It’s been thirteen days since Dad fell, eleven since an ambulance took him to a hospital, six since he was released to a nursing facility and one since someone at the facility tested positive for covid.

Dad a few weeks ago.

When covid killed Dad’s cousin in April, I wondered how long before it affected our family again.

Between finding the right help, the right facilities, and the money to pay for everything, caring for elderly parents is challenging. The paper trail alone can destroy a small forest. Add covid to the mix and fear, concern, and frustration pile up like snowdrifts that won’t melt until spring because everything takes twice as long to do as it did before.

Dad, who will be 90 in two months, needed occupational therapy to help him adjust to chronic dizziness, but it’s not helping much. Mom, with poor eyesight and hearing, and the kind of joints you’d expect of someone nearly 89 years old, can’t care for him the way he requires. Through a million phone calls and emails, my brother and I have secured a small apartment for Dad in an assisted living facility, which he was supposed to move into tomorrow, the day before Christmas. Not exactly home, but at least he’d have people around and some presents to open. Now he’s in quarantine, alone in his room, and his world, which has shrunk considerably in two years, is even smaller.

There’s a fine line between love and obligation. Love is a living, breathing thing; hopeful, and yet can cut us all to the bone. When loves wounds, it’s counterintuitive to go back for more, although we usually do again and again. Obligation, on the other hand… There’s no emotional attachment to obligation if you do it right and don’t let love creep in. Obligation makes the hard decisions easier. Obligation, more than love, is the driving force behind why (and how) I’m helping my parents during this time in their lives.

Our family dynamic is as fragile as crepe paper. It’s mostly obligation that keeps my parents and siblings loosely tethered to one another in good times, and in this current crisis, we cobbled together enough give-a-shits to tap into our collective conscience and, with Dad as the common denominator, put the skeletons and years-old-feelings back in their closets to do what needs to be done.

I feel no guilt making arrangements for Dad to move to assisted living and, in the near future, insisting Mom moves, too. Love just makes me cry over the whole thing: Dad’s loss of independence, his loneliness, and – most of all – his inability to accept any of it.

This is the point in most blog posts where I find the light, the positive, the “moral” of the story. Not this time. With all the pain around the world and especially in our country this year, I don’t want to puff up this piece with a lot of positive. That would just be phony and fake anyway. Obligation, not love, is getting me through this frustrating end to a frustrating year, and honestly…that’s OK. I’d rather feel my way through this the way it is, in all its yuck, instead of living in a fantasy wishing it was different.

7 thoughts on “Obligation

  1. You are wonderful, Lynn! And such a talented writer! I’m sorry you are going through this rough time on top of the world going through a rough time.

  2. Lynn – so sorry to learn what your dad – and mom – are going through. I sure can relate. Our parents were cut from the same cloth – fiercely independent – fought giving any up even for their own good. At least my parents did not have Covid in the mix. Keep strong – do what has to be done. Be assured of our continued prayers for your folks – and you. Keep hope in front of y’all! Your dad looks like the Nordske he is! So many fond memories of our friendship back in MN. How manny gallons of wine did your mom and Inshare?!

  3. I was talking with a childhood friend about something similar – obligation, in his case to a mother who never was very nice to him and now, with dementia setting it, is quite mean. Of the five siblings, he’s the one who is having to care for her. I feel for him and I feel for you.

    1. Thanks, Shelley. I’m sorry for your friend, too. I’m lucky that my sibs haven’t abdicated. Making those choices for his mother must be very difficult.

  4. You say you are doing this out of obligation, not love. Yet the fulfilling of an obligation is an act of love that you are accepting its yoke because you learned from someone you loved that this was the right thing to do. There is a part within you that gives you the strength to perform this service. If you look deep within that, you’ll likely find what makes you the empathic human you are, and possibly a different concept of love. Joy is service.

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