Read on Going Home (Part One)

“Never let your desire to have an accepting heart towards others keep you from your strong boundaries. The hurricane may come blasting at our door; yet it doesn’t mean we have to invite it in for tea. Sometimes, it’s important to recognize that the hurricane is a powerful and damaging storm, not a light spring shower.”
–Alaric Hutchinson

Before making the trip back “home” to Texas, I made a series of choices designed around keeping tight boundaries.

  • I chose to stay at a hotel in Arlington rather than in my hometown. It put me 15 minutes from my dad’s, but also 5 to 15 minutes from friends. Not to mention within moments of restaurants and shopping. I also turned down my sister’s offer to stay out at her house, 45 minutes from my dad’s and an hour (or more) from friends.
  • I arrived late on a Sunday, so set up a late night rendezvous for pancakes. To ensure the first interaction I had in town was loving and positive.
  • I set up an early morning appointment at the salon and spa I regularly visited for over a decade. I haven’t found a good esthetician in Ohio and my dad isn’t his best in the mornings.
  • I set up a lunch date with my oldest daughter and coordinated with my sister for dinner on my first full day in town. I left the second full day in town completely open. I thrive on having plans, but feel stressed when they don’t work out or are too tight.

These were all good choices.

Seeing friendly faces soon after arriving was the right way to begin. I was able to chill in the hotel and get my bearings a bit. When I rose the next morning, I headed to La Madeline’s for breakfast, a spot I frequented often with my daughters. It was nostalgic and nourishing on many levels.

I had some time to kill before I headed to meet my daughter, so I decided to pop into Barnes and Noble, another frequent haunt during my daughter’s childhood.

I almost burst into tears.

When Emily was a toddler, my (then) husband worked overnight shift. My job on Saturday mornings was to keep her quiet so he could sleep. For anyone who has dealt with an active (and talkative) two-year-old knows, that’s practically impossible.

So, every Saturday, we went to Barnes and Noble (which opened at 9 AM) for a little while and then to the adjacent mall (which opened at 10 AM) and explored until it got beyond lunch time. And it was close enough to his waking time for us to go back home.

This is not an easy way to manage young motherhood. But let’s be honest: I was afraid of how he would respond if she woke him. And I needed a way to feel more confident in being a mom. And when she was loud (aka a normal little kid), I felt I was failing.

But Barnes and Noble served as our sanctuary for many years.

We attended most of the “Harry Potter Release” parties there. It was a good space to get a coffee and some quiet time when the pace picked up with two kiddos. When my marriage began to disintegrate, I would take my laptop there to work and escape the tension at home.

Long before I understood that my home could be a sanctuary, I found that sanctuary at Barnes and Noble.

Lunch with my daughter was wonderful. This is the child  – or should I say woman now that she’s twenty-five – that battled / battles with depression. And there were days when I wondered if we would all survive those teen years.

She has a great job, a healthy relationship, and four fur-babies. I asked her if she needed anything from Target or the grocery store before we headed back to her place and she rolled her eyes and said “I am like a real adult now, Ma. I even have extra toilet paper.”

Ah, a gal after my own heart….

Then it was time to go see my dad.

“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.”
― Markus Zusak

My father still lives in the house I grew up in. We moved there in April 1975, on a rainy weekend, and the most exciting thing to me about the house when I was six was that we had CARPET!  Our old house had hardwood floors and rugs, and that carpet seemed pretty darned luxurious.

He has always been a handy guy. Over the years, he’s replaced wallpaper and flooring. The carpet, once an avocado green shag, is now a plush cut pile in a neutral beige.  I looked at the house with a somewhat critical and compartmentalized eye: are things in shape or have they deteriorated? Overall, the house is in good shape. And one of my nieces comes by on a regular basis to clean.

A farmer during his childhood was something he wanted to leave behind, yet he never lost his love for digging in the dirt. The once luxurious backyard full of roses now sports hedges and ancient, sturdy trees. The yard he once toiled over has faded some now that he’s no longer able to care for it himself. He had a yard guy, but that just isn’t the same and nourishing the land yourself.

Though he has done all the home improvement in the past, he no longer can manage stripping wallpaper, replacing flooring, or painting.

In his retirement years, he should be able to garden and play golf and go to lunch with friends. Yet, thanks to the ravages of the COPD, all those things he loved to do, he just can’t.

The tall, thin yet sturdy man he was exists in the shadows. He needs suspenders to hold up his pants as the COPD demands the majority of his caloric intake just to fuel his breathing. Walking down the hall to the bathroom and back leaves him out of breath and he spends most of his waking hours at the kitchen table in front of the TV, usually on a channel that shows either westerns or sports.

He can’t even get the mail easily anymore, sometimes resorting to getting in his car and going down the steep driveway to retrieve it. Grocery shopping is a burden, so my sister fills his fridge with meals he just has to heat up.

What truly bothers me the most is his inability to participate in the one sport he loved the most: golf. My mother berated him and tried to make him feel guilty over the years for the time he spent on the course. He’s been a widower for almost seven years now and at eighty-two, should be spending a couple of days hitting balls on the driving range and playing several rounds of golf a week.

My dad is a true extrovert, but many of his peers are gone or his inability to breathe – and his embarrassment around that – keeps him mostly housebound. My sister complains about the mess the cats make, but he shuts her down with a stare and the words “they are good company.”

He blames no one for his disease but himself. He is quite shrewd in his condemnation of his choice to smoke and how that has contributed – caused – all of this pain, discomfort, and inability to participate in his own life. I don’t believe I know anyone else who is so forthright and honest about their health situation. Most folks look for someone else to blame, and as much as I hate this disease, I admire my father for his ability to be honest with himself.

What hasn’t changed about my father is his kind disposition and sense of humor. He has a gentle way of disarming folks, most noticeable when he banters with a waitress. For that, I am grateful.

Being an ENTJ, I am great at disconnecting from my emotions and evaluating a situation logically. This trait does not exactly endear me to others, but I have learned to make peace with it. This doesn’t mean I am unfeeling, but it does mean that even when I am in emotional turmoil, I can compartmentalize.

My sister painted a picture of my father as frail, losing his memory, and being on Death’s To Do List.

Yes, he has greatly deteriorated since I was last in town, but he isn’t as far gone as she has insisted. Does he have another decade or even five years in him? No. In all likelihood, he has another year or so. Is he getting dementia? Not really, but he is a bit forgetful. This is truly due to not getting enough oxygen to his brain.

Is he ready for hospice care? Not hospice, yet. But the doctor’s comment that the most humane thing that could happen to him is to go in his sleep so as not to suffer the way COPD basically “drowns” its victims is something I agree with. Palliative care over prolonging life in order to squeak a few more weeks out of a life filled with pain is unconscionable to me.

When I wrote of never being as “safe” as I am now, it was never about my father. He was always the spark of light and joy for me as a child. My mother, though, well, I never did quite measure up to what she wanted from me. I wasn’t neat enough, pretty enough or popular enough, especially when compared with my perfect sister. My ESFJ sister who was the homecoming queen and fell right into step in playing the role of the perfect, dutiful daughter.

My sister is that perfect, dutiful daughter. And I know she compares how much she does with how little I do. I know she compares her devotion to my absence.  She sees how overburdened and busy she is and how seemingly easy my life looks to be.

It is human nature to compare the actions of others against how we might choose to handle things. It’s the default go to as we traverse this human experience, not to compare or always judge, but to see if we can discern the choice a person makes. Even in all my experience working as a coach and the fact that I’ve worked with MBTI since the mid-90’s, I still fall into the trap of seeing life through my lens rather than the recognition that everyone is different.

I may not  agree with my sister, yet I don’t want to criticize. SHE is the one on the ground. SHE is the one doing the work. SHE is the one ensuring that he gets to doctor appointments and has food in his fridge. Being 1000 miles away doesn’t exactly lend itself to being of daily help.

And, frankly, getting back to Texas isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I still have a business to run. I coached clients throughout my time in Texas, but I was unable to get any writing done. Writing is the lifeblood of my business and the way I tend my own soul. Though money isn’t everything, a trip “back home” adds up. I used miles on this trip, but the lowest advance fare ticket from Dayton to Dallas averages $687. You have to also consider the hard costs of a rental car, dining, and a place to stay.

I also have a life to tend. I have a loving, supportive partner in John. I also have a responsibility to the life we’ve created. I have a household to run and details to tend to. I can’t abandon that, I have a responsibility to myself and my life.

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou

I  know that my life looks easy and ideal in many ways from the outside. Like others, my Instagram feed is full of a highlight reel of those picture-perfect moments and no, I don’t typically share the messy, less than glamorous parts. It’s certainly more appealing to share a photo of a beautiful latte while writing in a cafe than it is to share the days when I am feeling lonely and dealing with writer’s block.

I also know that I am extremely blessed in so many ways, and the truth of the matter is, I’ve done a ton of personal growth work to get here. This daily life that I live isn’t one that just happened, I’ve fought for every second of happiness and cultivated a relationship and environment where we each feel safe in being ourselves.

It also means that I must be diligent when it continuing to care for this life that I have created and the person I’ve become. Most folks get that you have to work hard to accomplish something,yet underestimate that you still have to be devoted to ensuring the quality of your life remains.

It doesn’t self-maintain, we have to be willing to continue to fight for our own happiness.

Those boundaries I set before the trip were part of what allowed me to remain logical and sane. To not give into emotion of any sort.  I’d made an appointment for a facial before I arrived in Texas, and sure enough, the morning of my appointment, my dad was having a challenging morning.

When I arrived, I inquired if they could add a body scrub before or after my facial.

I was taken back to the serene locker room by the spa attendant, a lovely woman I’ve known for twenty years as she used to be the office manage at the daycare the girls attended. She gave me a robe and slippers, and when I emerged, she gave me a glass of water, which I sipped in a plush chair while I waited. The esthetician arrived and let me know they were able to add the body scrub and she’d be doing both.

For an hour and a half, I was treated like a porcelain doll. I was lovingly tended in ways I can’t tend myself by a talented and compassionate young lady. I’ve been afraid to change too many of my face care products from my “dry, sensitive skin care” to anti-aging products with active ingredients.

I left feeling cared for. And, with a list of products to add into my routine as I work through what’s already in my bathroom.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by my self.”
– Brian Andreas

I – both fortunately and unfortunately – know myself well. When I am binding myself to all logic and no emotion so that I can deal with matters at hand, any kind of tenderness for myself is abandoned.  I share this part of my trip, not to paint a glossy image over my father’s health or to illustrate escape, but as the reminder that we must continue to curate and cultivate our life, no matter the circumstances.

Sometimes, in the midst of a storm when we are unsure how to care for our own needs, allowing someone else to show us a way or to care for us is the only path to compassion.

This is the year of Unbound Grace and this single act was the best path I knew to that.