Cooking With Myra: Filling the empty places
By Myra Starkey
Oct. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.
A couple of weeks ago, my youngest sister called to tell me that my dad was losing weight. My mother died a few months ago, and her death has been hard for all of us, especially my father. My three sisters and I have kept his days and weekends busy. We visit him frequently and leave him with lists of things he needs to do, such as doctor appointment dates. We try to keep his freezer full of home-cooked, ready-to-go meals. But we are certainly no substitute for his bride of 52 years, and all of us realize he is lonely.
Death is part of all of our lives sooner or later, and no matter who or when, we never seem prepared to accept it. My father's happiness is important to me, so I have suggested what any daughter would: that he move here. He is almost 80 and in relatively good shape, but I would like to be able to keep an eye on him as he gets older. When I suggested this, he simply looked at me like you would a small child and said, "We'll see," which as I remember from growing up with him means "not likely anytime soon."
Dad is a young-at-heart 79-year-old. He is active in his church as a deacon, visits the shut-ins (elderly who cannot leave their homes) and is currently helping the widows in the church kitchen cooking soup. He has also learned to use an iPhone, which prompted him to send me a picture of himself hovering over a steaming pot of soup with a large ladle in his hand. He had a smile on his face for the first time in months. I could practically hear the widow ladies in the background laughing at his jokes.
My father has always been happiest when he is helping someone. When I was growing up, he frequently invited strangers to eat supper with us or delivered fish (his catch of the day) to folks who needed some food. I can honestly say he never closed his hand to someone with a genuine need. He has continued to deliver food to the local volunteer firefighters near his house on a regular basis and now is spending his days giving away most of mom's stuff. My mom was a collector of many things, and they were precious to her. However, Dad finds more joy in giving all that stuff away, and so my sisters and I have encouraged this behavior since it makes him so happy.
Last week, I urged dad to come for a visit, so I could get him to see a doctor friend of ours because he has lost weight and had trouble swallowing. I wanted to make sure he was OK.
I hated to tell him too much about the procedures before he actually arrived for fear he might not come do it. He needed a colonoscopy and esophageal scope. Those are not things one would look forward to. Once he got here, I revealed the plan, and he simply smiled and said, "I knew you were up to something," but agreed it was a good idea.
Dad has always had Mom to do things like make appointments, pay bills, clean house, wash clothes and cook on a daily basis. Her death has forced him to start learning to take care of most of these things himself. On my last trip home, I noticed a lot of the underwear and towels were pink so I told him about how it is necessary to separate the whites from the colors. I have taken over some of the mundane tasks, such as paying bills, and so now, he says he doesn't mind going to the mailbox because he has nothing to do except flip through the junk mail. I took him to the hospital on the morning of the procedures and thought of how some of our roles in life change as we grow older. Most of us who have been loved well by our parents feel a deep desire to care for them once we realize they need a little help in their lives. It's not that Dad could not have accomplished the task alone, but it would have been scary to awake in the recovery room alone without your loved one waiting to tell you of the doctor's good report.
Dad remained groggy because of the anesthesia for the remainder of the day. He remembered nothing of the procedure. He also did not even remember going to Wendy's afterward for a Frosty and a grilled chicken sandwich or to the pharmacy to pick up his medicine. He was back to being himself the next day, asking how he could help me. I told him that he could chop onions, celery and peel shrimp because we were going to have shrimp creole the next day.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.