I have a 95 year-old father-in-law — we call him “Pop” — who until recently lived with my wife and me. He was cloistered in our Hillsboro home throughout the pandemic, and fortunately he has been spared from infection by the menacing Covid-19 virus.
Other parts of this man’s nine lives include surviving a bullet wound in the Pacific during WWII, a bout with melanoma, falling five stories from a building during his iron-working days, then three months in a coma.
The after-effects of all this include blindness in one eye and deafness from the big caliper guns he managed on his ship.
In the lingo of yesteryear, this is one tough guy.
Changes in his health condition have resulted in him moving to the superb veterans home in Georgetown, Ohio. You couldn’t ask for better care facility than this.
In a recent visit he told his daughter upon seeing a picture of his wife, who passed two years ago, “She sure was beautiful.” But his biggest and saddest lament was that he missed his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Why couldn’t he see them more often? This was a tough emotional moment for a daughter… how to respond?
This was a man who, with his beautiful wife, lived near his progeny for the better part of his life. Now they are more than 200 miles away and although they make efforts to see him as often as possible, in his navy mind, they are AWOL.
My wife has been an extraordinary caregiver, navigating the byzantine bureaucracies and mazes of governmental and veterans’ healthcare systems and protocols, attending to his every need. But this was an emotionally and psychologically driven effusion. Again, how to respond?
The way she handled it made an impression on me and made me think more carefully about the seasons of our lives.
She said, “Dad, your grandchildren and great grandchildren love you very much and ask about you all the time, but your grandchildren especially, are now very busy with their own lives, their work, and their families and they live a long way away.
“You saw a great deal of them when they were growing up but now they are adults consumed with making their way through their own lives with their own families. You need to be happy for them because they are all successful in their endeavors. This is the way things are supposed to be.”
He sat there pensively, and then he nodded, “Yes, that’s life.”
He uses that expression a lot now: “Yes, that’s life.”
He gets it on a rational level. He’s in the final “season” of his life and this, the Georgetown Veterans Home, is the stage setting for this part of his life.
But on an emotional level he wants to be back in his living room with his wife and grandkids climbing all over him, picking them up from school, going to their baseball and football games, bandaging scraped knees.
He’s also caught in a time warp, which doesn’t help. Getting grandchildren to write letters in an era of email, WhatsApp, Facebook messaging, Instagram, Tik-Tok and Zoom is challenging.
“OK, I’ll write,” they say, “but where do I go to get a stamp?”
And here I sit, having left a fulfilling career behind, retired, managing a small farm and writing novels. We have children and grandchildren far away.
Our oldest daughter is a leading science professor and academic dean. Our oldest son is in New York, trying to manage a multi-million dollar company through an IPO. Two other sons have found their paths making hay as successful salesmen. And our daughter has learned and earned her way into the medical field of ICU pediatrics.
They are all in a different season than my wife and me and Pop, but their season is in full bloom and what a joy it is to see even though I miss those years when they belonged to my wife and me.
But I have pictures of all those blooming years surrounding my office walls that whisk me back into warm and sentimental times. Yes, that’s life.
It’s the cycle… the seasons of our lives.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.