INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - My husband and I spent several days in Ojai, California, including Christmas, with my father. As some of you know, Dad will be 93 in April, and is - always has been - a force to be reckoned with. That force is changing with time, of course, and this last week nudged to the surface all kinds of feelings that my brothers and I share.
First is how grateful I am to have a family willing and able to work together. Caring for an aging parent in a way that recognizes and appreciates his need for as much independence as possible while figuring out how to make essential accommodations that he does not always see as necessary takes considerable cooperation and patience.
The joke at the moment is that caring for Pop has progressed from taking a village to more of a suburb or large town.
The irony, of course, is that the better job we all do, the less he is aware of the many involved in his care.
For all of us, there are things we do so well we make them look easy. When dealing with aging parents, it's all relative and rarely truly easy, as many of you know from first-hand experience.
My father - our father - remains a remarkable man. He is clever, witty, good-humored, affectionate, and (mostly) appreciative.
He makes puns and jokes with the best of them. He loves to be around people of all ages and both listens to and advises them appropriately.
There is never an issue relating education with which he hasn't has some experience, and his counsel remains that which I seek and usually follow. He knows the words to more songs than anyone I've ever known.
He surprised my husband over Christmas by quoting Blake and Whitman. He sometimes can't remember what is on the calendar, and numbers started to escape him a few years back.
More painful to watch is how extraordinarily difficult it is for him to get from one place to another, how his eyesight and hearing continue to fail.
Dad uses a motorized wheelchair (I've been chided for calling it an "electric chair" in the past). Moving from his scooter to the desk chair, where he continues to work on his computer, writing a new book about horsemanship, using a huge font, requires significant assistance.
The same can be said about transferring to the recliner from which he watches his beloved westerns ("Have Gun Will Travel" is the current favorite) and, always, the news. Dad knows what is happening in the world. He cannot move from his wheelchair to the dining room table without the same assistance. And yet, he tries sometimes. Sometimes he falls.
Getting him back in place is not easy, particularly when only one caregiver is present. Dad does not quite realize that. Or maybe he does and just can't articulate it. Such ever-increasing limitations must be hard to acknowledge.
When my grandmother was aging in the same ways Dad is, it was his and my uncle's job to set some limitations for her. At that time, he told us he knew that time might come for us, but that he expected to set his own limitations. Much easier to say than to do.
My brothers and I tell each other that we will be different. I suspect that promise will be a challenge to remember. What I do know is that we are very fortunate to have our father with us at nearly 93, full of life and more than ready to let us know it.
As 2013 begins, I am grateful to be in a community that prizes the Dads of the world.
- Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.