Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, May 23, 2014

To My Dad Who Is Finding Life A Little More Painful Than He Bargained For

Dear Dad,

I see you struggling with a body that is betraying you.  Bravely fighting to come back from a rough bout of chemotherapy.  You are 83, and it's not easy.  Chemo took your hair, your lovely wavy white hair, and it came back super curly, although it's growing in softer now.  It took eyebrows, fingernails and toenails. 

All have grown back, but there was a cost.  Your joints hurt, your knees ache and crack. (I can relate to those things!)  It's hard to stand up straight.  You are having a hard time accepting what most of us accept way before the age of 83.  Body aches.  Knees giving out.  A fickle, tricksy memory.  You are used to being the smartest guy in the room.  The brilliant mind.  A body that was in such good shape it denied your years.  Cancer and The Cure has robbed you of some of this.  You are in denial.  And you are angry.  Justifiably?  Perhaps.  But life happens, one way or another, to most of us.  It pounds, and jabs, and teases us.  You are not alone, although I suspect you think you are.  It makes me sad to see you struggle to be what you think we all want to see.

You deny being tired.  You deny that you hurt.  You hate taking that wheelchair through the airport.  And you get quite angry about it.  Sometimes you are not very nice to people, and it's usually people who don't deserve your anger.  People who have nothing to do with the reason you're lashing out.  Are you frightened?  Do you think we, your family, will love you less, admire you less,  if you're suddenly vulnerable?  If we see that you need some help?  Do you think that we will lose respect, or dismiss you as no longer viable?

You're wrong, you know.  There is no shame in asking for or accepting help.  It's the smart thing to do.  It makes more sense than spending 5 minutes struggling to stand up from a chair unassisted, when any one of us would be honored to be the one to give you a hand, a steady arm.  Just as you always have to us.  It makes more sense to let yourself be pushed through a crowded airport in a wheelchair (and boarding first!) than it does to wear yourself out trudging through and then you can't enjoy the rest of the trip because you're too tired.  We are watching you, taking notes on how to age gracefully and wisely.  And the pitfalls to avoid.  Like pride that makes you deny what we all can see.  It turns you into an angry, ranting, frightened child.  Personally, I think it's okay to shake your fist at disease and a body that won't cooperate.  In private.  Perhaps in prayer.  But after girding your loins to continue fighting the fight, take a moment to be grateful for all that you do still have.  All you've been blessed with that no disease, no cruel aging process can steal from you. 

You have a wife who has stuck by you through thick and thin. 

She loves you, and is fiercely proud of who you are.  She was and is an incredible mother to your four children, and worked with you to raise us to be solid citizens.  We have been blessed with good fortune and good health.  No one died young.  Your have a lovely group of grandchildren who love you and think of you often.  You've given them memories of taking long walks with Grandpa, and yearly weekends in Palm Desert with the whole family.  They were so lucky to have grandparents who came to their many games almost every week, and cheered them on.  You've seen most of them graduate from college and into successful lives. 

And now there are great grandchildren.  And at least one little almost-8 year old girl who is soooooo excited for Nana and Papa to come to her baptism and birthday party next month in Arizona.  So much to be grateful for.  Life has been good overall.

I know it's hard for a man who rarely ever took so much as an aspirin, to suddenly be required to take lots of expensive medications just to fight off the evil C.  It stinks, quite frankly.  You don't feel well most days, and to top it off, the world has evolved into a confusing whirlwind of technology consisting of confusing computer programs, iPhones, and oh so much more that we don't even want to think about.  But this world has also wrought some amazing things that really do help us if we're not too stubborn to learn.  If we can lose our fear and pride, and just try. 

One of those things is called Advil.  It's an amazing little pill, that taken as lightly as possible, can ease some of those aches and pains, and turn that frown upside down.  I am the poster girl for Advil.  I am it's champion.  We should always try to avoid taking medication needlessly, but when you're hurting?  For heaven's sake, do yourself and everyone else in the room a favor and pop one or two.  Your knees and whatever else aches will thank you.  You can enjoy life a little bit more, and find that elusive energy you thought deserted you.

Don't be afraid to learn.  You can't always be the teacher, the family sage.  Sometimes it's a blessing to learn from others.  Be teachable.  Learn to use that iPhone for everything it can do.  (It's so much more than a phone - it's an indispensable tool!)  That smartest guy in the room that you're so fond of being?  He's overrated, between you and me.  He is obnoxious a lot of the time, and I don't know anyone who likes a know it all.  It's a great thing to be blessed with intelligence, but only if you use it to lift others up.  Concentrate on doing that.  Other people have ideas and opinions too.  They won't always agree with yours, but that doesn't make them less valuable.  Or interesting.  It can be fascinating to explore why people think the way they do.  (It can also make you throw your hands up in exasperation, but it's best to do that when they're not looking. ) Be approachable in your discussions with others.  And patient.  And most of all, kind.

Now back to that guy you think we all expect you to be: strong, who we can all lean on.  A man who has no weakness or fears of the unknown future.  News flash:  he doesn't exist.  Never did.  You are a real person, with real insecurities and viable fears.  You're our dad.  You're the guy who got up every Saturday morning and made waffles from scratch.  No mixes for you.  (Did you know that the very first Saturday after I got married I half woke up, and in a dreamy haze I could hear you and the boys down in the kitchen making waffles.  Measuring spoons clanging, fuzzy conversation I couldn't quite make out.  A homesick dream.)  You're the dad who made runny pumpkin pies from whole pumpkins, and biscuits with jam inside from a recipe you made up.  (The jam was a little burned, but that's okay.)  You're the monster chasing us through the house in the dark when Mom was at a meeting.  You're the fireworks master, lighting the biggest, most exciting box of fireworks we'd ever seen. 

You're that Baby Lover guy, the one the grandkids loved to play with and swim with.  You're the Dad who so kindly let his daughter bumble through learning to join the work force.  I learned to use a computer while selling Mustang parts at Larry's.  Worst parts girl ever, I'm sure, but at least I never packed styled steel wheels in the same box as a windshield and shipped them to Australia!  (That was a brilliant GUY.)  And I tried so hard to please... so you wouldn't be disappointed in me.  In a weird way, I have you to thank for the good jobs I've had since.  I learned to survive in a tough work environment, learned to work with, and enjoy, all kinds of people from all over the world.  I learned selling skills as well as computer skills.  It was hard, but it made me tough, which I most definitely was not when I started.

The point being, I suppose, is that after all of the help and guidance, and financial support you've given to each one of us over the years, it would be our honor and pleasure to help you now.  I beg you not to think you can't show pain or exhaustion in front of us.  That would make you inhuman, even if you could pull it off.  And mostly, it's just making you crabby.  It's keeping you from enjoying the beautiful experiences that are still coming your way.  While I can't relate to what you've gone through in the last year, I can relate to having pain, and feeling like I don't want to walk across the room.  Give yourself permission to give in to it when it's bad.  Use a cane.  (Get a fancy cool carved wood one.  It will give you some swagger.)  Take a painkiller or two when you feel bad.  Write down in your journal what you're going through, what you're afraid of, and how you are working through it.  (This would involve writing about feelings instead of facts and figures, which are boring and no help to anyone.)  Much of this is not in your nature, but it's like a refiner's fire, I've heard (according to Neal A. Maxwell).  The hardships reshape you, polish you, refine you into someone who is pure, and fine, and exquisitely priceless.  You'll be blessed with experiences you would never have otherwise, that will change you for the better.  Take the challenge.  Make goals.  Who do you want to be at the end?  What do you want to learn?  You've always had that curious mind - something I've always loved about you.  Don't let your fears and insecurities or pride keep you from the knowledge you want to have.  Let your imagination soar.  Be open.  And most of all, remember we love you and are always here to help.  We WANT to help.  You can let your hair down with us.  Because we've known each other forever, and that will never end. 
Love you, Dad...


  1. Wow Karen I loved the openness here and how you wrote this. I am so sorry that he has went through all of these things, but it most certainly sounds like these things needed to be written and said. He sounds very prideful - and stubborn :) reminds me of my late grandfather. Will you send this post to him to read?

  2. How can I avoid using the word sorry, dear karen? I suppose I can't. I am sorry. It's hard for your dad to come to grips with the prospect of being transformed by illness from a strong, independent, capable provider and problem solver to a weakened, dependent object of pity. I am sure he is scared, embarrassed and humiliated. No one wants to draw that kind of attention to themselves in a public place. I can feel your dad trying desperately to rally. In his mind, once he starts accepting help and taking pills it's a slippery slope and he will lose ground rapidly and never recover it. That's why he keeps fighting against it.

    Did you ever try to reason with a grisly bear whose leg is caught in a steel trap? How did that go? Pain and fear turn us into something we don't want to be. Pain and fear make us lash out at the people who love us and want to help us. It's hard, karen. I will keep you and your dad in my prayers and hope the situation improves by the next time you post. Bless you, dear friend.

  3. What a beautiful, beautiful letter to your dad. I'm continuing to keep him in my prayers~

  4. Oh Grandpa. Grandpa, grandpa, grandpa.

  5. Karen, this post brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. I see our patients who are going through cancer treatment...the fears, the anger, the frustration. I have friends who have and are fighting this terrible life robber. A good friend who has worked with me for almost 30yrs just found out she has the worst skin cancer you can get..not melanoma..it's a rare form that kills 1 in 3 people who get it and hers has spread to the lymph nodes. I'm devastated for her and also for the fight she's going to try and win. Watching my Mom age and break bones and give up driving and slow down, even though she doesn't want too is still nothing compared to watching what your Dad is going through. I agree with Tom (Shady) that perhaps in his mind when you finally admit to needed help, you are secretly giving up the fight. Your letter is perfectly written and I hope he sees it and takes it all to heart. It seems so unfair to reach that age and then have to battle for life....golden years? Really? I'm not buying it. However, my friend is only 55 and mostly likely will never see 83. Life is not fair, but it's all we've got so I hope he can take the advice and the Advil! What did "Red" say in my favorite movie? (Shawshank Redemption) "Either get busy living or get busy dying" I for one will choose life and hope I can weather the refiner's fire. Good luck to you and your family and mostly your Dad. Hugs and prayers to you and for him.

  6. Please don't jump in and help when he doesn't want it. If it takes him five minutes to get up from a chair, then wait the five minutes unless the room is on fire. He's trying to keep some independence, and you will be glad for it later. I know he has to have some help, but if he can do it, then stay out of his way.

    Janie, who apologizes for being so bossy but has been there and seen it

    1. Point taken. I am appreciating all the feedback as most of the time I don't know the right thing to do.

  7. If I'm thinking correctly, this was very good for you to write and express. To reveal your love and concern for your daddy. It's a tough thing to see and experience as a daughter and you have expressed it all so well.... May peace and comfort and courage and wisdom be yours....

  8. I could write a similar letter to my Mom, who is trying to come to grips with a mind which has betrayed her. She has denentia - tho she refuses the diagnosis.We help in all the ways we can but she get quite angry with us when we mention a cane, or at time a wheelchair. I suppose if I were in her place I would find all the changes quite difficult to grasp. It's a had season of life.

  9. Karen, this is great. Thank you for writing it : )

  10. Great post. I just love and adore his grumpy old soul! Can't wait to see him next month. Did you send him a link to this post? ;-)

  11. What a nice letter, you have said everything most people wish they had said when they had the chance but didn't.


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