Dr. Clark encouraged me to share some of my reflections as I accompany with my dad in whatever remaining days the Lord may grant us with dad’s presence (this is why I haven’t blogged on this week’s reading). A week ago, Pappy was moved to hospice status. His kidneys are failing.
Mom and I had to prepare his room for his home-coming this past Thursday. I had the privilege of going through his books so we could move out his bookshelves–making room for the hospital bed. Magazines on travel/culture and hunting, tomes on history and leadership, manuals on cartridge reloading and firearms, instruction sheets for model-making and tools of all kinds, literature on Christmas tree farming and nature conservation, cookbooks and dog-training guides, and family pictures from across the decades filled the shelves. Pappy has always had eclectic interests and diverse skills.
Memories flooded through me as I sorted. Pappy teaching me to change the oil and tires on my car. Dad tying my first pony to the back of his old Willies pickup truck to pull her home when she refused to be led. Our conversation about learning to name one’s emotions when I shared my decision to study counseling. Pappy always taking time to get to know the people around him and their interests—always curious, always willing to learn.
I took time to inspectionally read Pappy’s leadership materials. What fascinated me most was their emphasis on the centrality of relationship and listening to effective leadership. One section on communication ended with the well-known adage: “Seek not only to be understood but to understand—be a good listener” (attributed variously as based on Proverbs 4:7 and a prayer that entered into the French Catholic mass in 1912, later translated into English in 1936, often known as the Prayer St. Francis, and then popularized by Steven Covey—but he wrote Seven Habits of Highly Effective People long after my dad took this course in 1964).
When Pappy came home on Thursday, joy coursed through me to see him again! He’d been in the hospital for two weeks. I had seen him only for one day prior to that, and my last extensive time with him was a year ago. I was also overwhelmed with sadness to see how much he had physically deteriorated in just two weeks. We got him settled in his bed. Scott, my husband, called from Beirut just moments later. After they exchanged greetings, my heart broke as I heard my dad say to Scott in a voice hoarse from his medical travails, “How are you doing? Tell me about your work with the children there in Beirut.” Pappy had every reason in the world to keep the conversation focused on Scott’s opening inquiry after dad’s well-being, but Pappy did what he has always done—ask about the other’s interests, listen, and learn.
As I share with my mom in caring for dad, I am daily humbled by his perseverance, posture of gratitude, kindness, and concern about how we are doing. Now I am also learning from him the courage that underlies vulnerability. He is honest with us about how he is doing. He asks for the help he needs, and he graciously accepts our care of him. This season of his life has stripped away almost all of his competencies, the competencies I take so for granted. But this stripping down has revealed Pappy’s enduring character and characteristics. I hope I can emulate this in my own life—when everything has been taken away and only vulnerability is left, what will be revealed in me?