“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien
“Do you ever get stressed when great grandpa asks the same question over and over again,” my 11 year-old granddaughter asked. “He doesn’t seem to remember anything you say.”
“It doesn’t help either one of us if I get upset,” I said. “I have to be patient. His memory isn’t very good, so I have to remind him. And sometimes he surprises me and remembers something I’ve told him.”
She’d caught me early on in the day. I hadn’t yet answered his many queries—does dad need me to come to the store to help, is mom sleeping, is your mother out shopping—and so my voice didn’t sound edgy and raised, I hadn’t yet looked away and rubbed my forehead in frustration, or rolled my eyes to the heavens to pray for more patience. When I tell him again his parents, the family business and my mother are all gone, he asks me what I mean. “They are dead,” I say bluntly.
“But I saw my father yesterday,” he says.
“Maybe in a dream, Dad. He’s been dead for 42 years.”
At times I’ve wondered if I should simply play along, agree with him, tell him, “No, your dad doesn’t need you today, maybe tomorrow. But I can’t bring myself to do that. I can’t justify lying to him. I couldn’t do it as a kid. And I can’t do it now.
And I may have just made the situation worse.
I brought my dad back to my house in Whistler a few days ago. It’s been incredibly cold in Calgary where he lives, I’ve been worried sick he might leave his house and venture outside thinking he had to go to work (this has happened three times so far this winter). He’s also complained about being lonely when I’ve talked to him on the phone. And I’ve seen the difference in him when I visit. He’s livelier, more engaged because he isn’t sitting for hours on end on his own. He looks and sounds better. So I thought he’d be happier here. It’s only been a few days and every day, likely every waking hour of every day he asks when I’m taking him home.
I finally asked him if he could try it for a few weeks. He agreed, and then asked again when he could go home.
I am reminded of Tolkien’s poem:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Yes, I am lost and scrambling over this ever-increasing slippery terrain. Not sure what will happen next, but this is the journey my father and I have begun. I will see it through, hopefully with the patience and tolerance I too eagerly and naively championed with my granddaughter.
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