There is a saying I’ve heard many times, most recently on house-hunting shows: “Happy wife, happy life.”
The husband and wife are at odds (making for better TV). He wants a fixer-upper and she wants turnkey. He likes craftsman and she likes mid-century modern. Her must-haves: a huge walk-in closet and granite countertops. His must-haves: a man-cave and garage.
They’ll bicker for a while and eventually the husband will relent. He wants to make his wife happy.
Since I began caring for my father five years ago, I’ve heard this saying many times. Never really thought much of it until yesterday. Last night actually. I was reading in bed when I got a text from a caregiver (Charlotte) at my dad’s memory facility. It was a video of my dad singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” his lip quivering.
Just a short video—a few seconds—of my dad in his wheelchair singing to the music. At the end he saluted, his hand trembling. His face was etched with sorrow and something else, something far away in his eyes. It was lost to me, but I sensed his emotion. I felt it. I turned over and tried to sleep, but instead I cried.
The saying in my head: “Sad dad, sad daughter.”
A few minutes later I got another text from Charlotte: I want you to know this. He looks sad at the end of the video, but we smiled afterward and had a few laughs.
What a caring woman trying to ease my mind.
My dad is a patriot. He loves America. He served in the Korean War. As long as I can remember, he’s been deeply moved by the “Star-Spangled Banner.” One of his other favorites is “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles. It’s a beautiful, soulful rendition. My dad cries every time he hears it. So do I.
I have it on my phone but don’t play it very often. It hurts too much. It reminds me of my dad and unleashes a flood of emotions. Aching love for him. Nostalgia. Joy. Grief.
The last one is the hardest because I don’t really understand it. Intellectually I know what is happening. My dad is 88 with advanced dementia and heart disease. He is fading away, so the grieving process has already begun.
But emotionally I can’t reconcile my feelings. My father is still alive, yet I hear a song and my heart is anguished. A window opens in my mind. I am five years old sitting next to my daddy on the couch. He has let me stay up late to watch TV with him. We are sitting so close our legs are touching. Everything is right in the world.
Last night as I tried to sleep, I sensed the Lord comforting me. He let me know it’s ok to feel sad. I can cry for what is lost. I felt God’s presence deep in my heart as he consoled me through my tears.
I am certain of this: The Lord knows my heart. He knows how much I love my father. He never said caring for him would be easy, but through the pain God has given me so many moments of joy. He has been with me throughout this whole process. I know he will not leave me. I know he understands how I feel.
My father’s facility was shut down for months due to COVID but now allows outdoor visits. I see him regularly. I was there on Tuesday and again today. I took out my phone and played him another Ray Charles song, a duet with . Norah Jones called “Here We Go Again.” Poignant, gorgeous song. My dad’s eyes filled with tears, so I switched to “I Gotta Woman,” an upbeat, bluesy classic. An effervescence filled the air. We danced in our chairs and my dad’s smile was brighter than the sun.
“Happy dad, happy daughter.”