It’s a small world after all

you-are-here_2These past few weeks I have noticed how small my Dad’s world has become. This came to my attention last week when at supper, we made sure to keep the bread out of my Dad’s sight. It’s a food he often chokes on, so we don’t let him have any. If he can’t see it, he doesn’t ask for it, and life is good. His reality is quite small, limited to what is in his field of vision.

His daily commute is quite small, too. It’s only a few steps from his bed to his bathroom and about as far to the kitchen table. This is his world now, about a 10′ x 20′ space. He has little interest in the weather, the upcoming presidential election, the news or even baseball. He doesn’t realize all who involved in his care. It’s a small, small world.

I like to think that my world is much bigger. After all, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling these last few years. I know what is going on and keep in touch with people around the globe. I am interested in the weather, elections, the news and sports. But is my world really that big?

The expanse of my experience is really just a small slice of a universe that we see more and more of each day, whether with telescopes or microscopes. I’m not always aware of how much care God provides for me through his angels and other people. My attention is quite often focused on that which is in my field of vision or in the realm of my self-interest. Hmmm. Maybe my world is pretty small, too.

Once in a great while, a window opens and my Dad remembers some of his experiences and travels to places I’ve never been or even heard of. All of a sudden, he’ll begin talking about places he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Or a world where you built furniture by hand, as opposed to putting it together from pieces packed into a box. How about a world where you tuned up your car in the driveway?

For now, though, Dad’s world is pretty small. But just for a while. Before long he’ll get to experience a world without end, that much larger eternity that we were created for.


More time to hang out with Dad (part 3)


Dad doing what he does best: enjoying a snack

For those who have been following the story, it’s been a month now, and we’re still hanging out with Dad. Perhaps it would be better to say that Dad is still hanging out with us. And he isn’t planning on going anywhere soon.┬áRecent tests show that his kidney appears to have regained some function, which we suspected as he resumed much of his daily routine.

Yes, this is good news. And yes, this is hard news. Continue reading

Still hanging out with Dad

It ‘s only been two weeks. But it feels like it’s been two months. Two weeks since the doctor said Dad had 10 days left to live. Two trips to Springfield to see him, be with him and now help care for him.

After getting Dad back home, I spent a week with him, expecting a gradual decline and preparing myself for the end. I flew home for the weekend, worked feverishly to get a bunch of stuff done and came back on Monday. Upon my return, Dad mentioned he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen me! Dad seemed to have improved a little. He can stand up on his own; he just can’t go anywhere. For the most part, we only need one person home to take care of him. Dad eats well — especially dessert — but wears out quickly and sleeps a lot. The overnight CNAs are wonderful and a blessing so we can get some rest.

So where do we go from here? Continue reading

A winter visit with Dad

With Christmas put away and the season of Lent looming (a pocket of calm between two busy seasons), I knew I needed to get up to Springfield, VA to visit my dad whom I haven’t seen since since last spring, when I helped clean out his old house in Ridley Park. Poking around on Expedia, I discovered a round-trip flight out of Jacksonville for $100. That’s crazy. That can’t be right. It was. I booked it. Continue reading

The Big Clean

How hard could it be?

Dad had cleaned out a lot of things in the house years ago. He had given away clothes, linens, craft and sewing supplies and lots of books after my mom died nine years ago. He moved out of his home of 48 years about six months ago, moving in with my brother. He took most everything of sentimental value with him. With an interested buyer on the line, it was time to finishing emptying out the house and get it ready for sale. By today’s standards, it was a small home, two stories with a full basement. Maybe 1,000 sq. ft. How hard could it be?

I had no idea. The biggest surprise? The number of bookcases in that little home. The books were mostly gone, but my brother, sister and I must have carried out twenty-five book cases and cabinets of various shapes and sizes. Some were antiques, some were cheap pressboard “some assembly required” pieces, and others were handcrafted by my dad. One-by-one we carried painted, stained, metal, laminate and plastic shelf units to the curb, where many were picked up by folks alerted to our efforts via Craigslist.

Continue reading

Take it or leave it?

“Take it or leave it?”

My brother, sister and I asked our dad that question countless times over the past few days. The time had finally come to move him from the house he's lived in for 48 years – and the community he's lived in his whole life – to my brother's home. The two-story house with full basement and quarter-acre yard finally became too much for him to take care of alone at age 89.



We started planning moving day earlier in the year, realizing that “maybe next year” had finally become “definitely this year.” We wrote it on his calendar, making the event real, bad started planning. Some days he as all for it. Others, he was not going.

We didn't have to sell the house right away. All we had to do was pack, clean and winterized it for now. Knowing that the house would still be there, along with anything we didn't bring along, turned out to be a comfort. One step at a time.

Now, what do we bring? Just enough furniture, pictures and belongings to make his new rooms look and feel like home. Going through the house we asked, “Take it or leave it?” Not too complicated (in order of importance): recliner, picture of mom, TV, desk, bed, dresser, cedar chest, clothes and personal items. When we set it up in his new room, it looked pretty nice. Joanna, the youngest of the grandchildren, made a sign for his suite on that side of the house: “Grandpa Sweet.” (I told her that if grandpa was having a bad day, he could flip it over to say, “Grandpa Sour.” She didn't appreciate my humor.)

With all of us there, I think dad handled it well. Beautiful fall weather and colors, not too much traffic, and a glass of wine waiting for him when we arrived made it a very nice transitional day. It's a comfort to know that he's in good company with good care.


Equal time for Dad


In my Mother’s Day post, I promised to give Dad equal time. Good thing I remembered. Five weeks have flown by and it’s the eve of Father’s Day. Here goes.

My Dad is still in our Ridley Park home where he’s lived for the last forty-eight years. He was born at Taylor hospital, which is just a half-mile down the road. Except for a few years in Bucks County, he’s lived in the southeast suburbs of Philadelphia for eighty of his eighty-nine years. No wonder it’s hard for him to think of moving.

The youngest of seven children, William Douthwaite, Jr. (I’m the third) graduated from Nether-Providence high school in 1942. I don’t think he made it to his seventieth reunion last year, but I know he made it to his 65th. He trained as a B-17 tail gunner for the army air corps, and was stationed in various places in the South Pacific during WWII. I don’t think he saw any combat, but probably would have been part of the invasion of Japan had surrender not followed the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945.

After he came home, he attended Villanova University and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. He began working in northeast Philadelphia then in Camden, NJ. He worked on the guidance systems for the Minuteman missile. That’s really something, when you consider that transistors were pretty new at that time. The good thing is that he could always fix our TV, because he could figure out which tube was bad and replace it. (If you don’t know what a tube is, ask your grandparents, or a rock musician who likes powerful amps.)

Dad always left early each morning, because his commute included a train ride and a transfer to the “el” (elevated train) to get to northeast Phila. The train station was right near our house, so when he walked in the door at 6 pm, supper was ready and we sat down to eat.

Things dad taught me: how to hit, throw and catch a baseball, how to do a basic auto tuneup, how to plant and maintain a garden, how to build a fort, how to do some basic electrical repairs, how to make Hamburger Helper, and what a faithful follower of Christ looked like. He took me to baseball games at Connie Mack and then the Vet, basketball games at the Palestra, and to the Franklin Institute. I remember those trips like yesterday. He hardly ever missed bad concerts, football game halftime shows, and Cub Scout events.

I have vague memories of living in NE Phila for a few years, but can’t ever remember going to church. However, from the time we moved to Delaware County, I can’t remember ever not attending worship. Ironically, the reason we went to the Lutheran Church (LC-MS) is because my grandmother lived right next door to the church, so that’s where we went. My Dad and Mom were always in worship, Bible class, in leadership, and out doing evangelism. Church life was part of the fabric of our lives (to borrow a phrase.) That quiet example and lifestyle of faithfulness shaped the lives of my sister, brother and I, leading us into very active adult lives in the church. My brother and I are pastors, and my sister has played the organ for many services over the years. Want to pass along faith to the next generation? Let your kids see how important it is to you. It is one of the most powerful messages you can send.

After I and then my brother went to the seminary, my Dad started reading theology. I mean real theology, like the Book of Concord, Law and Gospel, and lots of Luther. I remember him telling me he never really understood grace until he read those volumes. He and his family had just gone to the closest church while growing up which I think was originally Baptist, but then became Methodist. I guess you never do stop learning.

Dad’s forgetting more than he remembers now, can’t really keep up with the yard work and house repairs, and knows that it’s just about time to move from the house closer to one of his children. It will probably be close to my brother, and for Fathers Day they are looking at apartments.

When I asked him what he wanted for Fathers Day, he said, “Just something good to eat.” So I sent him some cookies, because he never forgets to eat those! Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

A few (more) days with Dad (part 2, I guess)

The good thing about Dad sleeping in late each morning is that I get a chance to get some work done. Read, journaled, worked on my sermon, reserved a van for the youth gathering trip. Later in the morning I did a bunch of weeding in the yard, trimming around the lawn and cleaned up. I went in search of a blower to clear the driveway and found one serious source of wind power. It took long to wind up the cord than blow everything clean!

We had to do a little more shopping, but Dad forgot his list and we missed a few things. That's the challenge. Forgetfulness. In fact, when He got up this morning, he saw me and said, “Oh, you're still here?” “Yah, Dad, I told you I was leaving Thursday afternoon.” Later, when I was offering to help him catch up on his bills, he resisted, saying, “As soon as you all get out of here, I'll get back into my routine and take care of it.” He still likes his space, knows we're keeping an eye one things, and holds on to what he can. His comments don't bother me. I know he won't remember our conversation. But I also know my sister will have to make him pay the bills when she visits next week.

On the positive side, he's got plenty of resources to cover a variety of living options. He's amazingly healthy, just slowing down. It's tough to see him most of his day in PJs, only really dressing to go to the store or church or putter in the yard because I'm out there. But it's nice to sit with him in the backyard, watch the birds and talk about family. I learn something new about him and his life every time I visit. This time I learned that his Uncle Arthur took him to his first professional baseball game sometime around 1936. They took the bus and trolley up to Shibe Park to watch his boyhood hero Jimmie Foxx play for the A's. he's got an old pic of Foxx on the wall in his office along with lots of old – really old – family photos.

On another wall were pictures of my Mom in nursing school and then as a nurse, wearing her double frill from Philadelphia General Hospital. I sent them to my daughter Olivia who is beginning her nursing education this fall. She replied, “I didn't know Grandma was a nurse!” Yup, it runs in the family!

Now I'm waiting at the airport in Philadelphia, wondering if we'll really fly to Jacksonville tonight, where Tropical Storm Andrea has set up shop. If so, it should be an interesting ride.