I have been debating whether or not to combine these two topics- the House and the Home.
For me they are one and the same. I love to decorate, design, create, paint, craft. Any time I'm working with my hands, I am happy. I've shared with you that my father built custom homes and that my mom designed and sold them. Even as children, our opinions and our efforts, were welcome. (I've been cutting a mean edge since I was 8). My sister and I were encouraged to sit down with graph paper and pencils to sketch our own bedrooms. We created our dream homes. It's what happened at the table after dinner and it clearly made a mark on both of us as we both still love home decor and design.
I use Seaside Shelter as a place to share the things that I make to decorate our house. And often my friend's homes. But this house is more than that. It is our home. It shelters me, my husband, my son, my daughter, a 10 year old pit-lab named Sam, two domestic rats named Michael and Pepper, and a giant cat named "AJ" and my 78 year old father who we call Papa.
I shared this story on Blogher.com the other day and my husband suggested that I share it with you too. Not because I want a pat on the back for taking care of my father. But because I know there are so many others that find themselves in a similar position, or who will find themselves in the same position in the future. So here's my story...
At the age of 46 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the age of 51 mom received her five year "all clear." At the age of 54 mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the age of 56 she died. I was 29 years old. My father was 70.
On mom's death bed, in her raspy voice, all but silenced by vocal paralysis, she croaked to the hospice attendant, "my daughter has been my mother since she was 12."
There are things in your life that you may know to be true, but that are never said aloud. When you hear them spoken aloud it is as if the pieces to the puzzle have finally been put into place.
My mother was my mom, my friend, my confidant, my defender and my caretaker. But I took care of her too. We were partners. As a woman married to an older man, my mother took on the traditional role of "wife." She cooked, she cleaned, and she took care of the kids. She took care of, well, everything.
So when she died, not only did I lose my mother, but my father lost his caretaker. I had gone from being mom's partner in crime to being put in the position to step in as her parent. I held her hand, I administered her medicines, I wiped away her tears, I offered her physical and emotional support and sent her positive energy. My mother lived in a black and white world. You either are capable, or you are not. When she was no longer physically or mentally in the position to act as my mother, she then needed one and I was grateful for the job.
Four years after mom died I was pregnant with my second child when it became clear to me that my father could no longer live alone. He just had his fourth stroke and he wasn't going to be around long enough to get to know this child if I didn't intervene. So I took matters into my own hands. I sold his house, I packed his bags, and I set up his new room.
I had made a decision four years earlier. The morning mom died I sat down at her computer and wrote an email addressed to our family and friends. I shared that I had decided not to mourn the loss of my mother, but instead planned to rejoice in the finding of my father. I had found my silver lining. For 29 years Dad hadn't done much parenting. My mom had operated as a single mother meaning she made all the decisions, gave out advice, and handed down and enforced the rules. Dad simply funded the operation.
Now my mother was gone and I was left with a gaping hole in my heart, not to mention a gaping hole in my life. I was used to calling my mother four times a day. We had shared everything. Now it was game on Dad. I think I spoke to my father more that first month after her passing than I had in the past ten years. And you know what? I think he was happy to talk to me too.
My father has been living in our home for six years now. He shaves in his recliner and taps his razor on the radiator. He eats canned fish and leaves the tins in his fridge so the odors can waft through the house. He refuses to use the fan in the bathroom. He sleeps in his clothes.
But he is present. He is engaged. He offers a knee to my children to watch television on. He tells us stories from his past. He supports our decisions. He respects my parenting- reminding me often that he never did any himself hence he is in no position to criticize. He respects our privacy and we respect his.
This arrangement could have gone either way, but we make choices. We choose to be respectful. We choose to function as individuals with our own independent opinions. We choose to enjoy the time we have together and behave as role models for the behavior of our own children.
My hope is that someday, when I am old, if I live with my children, they will have grown up knowing that if you treat people with respect and with dignity, it is possible to live together as people used to live, as a multi-generational family, as a family, where everyone adds value to the whole.
|My wedding day with my mom and my sister. 2001|