Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I love this passage. It has even more meaning for me since I recently lost my Father. As a Certified Senior Advisor* I have worked with many families going through the process of aging parents. Each situation is unique in its circumstances but inherently the same. In almost every situation the family has to face challenges that test them. Physical adjustments, changes in living arrangement, choices in caregivers, financial considerations, all will put a family to the test. One family pulled together – found strength, dug deep for patience, searched for answers. Another seemed to unravel at the seams, never quite finding the peace that could sustain them.
Somehow I thought with all my training and the fact that I had faced these challenges working with others that it would be different for me. I was going to have prospective and insight. The truth is that when I was there in the moment – all the training in the world wasn’t able to prepare me for the sense of loss, grief, and ultimately the sense of relief that I would experience.
Losing a parent is supposed to be the natural order of things. We are born, we live a life, we grow old and then we die. No one gets a hall pass on this one. It doesn’t matter your status in life, or how many friends you had, or the balance in your bank account. Death is very even handed that way. When it’s your time – it’s your time.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for those that are left behind. While many of us believe that at death our loved ones experience a release and a rebirth –, those left behind still must manage the loss here on earth. What will help the ones who are left behind- find “the peace that surpasses all understanding?”
Even though it has only been weeks since I lost my Dad I’ve come to some important revelations regarding his old age and his death.
Revelation Number 1 – My Dad became old. I say old because there is a difference between being older and being old. As an older adult both my parents were vibrant and outgoing. It wasn’t until they became old that I was faced with their mortality. It actually happened quickly – there was a shift, a change and I felt it. I know for a fact that my Dad would say that he felt the shift as well. He told me so.
Revelation Number 2 – My sisters and I became the decision makers. My Father was no longer independent. This dramatic change effected our entire family. Decisions had to be made and they could not be made by my Dad – even though he wanted to. In fact he fought ferociously to hold on to his independence- it would not be possible. Understanding this shift in our dynamic was critical.
Revelation Number 3 –I was now grieving. It’s important to understand this. This sense of loss is a process. Each adjustment must be dealt with and considered. Selling the house and divesting of possessions is loss. Seeking new living arrangements and making those decisions is stressful. Hearing difficult medical news causes anxiety. You are grieving.
Revelation Number 4 –I will not be able to fix this. While doctor visits often mean that there is an agenda to “get better” - this is not the case here. The body may be shutting down incrementally. My Father was no longer the protector and the provider. We had always known him to be a strong presence and watching him weaken was hard. Becoming the parent of your parent is also hard. There is no school that prepares you for doing basic hygiene for your Father, brushing his teeth, doing his pedicure, dressing him head to toe – or even managing toileting issues.
Revelation Number 5 – My sisters and I were exhausted. We were exhausted mentally and physically. Making decisions, talking to doctors, managing finances, handling visits with my Father, making sure he had what he needed, even sitting by the bedside was exhausting.
Revelation Number 6 – Quality of life means everything. Knowing that my Dad was struggling to breathe, to move, to sleep, to eat was painful for him and for us. . I wanted him to have peace. Could we have gone on? Yes – we would have been by his side as long as he needed us – but quality of life is everything.
Revelation Number 7 – Peace does surpass our understanding. I can’t explain it but when my Father left this world – I knew that he was at peace. I could feel it. I also felt finally at peace. I knew he was safe, healthy, and in the company of those he loved.
A friend once told me that when we remember our loved ones it’s important to look at a life story as a whole and not just the last few pages of the book. A life such as my Dad’s 93 plus years was exciting and joyful. In fact – each chapter was more compelling than the next - it was a real page turner! So – no regrets.
The last two years of my Dad’s life were challenging – but I treasure every moment I got to spend with him. I loved my Dad intensely while he was here and I told him so.
` “ I’ll miss you Daddy – but I’ll see you soon.”