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The Doing and the Undoing

Life happens so fast, it takes time for grief to catch up

By Catherine KenwellPublished 3 years ago 4 min read
The Doing and the Undoing
Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

We all grieve. And each of us grieves differently. As adult caregivers to our parents, we do what needs to be done. This is a glimpse into our story, because putting it to words helped me dissect the layers of not only grief but responsibility, not just sadness but the packing and unpacking of a life that was so dear to us.

My dad fell on his balcony on June 17. I will never forget the date, as Father’s Day would have been the following day. But we didn’t celebrate this year—in the wee hours of a day that should have been special for Dad, he was taken to hospital.

He insisted he didn’t need to go; we insisted he did. He spent the next two weeks in the cardiac and renal department.

During that time, we scrambled to find him a more suitable home—one with accessibility aids in the bathroom, and room enough for the rollator he’d be told to use (yet again—but this time, he realized had to take it seriously). Somewhere where he’d be missed if he didn’t show up for a meal. Where there were nurses on staff 24/7.

I took the lead—researching homes, asking recommendations, visiting homes, figuring out finances—during Dad’s hospital stay. It was urgent—imperative that we get Dad out of where he was living. By the time he returned to his apartment, we’d secured a studio apartment in a lovely, new retirement lifestyle residence.

Meanwhile, we understood his current living conditions weren’t safe. I trekked to our local homecare store to get him a shower stool. We ensured he had his rollator handy at every turn. But we were terrified that he’d fall again before he moved to his new home.

You’re probably thinking, why wouldn’t you get him a fall monitor to wear? Oh, we tried. He refused to wear one. Giving up even a centimeter of independence was frustrating for Dad.

We had three weeks.

Suddenly, we had to empty a two-bedroom apartment that Dad (and Mom before she died) called home for almost 15 years.

Not only did we have to get him out of and empty his apartment, but we also had to create a new and comfortable space for him.

Three weeks!

We began by posting online the furniture he wouldn’t need. Facebook Marketplace has its place but it’s also time-consuming. Viewing appointments were made. People who wanted to see pieces wouldn’t show up. A behemoth armoire broke a newly purchased dolly, and we all ended up with bruises from lifting and moving things that were too heavy and awkward for three grown children (seniors) who thought they could. All of this took such precious time.

And we had to do it surreptitiously, because Dad wanted to be right in there helping us.

So, we met with purchasers at hours that many would call a more suitable time for a clandestine rendezvous—early mornings, lunchtimes, evenings—anything to move years of clutter.

We took more than 125 books to a used bookstore. We gave things away. We had a garage sale. We packed up heirlooms and treasures for family to keep. It never ended. He stored Christmas decorations we hadn’t seen for years. Boxes of tools. Enough dishes and cutlery to serve a family of twenty. And more clothing than I have. Seriously.

Most of it had to go.

Meanwhile, Dad needed a new, smaller bed and all the linens that went along with it. Brother John provided the mattress, and I ordered a new frame and box spring.

This is where the story starts to hurt (ok, hurt even more).

I was excited for my dad. He’d never had anything fancy and new, and this new residence was both. His suite was small, but the amenities were jaw-dropping—there was a theatre, a library, a pool table, several lounges with fireplaces, a scenic dining room with gourmet offerings, an onsite pub—so he could spend time with his friends in common areas. He had friends in his new building, and they were thrilled he’d be joining them.

Because his living area was small, I coordinated all the furnishings to suit an 89-year-old guy. I chose green as an accent color. His lovely cotton coverlet, a pretty but subtle sea green. Sheets, a charming grey with tiny white flowers. I painted a side table to match a beloved family rocking chair—not that he would sit in it, because he had his Laz-y-boy love seat—but it was ready for any company he might invite.

Before we delivered Dad to his new quarters, I picked flowers from the garden and placed them in a mason jar vase. He’d have a bright bouquet to welcome him. Because his meals were in the dining room, we filled his fridge and cupboards with ‘necessities’—cookies, chips, peanuts, chocolate bars, and milk for his tea. We brought over the Cuban rye (yes rye, not rum) he’d kept for a special occasion. Drinking glasses, mugs, and luncheon plates, just enough for him and a guest or three.

He called his suite a hotel room, with all the amenities. Delicious meals, enjoyed with friends. A game of pool with my husband Kevin (the two used to go to the billiard hall regularly, before COVID). Regular room cleaning and laundry, done for him. All of this for a new chapter of Dad’s life, likely the final one, and we all knew it. It had to be perfect, or at least as wonderful as love and labor could make it. And it was.

For 52 days.

He moved in on August 7, went to hospital on September 27, and died in hospital on October 14.

He got to see his Baycats in the playoffs. He continued Sunday’s family breakfast tradition at Little D’s. We opened that vile rye and watered it down with so much ginger ale that it didn’t taste as bad as it smelled. On his final Sunday in his lovely little hotel room, his breathing was rough. He asked to go for a drive. We drove him through Holly and the places that bear only slight resemblance to how they were when Dad bought their first house back in 1954.

Everything happened so fast.

Everything happens so fast.


About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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    Catherine KenwellWritten by Catherine Kenwell

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