Monday, May 12, 2008

Watching the Sun Set


Over 400 miles from home, three days in a car through chilly and wet spring weather, a visit to Mom’s grave, meetings with friends and family, and time spent with Dad, means that after a Maryland seafood dinner on the water with friends on Saturday evening, I needed to break away from it all.


I needed to be alone with my camera for just little while. I left the group quickly on foot – “I want to catch this sunset. I’ll be back!” I heard them say as I approached the water’s edge, “Be careful, Mary.”

Dad is as good as good he can be. In my mind, not very good. A man who gave so much of himself to so many people has been robbed of quality of life for twelve years. Each year that passes, another piece of real living is snatched away.

I noticed small changes.

His body is smaller, more palsied, stiff, and frail.

I saw signs of mini-strokes that cause his lopsided grin.

He smiled widely when he saw us, knowing darn well who we were but needed a little coaching on names. I giggled to see a sparkle in his blue eyes and we talked and reminisced about his life.


The world according to Dad –

“The nurses are nice and I get along with most everybody here. Some of them are fat and some of them are skinny and some of them are horrible ugly. A ha ha ha!”

“Nothing is new around here except the taxes are getting higher. A ha ha ha!”

He belly laughs. His voice is strong.

I think, how can an old man belly laugh when there’s no dignity left? How can he laugh when he relies on others to care for him completely, like a swaddled infant?

We switch the topic to politics – his former love.

And what about that Hillary Clinton, Dad (who admired Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan)? Of course, he doesn’t realize there’s a woman candidate for president, but his response was typical and true of him, “The nut will take your money and her husband’s a bum!” (insert belly laugh) Perhaps he knows more than we think and is really listening to the TV news?

He can carry a conversation, for sure, based on small bits of information stored from his past. His auto-answers are so familiar.


I fed him a pudding cup, and oh, how happy he was. He devours his meals and occasionally demands bean soup which makes the staff laugh, “Never on the menu here, Tony!”

My throat tightens when I see his smiling face fade and quickly turn away from us, turning grim, as if he’s contemplating his existence but just can’t process his feelings…there are no words he can express during those moments. We break the silence for him and he replies,

“Thank you.” “I love you.” “I really appreciate that.” “That feels better.”

Dad, I’ll bring your Fire Department pictures and your Engine 32 helmet next time! Would you like that?

“Will you? Thank you! I’d like that.”

When I left him on Saturday, I looked back into his room from the hallway to see him raise his only good limb – his right arm – to wave good-bye to me, smiling. I waved back, of course, but he didn’t hear me say “see ya later, Dad”. I lost my voice.


The sun is setting and it’s getting more difficult to see.


Life. It is what it is, I guess.


Bless your heart and God love ya, Dad. Like I do.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Dear May,
My heart aches alot these days, and I sure can feel yours. I need to hug you tight and yell you that I understand.

"It is what it is"

Nothing truer.

Rose said...

Mary, my heart goes out to you. It is so hard to see a loved one become old and frail, let alone linger in an existence we wouldn't wish on anyone.
Your beautiful photographs are your way of relieving stress, I would guess, but in the context of this piece they also remind us of how precious life is.
Take care.

Beth said...

Ah, sweetie...this post made me cry. Your words were poignant, and mixed in with the pictures it was very moving. But then to catch a glimpse of your precious father at the end just caused my heart to swell to bursting.

I long to give him a tremendous hug...

...and you, too.

The power of your words, Mary - and your photos. You have such a gift. Thank you for sharing something so intimate and precious and vulnerable with us.

You make a profound difference in our world, and you KNOW God loves your dad - as you do.

blessings and prayers for you today...

NCmountainwoman said...

Mary, what a perfect post. The way you intersperse the troubling things on your mind with the absolutely peaceful photos is genius. It gives us such a clear understanding of how you were feeling at the time.

Thank you for sharing this with us. We would all do well to remember that sometimes, "It is what it is."

This is a wonderful and poetic piece, accompanied by gorgeous and soothing photographs. It is lovely.

The Reeds said...

I'm so sorry.

Beth said...

oh Mary, this made me cry. So beautiful, such love and such raw emotion.

Jayne said...

God love you too Mary. Your words and the love you write into the words leaves a lump in my throat. So tender, so sweet, so much emotion. Hugs and much love to you friend.

KGMom said...

Mary--even though it hurts, it is so important for you to keep seeing your dad. One day (as you know) it will be the last, and you want it in your mind that you were there.
It is hard to see these parents diminish before our eyes, isn't it. My dad is in "good health" for 88, but I do note he is shrinking--getting smaller, losing muscle mass, and maybe even a bit of height.
Love the sunset photos.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Oh, Mary,
Watching the sunset of someone's life, with stillness and awe.
Still able to remember the warmth from when it shone strongly in the sky, and admiring it as it draws closer to the horizon.

A lovely reminder to us all.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You are one of your Dad's most precious blessings Mary. Keep taking those pictures and visiting your Dad.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I'm not sure I can type with my eyes so full of tears... thank you for taking the photo I never had the courage to take- I lost my dad 6 years ago to complications of stroke, dementia and parkinson's disease. He also spent his last two years in a nursing home; my weekly (sometimes twice weekly) visits were never easy; leaving was always the hardest part...
Even though photography is a huge part of my life, I somehow could never bring myself to photo my dad in the nursing home... and I have always regretted it. When I saw your precious photo of your Dad, and read your heartfelt words, my heart welled up with love on so many levels. Thank you Mary for sharing; I keep you and your father in my heart and prayers... and I understand. hugs, gretchen

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing your dad Mary. I really can feel the love you have for him.

RuthieJ said...

Oh Mare, truly you have a gift of words! As I sit here crying while I read your post, for those who have gone through this, for you in the middle of it, and for those of us who will be facing it in the future. Thank you for sharing your bittersweet story--I wish I could come down and give you a big hug in person, instead of a "virtual" one.

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful post Mary..I cried all the way through it...


Susan Gets Native said...

Dammit, Mary. I'm all a mess here.

I can only imagine how much it hurts to see your Dad the way he is, remembering how he WAS. I honestly can't say which is worse: Watching the light slowly fade from someone you love, or having that light suddenly extinguished.
God love ya, Mary.

Unknown said...

Mary what a heart felt post. I can hear your love for your Dad and see it in your pictures. Hugs to you sweet one.

beckie said...

Mary, I add my thanks for sharing your feelings for your Dad. What a beautiful analogy of the setting sun. Just know you have friends sending love and understanding your way.

JeanMac said...

Oh, Mary.Huge hugs sent your way - What a loving Dad.

Debbie said...

Mary, what a wonderful post about your dad...snippets of him with the gorgeous photos. I loved the one of your dad. You are a blessing to him, I'm sure.

It is so very hard to see our parents, especially our fathers getting older and more frail.

Alyssa said...

Your father still has his dignity, it's just different than the traditional defination. He sounds happy and content and not in pain. I guess that's all we can ask for. You are the one who is hurting and in pain. It must be so hard but I'm glad you could get in touch with your inner peaceful self beside the water. You and your Dad are in my thoughts..

Cheryl said...

Oh Mary, my heart breaks.....
you are not alone.

Your photography maybe helps you to see the beauty in life, so that you can cope with the sadness.

A touching post.

Susie said...

Dear Mary,
I must admit I got very teary eyed as I read this. Your post was so touching and believe me, I totally understand how it feels to see a dear one existing like that.
Your photos are beautiful and I hope you felt a sense of peace and you looked upon those gorgeous scenes.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

A very touching post, Mary. I know it must be so difficult to be so far away from your dad. But as you well said, "it is what it is", and we have to make the most of it and do the best we can.

Crayons said...

Hi Mary
Thanks for this beautiful post. I totally get the metaphor between sunset and your dear dad's descent. There truly is beauty in both. My dad passed 4 years ago. Just like yours, he shrank and shook. By the end I couldn't even tell if he could understand what I was saying to him. But at the same time, his pure beautiful being emerged from the decrepit house. I tried to communicate quietly with that part of him in relaxed silence.

I wish the two of you so much grace in all of this difficult journey together.

Peg Silloway said...

A beautiful tribute to a man who has obviously given his daughter much love and a caring heart. Bless you both.

Larry said...

That's so sad to read.I went throgh this with my grandfather but it will be much harder if it happens to my parents. It's a shame when someone slowly fades away but your father must be strong to hold onto his sense of humor.

Wendy said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. So much love...
Your pics are exceptionally beautiful.
I can feel the sadness in your heart - I understand.

Mary said...

Hi All,

Thanks for all your sweet comments. This post was difficult to write and I hesitated before I posted a picture of Dad. Knowing it might be the last photo of him, I felt compelled to use it. He always loved having his picture taken and still does!


mj said...


I hopped over from your comment on Wendy's site. Beautiful blog! I love your pictures. Loved the conversation with your dad. So sweet. He's a lucky man to have a daughter like you.

Annie in Austin said...

I don't have any words, Mary - this one probably hits too close for many of us - but you and yours are in my thoughts. Thank you for a beautiful post.


Mary said...

What a heart-breaking post. My parents are both gone, so I know how hard it is to see him this way, but you will be glad for every moment later. You have my prayers and so does he.

Q said...

Dear Mary,
We walk this walk together.
You are his most beloved daughter.
You are his legacy.
Love and light,

LauraHinNJ said...

This is still mostly too much for me to comment on Mary, but I read it when you first posted it and was touched by the parallel you made between a sunset and your dad.

I can only think that you're lucky if you can see the beauty there at the end of a day and at the end of a life.

The pic of your dad is a treasure!

Kathie Brown said...

Mary, What a lovely post. How fortunate you are to have your Dad and have all those happy memories. Mine left us when I was 7. I've only seen him twice since. He is not a safe man to be around. Your dad still looks like love. This post is tender and sweet and I love the photos but what I love most is your love for your Dad. I am happy for you. I'm glad you were able to spend time with him. I know you cherish every moment. Thanks for sharing this with us. That "chairs" photo makes me want to "come and sit a spell" with you.

Mel said...

Dear Mary,
I too watch my father fade. It is hard to see someone you love not only be in pain, but watch the frustration in the eyes or the embarrasment some times of not being able to do, to 'be'.
My prayers are with you.
Smile, it always makes the loved one smile back, and that is a blessing.
Hugs and kisses,

Anonymous said...

{{Hugs}} It is so difficult and painful to watch our parents being helpless...and being unable to rectify the situation.
peace and blessings, Mandy

Sherry at the Zoo said...

What a beautiful post, the sunset pictures and the sunset of your father's life. He looks so sweet.

Life is humbling. We start life in diapers, so dependent, and many end life in diapers, so dependent. Each none eventful day in between is a gift.