As you might have surmised from the road-trip pics below, we have taken off on our vacation... loosely defined, at this moment, as my release from pastoral duties for exactly 168 hours, and a quick (less than 48 hours) trip to my dad's house.
We are here with my sister-in-law "Sharon" and her and my brother's two children, "Liv" and "Armistead." My brother stayed in Wyoming to tend to the business and the horses and the dogs.
I wish I could say it's always wonderful and joyful to be with my family. But it is more often full of complications and contradictions. Sharon seems well, but she shared with me some anxieties about their business and the economy, and how difficult this trip was for them to manage financially. She also shared that a visit back "home" (she and my brother lived here until five years ago, when they transplanted themselves out west) is always hard for the kids. Liv, who's 13, has really adapted to life in Wyoming. She's a cowgirl, who shows horses and raises pigs and lambs for 4-H competitions each summer, and who, like her dad, is a natural and wonderful athelete, excelling at basketball and baseball as well as rodeo. When she visits here, she's bored, "like a fish out of water." Armistead, on the other hand, is 10 and while he too loves life out west, has maintained friendships here. When he comes for visits he's reminded of how much he misses those friends, and it's wrenching for him to go home to Wyoming at the end of the trip.
Add to all this that two of the three grandparents they've ever known are gone now (Sharon's mother died in February 2008, my mother in February 2006). Visits home are tough and poignant for them.
Then there's my dad. Each time I see him I'm both relieved at how well he's doing and full of dread at the signs I see of his aging. He's 87, living alone in this enormous house by the water, cooking himself pretty good meals and looking out on a beautiful view of bay, marshes, wildlife and distant city lights. He has no major illnesses threatening... he doesn't have congestive heart failure or cancer or any of those "biggies" that often affect people by this age.
But I see, too, the toll that just being 87 has taken. Sharon said this morning she wishes he'd had his knees replaced 10 or 15 years ago, and I agree. He's hobbling around now on a knee that's visibly worse than it was even last month at Thanksgiving. At the point at which he cannot walk... what? He's adamantly against moving, either to my home or to Wyoming. He's adamantly against downsizing to a smaller house (an idea that's doable but somewhat complicated by the fact that his house is in my name). The idea of assisted living facilities... also adamantly opposed. I cannot move here to care for him. I suppose the truth is, I will not. I won't move Petra away from her dad, and I won't move away from a church that is proving so good for me and so rich in possibilities. I also won't move away from the friends and intentional family I have around me. It would be like an amputation. Multiple amputations.
But... what? What will happen? My brother and his family are where they are. I am where I am. It leaves me hoping that my dad can maintain good health indefinitely, and then... what? Be suddenly felled, like a giant maple chopped down? It seems monstrous to wish for something like that. But... what?