by Natasha Horsley~Pop said today, “Don’t get old Natasha, don’t get old.” And that is as much of a complaint as you will ever hear from the man. He will be 81 in March. Born in 1933, the youngest of eleven, he lost his mother when he was only two. He can be ornery, irascible, and seriously politically incorrect, and yet he is one of the best men I have had the privilege of knowing well. He is my husband’s father.
Despite a rare blood disorder, a terrible knee that he is not healthy enough to replace and a weakened heart, he still takes more care of us than we of him. I’d say that was embarrassing, but if you knew Pop, he’d take care of you too.
He picks up our daughter from school every day. School lets out at 3, and every day he is there at 2. During this freezing winter, he keeps the heat on in his car, and invites a friend he has met there, a neighbor and a dear friend of ours to sit in the warmth and wait with him. Then he hands out treats, admittedly very unhealthy ones (!) to our daughter and her friends and brings them home, usually to our house, to play.
One of his favorite sayings is, “You see Natasha, you get back what you put out.”
I’m not sure this is always true, but I am sure that it is what keeps Pop going. A friend of mine, who is a minister at a well known hospital, says that the elderly who manage long term bed rest the best maintain some sense of vocation. It may be knitting, keeping up the spirits of other patients, or simply praying for relatives at home, a sense of purpose seems essential to maintaining their spirits.
Last week Pop heard that he may have Leukemia. The proverbial man of few words, he simply said, “Whatever happens I just want to keep my dignity”. Like many, or perhaps, most of us, although we are afraid of being dead, we are much more afraid of the process of getting there.
Pop says often, in his own ode to life, “I’ve had a good life. I don’t want to go anywhere, but I’m not afraid either.”. Mom-mom used to say that too. They had a loving, fifty-three year marriage, with no affairs, before she died, a year and a half ago. He has grieved and aged since then, but has been remarkably good at taking care of himself, even learning to ask or at least accept some help.
The reason he would say he’s had a good life, I think, is because he knows how to love and accept people for who they are, exactly as they are. It’s a heck of a trait. He lives the cliche about having to love yourself flaws and all, before you can truly love another. He says it so simply too: “You gotta love yourself, Natasha. You just gotta love yourself”.
I have spent years teaching myself and most of my clients this. I’m not sure who taught Pop. He was the youngest, and far from being lost in the crowd, you get the feeling that he was doted on as the adorable youngest boy by his father, and also by his older siblings. You get the feeling that that must have helped.
A true child of the Great Depression, Pop mostly talks about food, and how much it costs. “J’s favorite cereal is on sale for 99 cents this week. Here I bought you some”. Statements like this are a daily refrain. These can be peppered with the same bad jokes he’s told for fifty years, “I’ll see you in the Spring when you come through the mattress!” He doesn’t care if anyone gets them or not. They are for his own amusement. He chuckles every time!
A few days after he heard that he has to have a bone marrow test to confirm the Doctor’s fears, he snapped at me. He rarely snaps at me, even when I give him cause: He hates lateness, but somehow seems to lovingly accept mine. This time there was not even a cause: My son fell and I thought aloud that he might need stitches, and Pop yelled that I was turning him into a sissy and a ninny, and that I was Nurse Ratchet too, apparently.
A couple of days later I said that I had heard what he said about keeping his dignity, and I promised I would do and not do whatever I could to help ensure that. I said I knew him well enough to know what he would want and not want and that I realized, since his mom died at 2, and he’s essentially been a very healthy man, he’s never actually been in the position of being the one to receive the care. I said, we’d figure it out together, and I jokingly told him that I plan on being much more like Florence Nightingale than Nurse Ratchett! He said, “Well don’t kill me off yet”! But I knew he got the point, so I went on to add, “but it’s important that as scared or frustrated as you get, it’s not okay to take it out on me, if you can possibly help it. You really hurt my feelings the other day.”
I think I got the second apology Pop has ever given. Bless his ever-loving heart.
So strap on your seat belts, we could be in for a rocky ride. My daughter said it best once when Pop advised her to hit someone who had hurt her. She said to her friend, “When he says things like that, I just tune him out, I just tune him out”!
Meanwhile, I plan to live by the deeper lessons I think Pop really espouses. Luckily, I have never actually seen, or even heard of him hitting someone, but I have seen him, love and accept himself, and be as loyal as the day is long to those he loves, and I’ve seen him give, give, give and then give some more, These are truly words, and actions, to live by. I hope that Pop knows he can and will still give us the best gift of all, even if he is ever confined to his home or bed: being a role model of a life well-lived.