Love you, Dad

Love you, Dad
Jules (Julius) Clavadetscher

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Liminal Space

"liminal space is the time between the 'what was' and the 'next.' It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us." (Google)

My father has perfect pitch. When I was learning the guitar a few years back, Dad listened to my new pieces and could identify a chord or a note instantly, in-person or over the phone. Dad's talents and complexities are legion - he learned how to drive early and stole his parents' car out of the driveway when he was thirteen, only to take it straight to church to confess because he felt guilty.  Dad hiked his five kids up mountainous ravines, somehow willing us to crawl up through narrow cracks despite our fear of heights. He drove an RV alongside steep drop-offs (with Mom leaning inward from the passenger seat, yelling "Jules!") from Montana to California.  We all know him as a proud, intelligent, loving and daring man.

My throat swells and my glasses fog as I type now, reflecting on my recent visit to Montana. Daniel and I went to see Nana and Papa, as well as my brothers Michael and James and their families, for a few days last week. The house was full of laughter (and crying - we had seven children aged nine or younger)  and Mom's smiles blossomed throughout the day as delightful tableaus formed and dissipated on the back deck or the front lawn. Dad sat in his special recliner chair when he wasn't resting in the bedroom, and just took it all in.

The parasupranuclear palsy (PSP) that has Dad in its grip has now taken his ability to speak, and largely, to swallow. Since I last saw him, in December, his weight loss and his difficulty with communication have advanced, and I struggled to find words to greet him that wouldn't betray my shock.  After the first long day, he beckoned me toward his wheelchair as he and Mom were headed to bed.  "Thank you for coming," he whispered with difficulty, and then he made the sign for "I  love you." Tears fell on his head as I returned his hug.

I don't know if it's reassuring or heartbreaking beyond belief that the man I love as my father is still there, holding fast out of sheer strength of will and my mother's amazing care. My brothers and I went out on the golf course  on my last evening, and Michael asked "Why? How can a proud person be content in this situation?"

I have no answer - I only know that Dad doesn't want any extreme measures taken to save his life and that he wishes to die in his sleep in his home in Montana. None of us know what lies between the present moment and that wish but it's torment to navigate through this liminal space.

Dad has always had a healthy dose of humble as well as a hefty sense of gratitude for five healthy children and a wife beyond compare. I wonder if - in his growing wisdom, patience, and humility as he gets closer to a God that he believes in - that he is content to adapt. Dad watched the grandchildren play in the living room, helped me find my shoes on the table when I couldn't see them, and generally proved that he was present and alert. When James tried to pop a wheelie from Dad's wheelchair, my father laughed soundlessly, and when one of the 18 - month - old twins looked his way, Papa could still wave. 

Though this version of my Dad is new and different, I find so much to admire even now. The grace with which he has met the disease astounds me and my mom's diligent care provides a daily example of love and sacrifice which seem rare in this world.  So we smile and even laugh through our tears, and we pray to be transformed, along with Dad, in this liminal space.