My dad’s been really sick. At 83, with heart problems, and with no real effort made toward his health ever in his lifetime, it comes as no surprise. The doctors said they’d pulled him back from the edge of death in February; we actually called the family in. The next crisis will be the last and it will likely be within a year. I don’t share this to garner sympathy, because in so many ways it has been a blessing.
My parents live 75 minutes away. It’s an awkward distance – too far to pop in for a visit every day and too close to go and spend a few days with them. Consequently, for the past 20 years, we’ve talked on the phone at least once a week, but we’ve rarely seen each other unless I’ve invited them in for dinner or to a special event. But even coming for dinner was a challenge, as Dad was starting to tire out so quickly that he’d end up a little grumpy before dinner was over, and he’d want to go home as soon as his plate was empty.
The small town they live in has no hospital, no medical clinic, no doctor. In fact, the closest emergency medical service is 30 minutes away.
I needed a good excuse to go visit them every week to check on them. It only took me a few minutes to find the right excuse. It would have been totally weird if I just said, “I want to come see you for an hour every week.” Dad would have gotten suspicious that I was really just checking on him – and that would have been capital ‘a’ awkward. Instead, I found a way for him and me to relive some of my favorite childhood memories.
So now, once a week, I book off a few afternoon hours, drive out – it’s really a lovely drive through some of the prettiest wheat fields you’ll ever see – and spend some time with Dad. Mom and Dad still run a small business out there – but Dad needs more rest – so on the afternoons I go out, Mom goes to the shop, Dad comes home. Then the restful fun begins.
Way back, when the ‘earth was young and grass was green’, Dad would buy a jigsaw puzzle every Christmas. He and I would sit for hours every day for a week over Christmas break (at the time he was a school teacher, so he got the same Christmas break I did) and do the puzzle together. No one else helped with the puzzle. It wasn’t ‘their thing’. It was just me and my dad. I still love doing jigsaws. I just haven’t made time for them in the past 15 years. They’re more fun to do with someone anyway.
I decided the best way to check on Dad and see Mom, too, was to do it under the guise of doing a jigsaw puzzle. I got the okay from Mom to take over the end of their dining room table. Now Dad and I spend one hour each week working on a puzzle, at their house, while Dad is resting. The best part is that I feel connected to him like I haven’t felt in nearly 40 years. Add to that, getting to see Mom every week – and it’s all good – totally worth two-and-a-half hours of driving for one hour of puzzling and two hugs. I get to see how Dad is doing and support Mom a little.
I guess it’s not such a puzzle after all.