I’M AT THE hospital visiting my father. He’s had a relatively good stretch of health until he began feeling pain in his foot and we noticed the coloring showing signs of limited circulation. Expecting to go in for a simple treatment and come home, he’s been there now for a few days and won’t be home for at least another week.
When I get to his room, I find my mother on the phone trying to order a new dinner for Dad. He wasn’t impressed with the beef stew he got.
She looks up at me. “He’s not very happy right now.”
I walk over to him and give him a kiss on his cheek.
“Having a tough go of it lately, eh Daddio?”
“Yeah,” he barks while wrestling to untangle one of the many tubes attaching him to the IV pole. “I’m fed up.”
“I bet,” I say. “I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be, this roller coaster of feeling strong, then awful, then good, then tired.”
“I’m just so aggravated. I wonder if it’s even worth the fight anymore,” he grumbles.
“If I had to go through all you’ve been through, I’d probably feel like throwing in the towel, too, sometimes.”
I take his hand and rub his arm.
This gruff, old Irish man’s eyes fill with tears as his body softens and his head lowers.
I give his hand a gentle squeeze as if to say, “Go ahead, cry.”
Not accepting the silent permission, he pulls himself together and starts shoving things around on his table.
Such an effective mask for sadness and fear.
Throughout my visit with him, he toggles between anger and surrender.
“I’m struggling with whether I should just come home with you and Ma tonight and come back on Thursday for my procedure on Friday or just stay here.”
He winces as his foot delivers a shooting pain.
“Well, I can solve that dilemma for you, Dad. Coming home with us isn’t an option. See how we were able to get you something to take for the pain in your foot just now? If you were at home, you’d have to suffer.”
He’s quiet for a moment and I can see the wheels turning. He gets it.
I know he gets it all. My dad is a brilliant man. Truly. He just wishes it was different. And sometimes he needs to express that. And how he does so isn’t always pretty.
My Dad is also a strong man who, throughout his life, was the boss. The business owner. The one in charge. In control. Now he feels like he hardly has a say.
His situation is such a testament to how we can decrease our suffering when we stop resisting the things we can’t change. Sure, throw a tantrum now and then, but live in that place and your suffering compounds.
Whenever I spend time with him, I do my best to give him the space he needs to feel what’s really going on for him — the fear, the sadness, the hopelessness. I empathize with his anger instead of trying to solve it in an effort to create a safe space where he can let go and drop the grumpy shield.
Without fail, when he does, I feel the love between us strengthen. I see him as the vulnerable, gentle, fallible man he also is, and he gets to take a break from the anger. And I see his body thank him for it.
And I’m reminded, once again, that feelings are to be felt and not fixed.
P.S. Dad is having a delicate surgery done on Friday at 10 AM ET. Any healing energy, thoughts, or prayers you can spare are appreciated.