A Weakened Place

My sister said it was exhausting to visit my father in the hospital because it is so hard to see our father in reduced physical circumstances. I do not think I agree. I am trying to balance my life with caring for my parents as they age. I do not want my own life to be subsumed by taking care of my parents, but at the same time I do not want to be cold towards my parents. But my father and I have a history of distance between us from a very early age that never really healed as I got older.

When we arrived at the hospital today my father was receiving food, for the first time, through a newly placed feeding tube. He had not eaten for the past two and a half days and for a man that was already quite thin, he looked absolutely emaciated. If you can imagine the wide eyed blank stares of the bone thin men that were freed from concentrations camps after World War II, that is how my father looked this morning. Wide eyed blank emotionless stare. It was unsettling to see him in this way, but not because I had any deep emotional feeling for my father, but because it is hard to see anyone in this situation.

While not quite at the end of his life, my father is definitely in a weakened place. While the surgery to repair his mitral valve was, according to the doctor, successful, it triggered atrial fibrillation and difficulty swallowing. For some reason the muscle that closes when we eat or drink and prevents food from entering our lungs is not functioning properly for my dad. The doctors were afraid that he would breathe (aspirate) food into his lungs, which can lead to pneumonia, so they are did not allow him to eat or drink for two days. Yesterday they put a feeding tube in his left side into his stomach. And today, for the first time, they fed him through the feeding tube.

It is complicated. On the one hand I am very grateful to my father for all the things he has given me and the ways he has supported me since I was a child. At the same time the deep anger I felt towards him as a teenager, which has long since abated, but never really healed. While I do not feel angry towards him today, I also do not feel very close to him either. The major rift between us was papered over, year after year, with pleasantries and impersonal talk. But we never did the hard work of repairing our relationship. So it remains unprepared today.

So it was exhausting to visit the hospital this morning to see my dad, but the reason for my exhaustion is not quite from the same place as my sisters.

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