Things I’ve learned:
1. Men aren’t allowed to express grief. An outward showing is permissible and welcomed. At the funeral. Any extended time is met with “pull yourself together eyes” or embarrassed expressions from the periphery. Grief doesn’t mean a man is out of control or mentally unbalanced. It means he recognized someone beside himself or aside himself is gone and he’s acknowledging that loss. I find it refreshing when I realize others realize another human being exists. Or existed.
2. Men aren’t allowed to caretake their parents. Those who do are considered less than masculine -“mamma’s boys.” I told this fact to my primary care doc this week. His response, “I’ve never known a man who was a caretaker.”
3. My Mother and I had the opportunity to discuss everything before her death. She knew she was dying. It was a lengthy process. I asked her questions. I interviewed her. One question I asked her: an honest assessment of my character. I knew she’d be honest and her words weren’t shaded by jealousy or a devious personal agenda. I asked her to tell me my strengths and my flaws. She answered with candor and without fear of reprisal. It was the greatest gift a human being has given me: the truth.
4. I learned the quality of healthcare my parents received was in direct correlation to my involvement in their care. Their doctors/nurses/physical therapists knew: I cared, was actively involved, watched, and held the professionals to a standard of care. They rose to that occasion. I demanded it. I owed it as the son.
5. I learned our elderly are afraid. They’re experiencing everything for the first time too. My Mother used to say, “the greatest gift you can give a child is to remember how you felt at his age.” I gave my parents the gift of remembering they were adults who no longer retained their control: when they ate, drank, moved. I reminded myself they were adults and treated them as adults.
6. I learned not to make death about me. They died. They grieved their lives - each other - their children. I learned the dying grieve. I stepped out of myself and constantly reminded myself that my feelings were secondary. I wasn’t the noun. My job was adverbial.
7. I learned no one can have it all. You’re bleased if you’ve found someone willing to share his/her some. And will share your gift of your some.
8. I learned sympathy / empathy haven’t adequate words. People struggle with the adjectives on both sides of a coffin. Remember that.