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Luskin: Father's Day Thoughts

My dad has been a widower for the past eighteen months, and he’s been living alone for the first time in his life. He met my mom was he was eighteen, courted her by letter from a foxhole in Europe, married her when he was twenty-one, and lived with her for sixty-six years. In 2009, they moved to a deluxe independent living facility, where they had daily exercise class, fine dining, evening programs and an apartment tastefully decorated with their familiar furniture.
 

But the real genius of the retirement place they chose was the nursing home in the basement, which is where my mother ultimately dwindled away. At the beginning of her stay there, Dad was hopeful she’d recover and return upstairs. He visited her daily, riding an elevator down to the Health Center, which is what the nursing wing was called, even though no one there was healthy. I’ll be honest: I never liked this particular retirement arrangement: it always reminded me of a cruise ship, with the healthy elders in first class and the infirm down in steerage. But I made my peace with it; my mother received excellent care there, and it allowed Dad to be with her while giving him time to get used to the idea of outliving her. My parents’ extensive estate planning had always been predicated on Dad going first. And the past year and a half has been hard as Dad’s adjusted to life as a survivor.

Between my dad’s personality and his hearing loss, he’s living in luxurious isolation, and he’s lonely. And we four children live too far away to be able to visit often or provide him with consistent care. So it is with a combination of relief, satisfaction, a little fear and a great deal of awe that I can report that my eighty-nine year old dad is planning to move to a home for seniors in Brattleboro, to be near me, his only daughter. I’m relieved because I’ll be able to give him the help he needs negotiating in the world. I’ll drive. I’m satisfied, because I’ll be able to spend more time with him; he’ll be only twenty minutes away. I’m also a little frightened by the challenge of being compassionate and patient with a man even my mother found frustrating and impulsive in his prime. And I’m in awe at my dad’s willingness to pull up stakes and start over. But he wants to be in a world with people of all ages getting on with their lives.

As he says, “Brattleboro’s a real town,” and he’s looking forward to walking downtown, checking books out from the library, purchasing essential whatnots at the hardware, and watching the ordinary world walk by as he sips tea in a Main Street cafe.

But mostly, and most selfishly, I’m looking forward to having my dad near me – in the little bit of heaven I call home in Vermont.