the National Seashore on Cape Cod. As we tossed his ashes into the water, 5 seals popped up at that very spot. “Well,” we said, “there’s the welcoming committee!” We like to think of him having a good swim with new friends.
BrendaNovember 6, 2018 at 4:30 pm
What a beautiful share, Mary! I can see that whole scene at the seashore. What a shock it must have been when he died suddenly. Thank you for giving us an image of your precious dad. Much love!