It happens in the blink of an eye – or at least it felt like it to me. One day, my Poppa seemed fine and the next he was doing loopy things – like accusing people of stealing insignificant objects from his apartment when nothing was missing. Within two years, my Poppa is almost unrecognizable from the big, strong, father-figure I once had. He’s frail, quieter, and sleeps a lot more, but the humour, sarcasm, and wit all remain in the rare moments of clarity. While he may not seem like the Poppa I used to have, I am still incredibly close to him and enjoy my time with him just as much.
90 years old and can barely remember his own name, but he can remember everyone he has hurt and many of his “wrong turns” in life.
On almost a weekly basis I make the trek out to his nursing home about an hour away. I have to say we are truly blessed that he is being taken care of by the best of the best; the PSWs, staff, nurses, and doctors love him like their own Poppa and it radiates from them. They share their amazing Poppa experiences with me, and always make me feel at home when I drop in. It’s an interesting experience – dementia. There’s a glimmer of my Poppa still there; not only in the clever wit, but in the knowledge of his life and how he is able to still recognize me as a family member. It’s not easy.
But the reason I’m bringing up my Poppa today is to reference the conversation we regularly have. I think many would be shocked to hear that my visits are often full of apologies and lists of regrets. He may not be able to regularly name who I am, but he shares all the things he regrets in his life with me on a weekly basis. From fights he had to people he’s excluded from his life; to personal habits and behaviours that impacted his life negatively. It’s the roller coaster of emotions in my visits with him. Laughs to tears, humour to life-long lessons.
I can’t express how many times I’ve read the saying:
“In the end you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do.”
Let me tell you this has a serious grey area to it. In fact, the saying frustrates me now. I’m sure there are a lot of people who do regret the things they haven’t done, but these are probably people of a healthy mind. In my weekly visits, I usually hear the regrets of the things he DID do, as he regularly asks for my forgiveness – generally I’m giving him forgiveness for something that didn’t impact me at all. My goal in those moments is to give my Poppa as much peace as possible. If he needs to feel forgiveness, to accept those moments, then I will do what I can. 90-years-old and can barely remember his own name, but he can remember everyone he has hurt and many of his “wrong turns” in life. Shockingly, as sad as this is, it’s inspiring too.
This experience has further taught me to grab life by the horns. Love the people you love. Keep the people in your life that you want and need, and also really assess those that you choose to exclude from your life as well (I hear a lot of the exclusions from my Poppa). Let go of the things and people that are not serving you too, as they are just weight pulling you down.
It’s not easy to be there sometimes. It’s not easy to accept that he’s not in the same state as the Poppa who took me out on his boat or let me drive his Corvette – but the reality is this, he’s my Poppa and I love him to pieces. As difficult as this experience is, I’m choosing to see the silver lining in it.
He and I have wonderful walks and talks. We joke about things and he randomly tells me how beautiful I am (which is nice, even if it is my Poppa). The employees of the home have become a part of my life too, and thank them SO much for caring for him the way I cannot. But the biggest lesson of all is the lesson of regret. I don’t want to regret anything in my life. I’m going to forgive and live. I’m going to love like there’s no tomorrow. I’m going to celebrate not just in my victories, but in the victories of everyone close to me.
I challenge you to do the same. 🙂