Tag Archives: Aging parents

Having Arrived…

Shabbat Flowers.
Shabbat table and flowers on Paul Barchilon’s  coaster in the home of my father.

It has taken me a few weeks to actually get here. Here being Denver, Colorado in the condominium of my father and his wife Judy, may her memory be for a blessing. I was grieving leaving my life and my husband, my garden, the Redwood tree who is my friend off my deck, my bed, my community and so many other parts of where I live.

But now, Here I am, Hee Nay Nee, הנני

I am fully here and arrived in Denver. Even though I moved here in mid-December, it has taken me a little while to actually get and BE here. I was going through the motions; getting the meals cooked, the laundry done and attending to my father’s needs just barely. I say just barely because my heart wasn’t in it. I’ve been preparing for this time, for years, literally over 15 or more. I’ve known that there would be a brief moment between raising children and my needing to help care for my father, my mother, my beau-père and my mother- in-love. That time has arrived and regardless of preparing for it, the actual transition to it, has been, like all transitions, not so easy.

I felt so bad, not being happy to be here, not being happy to serve. In my piece S.O.S (Surrendered Open Serving)  I wrote about serving the Holy One with Joy. This work is serving the Holy One, while it is also serving my father, my family and myself. Doing it with joy, is the part that I wasn’t able to just swing into. I needed to grieve not being with my husband. He is more than my mate in this life. He’s my life-line and being physically near him and with him nourishes my soul and my cells in ways that are central to who I am and how I do all that I do. He’s the silent, behind the scenes, invisible partner in everything I do.

So, the adjustment has taken a little bit of time. Now, when I take my Shabbat break from my father for the two days I have off, I start to miss him and feel pulled back to him. He and I have formed a new bond, similar to the one that we formed when our roles were reversed and I was the infant with huge physical needs unable to meet them by myself. It’s such an interesting pendulum swing and one that so many folks are fearful of.

I am not afraid of being needy or not in control. I am prepared for it and expect it. I also don’t think it’s so terrible to lose control. Part of why I am less reticent than others has to do with my fundamental Emunah/Trust in the Holy One and in the goodness of folks in my life and in the world in general. I also have less fear than most people about what is on the other side. And I believe it’s our calling, all of us, in smaller and larger ways to care for one another on this planet and also for the planet. Some folks will be care-givers of the earth, or a water-shed or a species of frog. Some folks will stand guard over a forest or a flower or a polar bear. Some of us will care for wounded soldiers or special needs children or adults. Some of us will cultivate awareness in art and music and bring comfort or a wake-up call to others. Whatever ways we find to listen and honor the voice of caring in our lives, it is real and present and of value.

As I spend this truly precious time with my father, he is weak, not-well, tired, sad, frustrated about his bodily functions and process and also very much mentally present. He wants to share stories and talk about hard things in his life. He asked me to record him recounting the few days leading up to and the day of my sister Paula’s death. She died at the age of 21 months old, over 54 years ago now. He wanted to share this video with my mother. The two of them have now talked about this time. This is something they never had done and it has been painful, intense and beautiful all at the same time.

To me, it is a huge tikkun/healing. It’s also been that for my parents. It’s never too late to have healing in a relationship or in a fraught situation. My mother and my father, despite all the territory in their past, have found their way back to a very tender place with each other. A place (my sister’s death) that they are closest to and can share feelings that no one else can. Across the 48 years since they’ve been together, this time and this desire on my father’s part and my mother’s willingness to listen and attend to all of this with caring and compassion has created a bridge. That bridge serves everyone in my family and most especially me.

My sister Paula’s death has colored every facet of my life. She’s been very present for me recently. I’ve been feeling her suffering and confusion at being alone, or what I perceive as those feelings, as my father and mother re-live the specific details of her tragic death. Today, I will go to her grave and sing her some songs. Her grave is a very unique and special one that many folks recognize who live here in Boulder. I will honor her, as I have my whole life, by trying to live my life with more gusto and more aliveness, with a double dose of the blending of my mother and father and all that this shared combination of heritage and story means as it flows through my veins and muscles and heart.

 

 

The front and back views of my sister Paula’s grave marker, which was commissioned by my parents and made by DeWain Valentine. The rocks are traditional Jewish offerings that I bring when I visit to commemorate my presence and as place-holders for my memory being as long as a stone’s for her.

The other night at Shabbat in the basement of Rabbi Marc Soloway of Bonai Shalom, we said the Mourner’s Kaddish for a thirteen year old boy who died last week. Children dying is terrible and not how we want our lives or the lives of those we cherish to unfold. Death is just not something we can ever overcome or get away from. It’s not fair, it’s not easy, it’s not fine or pretty or simple. We do all kinds of things to try to wrap it up that way, but the reality of it is anything but wrapped up neat. In the Jewish tradition, we have space, communal space, at every prayer service, for all those grieving to be supported, to name their beloveds and their pain.

This naming doesn’t fix the wound, but it gives us a container, a shared vessel for our hurt to be in, and it helps us feel less alone in our most tender and broken times.

It takes all my resources to show up for this dying time with my father and with others as well. I have very little energy for conversations or interactions with folks, because all of me has to be present now for these precious moments with my father, my brother, my mother and my family. It takes all of me to hold the space as we walk on the bridge between this life of my father’s here and now and the destination he is moving towards. It takes all of me to stay present for the feelings I have about when he will no longer be in a body here with us to tell stories to, or enjoy an artichoke with, or laugh at something silly or remark on something so intelligently that I feel like a total idiot in comparison. My father’s intellectual capacity far out-shines most folks I’ve met. He is still so sharp in his observations and thoughts. I’ll miss that, I’ll miss it a lot.

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Papa et moi.

So now the river of tears flows, as it can only flow when I have some space and time to be by myself and not be having to attend to his needs or anyone else’s. I’m very grateful for my time off, even though I’m acutely aware that every minute I’m away is one less minute I will have with him………forever.

Being present for what is going on in my life is one of the ways I honor the Holy One and my family and the planet. I cannot know when my life will be taken. I cannot know when my father will leave or my husband or a beloved friend or my children. I pray I won’t have to navigate losing a child, as my parents have, and as so many mothers and fathers in history have had to, but I cannot know.

So, every day I hold my family in my heart, in my prayers and I endeavor to honor them. I do this with my friends and my community as well. Mostly right now though, I’m just right here, tending to my father as he falls further from this realm. I hope to help ease his landing on the other side as best I can. I’m not alone in that. My brother and my children have shown up in various ways, as have some of my father’s nieces, nephews and friends to remind him of how precious he is and how much he is appreciated and loved.

What more can any of us do for those we love?

Papa Painting
“Dad wanted to help! He is 94, and doing hospice at home. My sister and I are taking care of him. He has seen me painting tiles non-stop for my big commission, and today he asked if he could help. Took me a little extra time to clean his work, but he was just barely able to do it. He made three tiles. I told him you never know, someone could dig up his tile in 10,000 years. He liked that!” Paul Barchilon

Honoring Judy~the Light, Love, Laughter and Lift in my father’s life.

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The altar I made for Judy as she was taking her last difficult breathes on this earth.

This incredible woman Judith Senior Barchilon died the other day. She was responsible for bringing a smile to my father’s face and for joy in him that I had never previously experienced him having. Their love story is important, even though it has sadly ended. Their love hasn’t ended just their being together in this world has-—and it is very hard.

Judy was a very private person, I still don’t know enough about her, even though she and my father have been together for the last twenty years. I hope to learn more about her from her grandchildren and daughter and my father as I want to honor her memory accurately.

I always tell folks who are lonely or who have given up on love, my father and Judy’s story. My father was 75 years old when he reconnected with a woman he briefly dated while they were both getting their doctorates at Harvard post WWII. Judy and he had a date or two, but it didn’t work out for them at that time.

I’m glad it didn’t work then, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be reading this. My mother and father needed to be together for my sister, my brother and myself to be born. It’s very hard for a marriage to survive the death of a child, and my parents’ marriage didn’t. Post my parents’ divorce my father dated a series of women and even married one woman. She promptly forbade me from entering his home, once they were married. I was eleven at the time. That marriage, was over right after I was forbidden entry to my home.

My father never gave up on love. He is a Moroccan, Mediterranean Man, full of intelligence, vigor, desire, passion, loyalty and persistence. These qualities led him eventually to Judy. One day, over his morning coffee, he was reading his Harvard Alumni journal when he saw a byline by Judith Merrill. He read the piece and recognized the writer as the woman who he had briefly dated over 40 years previous. He saw that she was living in Colorado Springs. Since he lived in Boulder, he sent Judy a note and asked her if she remembered him and would like to get together. The answer was yes, of course, she remembered him, and yes to getting together.

Well pretty soon they were living together and a few weeks later they were married. This 20 year love story has been such a gift to our joint families. My brother and I, as adults, got to experience a softer, kinder, happier man than we’d ever known. The two of them were inseparable. Knowing how bereft my father will now be is heart-breaking for all of us. At 94, he is recovering from his recent hip fracture and minor heart-attack post the surgery for his hip repair. He emerged with flying colors from this health crisis and is healing physically. Judy died within six months of her lung cancer diagnosis, just a month shy of her 86th birthday. She never smoked, was an amazingly health-conscious, fast walking and fit woman for all the years we knew her.

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At one point with my father, while he was in the rehabilitation center that Judy and he were sharing a room at, he said: “We didn’t do anything wrong. We just wanted to live our quiet sedate lives together.”

And, of course, death is not fair, nor is it about doing something wrong, in this circumstance, it’s just plain sad and unfair.

For Judy’s daughter and her grandchildren, the extremely quick and terrible decline in Judy’s well-being that led to her precipitous death, is also extremely sad. We are all so sorry to have lost Judy. What is not sad, is how all of us as a family, a co-joined family have taken care of each other. Even though the systems in place for caring for elderly folks, needing more care than they can give themselves, is woefully inadequate, we found a place for both my father and Judy to convalesce together when they were most vulnerable. Between my brother, his partner, my daughter, my youngest son, Judy’s daughter and family and myself, there were daily visits, extra care, foot massages, flowers, music, hand holding and a constant circle of folks present to offer love, and support.

This has been no small feat. This time of my life is about caring for family, so I’ve been able to spend a month at a time in Colorado and give respite and support. I will head back to Denver in a few days to spend the next month living with my father in his and Judy’s condo. Since Judy died, my children have been making meals for my father, along with my brother, and have spent time with him and slept there as well. He has not been alone, nor will he be from now on, which is how it should be, but not how he wanted it to be. He wanted to be with Judy. We can’t do that for him. But we can honor Judy by loving my father and by keeping him close and being there for him as he navigates whatever time he has left to walk this earth.

My brother wrote the following to let our extended family know about Judy’s last moments:

“I am very sad to inform everyone that Judy passed away early in the morning on the 7th of June.  The situation had become quite difficult for her, and I think the struggle was too great.  She showed incredible courage, grace, and wisdom in her final days.  She decided she wanted to be off life support, and requested that dad, Lynn, and myself be present. We were with her as the oxygen mask was removed and she was able to speak a little.  Her final words to my father were “you’ll be all right”.  Even as she was passing, she was concerned for him and acting to protect him.  Tom, Lilly, Kathryn, Shira, and Ethan were all with us too.  As a family, we were present for Judy as she let slip this mortal coil and finally found the rest and peace she had been wanting for so long.  It was very hard for everyone, but there was also an element of great beauty as well.  Judy chose to go at a time when she could say goodbye to all of us.  We stood silently with her after she passed, paying tribute to the most wonderful woman in the world, and honoring her courage, intelligence, determination, resilience and beauty.  She chose to donate her body to science, and did not want a funeral.  We will probably have a celebration of her life at some point in the future, and we will let everyone know.

Dad is heartbroken and devastated.  He is also handling it incredibly well.  I was expecting him to be suicidal, but he isn’t.  He said Judy told him to live, so he is going to do that.  Ethan and I spent the night with him when we came back from the hospital.  He surprised us both by saying he wanted to take us out to breakfast the next morning.  We went to Zaidy’s one of their favorites, and spent the morning talking about how wonderful Judy was, and sharing stories of her.  Dad moves fluidly between crying deeply (very healthy I think) to remembering and celebrating her.  He needs a lot of help right now, both physically and emotionally, so we are not leaving him alone.  Ethan is there 24-7 until Sunday night, Shira and I are alternating days coming in as well, cooking, holding, loving and being with him.  Nicole is flying out on Wednesday, and will move in to the apartment for a month to take care of him.

Long term, I think dad is going to move back to Boulder and move in downstairs.  He told me that Judy had often made him promise not to be a burden to his children when he aged.  I told him that wasn’t Judy’s choice to make, and that we all loved him very much and would rather have him with us than not.  I also told him that having him in Boulder would actually be easier than driving an hour each way every time he needed help (which has been pretty much daily for a long while now). He agreed that he thinks it is a good idea.  He likes being in the apartment and being reminded of Judy, and we will let him enjoy that for as long as he wants, and as he continues to heal and strengthen. ”  ~Paul Barchilon

Judy and I were about as different as two women can be, on the outside. I’m large, she was petite. I’m loud, she was soft-spoken. How we are the same has to do with our love for our families and our tremendous interest and desire to love and honor those who are part of our lives. Judy always made sure each member of the family had “special” time with my father. When I came to visit, she’d make sure my father and I always had our own dates together. She also made sure, the two of us did as well. We would get mani-pedi’s together and walk around their neighborhood. I could never keep up with her, she was the fastest walker I ever knew. She’s outpaced us all now, walking on the other side, with no encumbrances. I just put up the hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window, in honor of her. She was a hummingbird, giving joy and full of nectar, she came in a small package but had an enormous heart and wow, what a great flyer! She is and will be missed.

As Judy was taking her last breaths she told my father to go on living, to not give up. She knew him so well. To honor her, he is making that effort. So, even from the other side, Judy is helping my father and giving him to us, once again. 

Papa.Judy.chez Paul
My father and Judy at my brother’s home many years ago, dancing, laughing and loving.