What my 96 year old Dad taught me about how to live

My Dad who is 96, had a stroke two and a half weeks ago. It was touch and go for a while as he struggled with pneumonia and a second stroke. At one point the doctors were even talking about choices that would put him in hospice. It made me think hard about what is it to be living or deciding to continue to live. Even talking to my friends, we initially think it is so easy to decide, but it's not.

DadI know Daddy is old, and his time could be up any moment. His heart is weak and certainly the stroke and dementia don't help. Dad's aging mind prevents him from remembering the recent past or the future (no planning). But that means he's fully in the present and in the now. He is fully aware and cognizant when you speak to him, he just forgets what happened a moment ago. When he was in the hospital and even now, you just don't know what will happen next. We don't know what God has planned, though Dad did say to one of the nurses, “God doesn't want me.” I told him, “God wants you right here now.” That is what the neurologist meant when he said that Dad “is still with us, he's still present.”

I realized that whatever moments I have with him, he is only in the moment, that he is still here and present. I tried to make those moments happy for him by my being fully present with him. I showed him the Facebook comments on my post about his stroke, with so many saying prayers, kind words and well wishes for him from so many friends, family and even people he didn't know. It made Dad tear up he was so moved, which was unusual for him. I told him about Chris, my son, and his adventures as a freshman in college. Daddy was so proud Chris will be studying engineering like he did, he beamed and smiled. I showed him pictures of our recent trip to the UK and told him how much I loved him. He said words I didn't hear very often from him when I was young, “I love you too.” Even though I know he won't remember what we talked about, if I can give him as many happy present moments as I can, I realized that is living.

Finally, he left the hospital and is now in a wonderful nursing home where the nurses and therapists are gentle and kind. They help him with his inability to use his right side, to speak and learn to use his left hand while they tend to his every need. He is content when my mom (who is 89) is there or when he waits for her, knowing she will come soon when the nurses tell him, “She'll be here in a few hours.” The director of activities asked what his favorite music is so they can play it for him. They told Mom she doesn't have to be there every day to just sit with him, but she says “He needs me” and then she says it's okay, she wants to go. That makes them both happy and that is living.

I find it interesting that Daddy is still teaching me about life. It was Dad that tried to answer many of my questions when I was 8 years old like, “Why are we here?” “What is life all about?” Dad said, “We're here for our soul to experience.” I guess I'm here experiencing what it is to live.