Time is not the enemy. And yet it isn’t our friend. It’s something we’re born into, a gauge with which to mark our lives. Like water or oxygen, to us it’s always been. We have never not known time. We work by it. We sleep by it. We live by it. We die by it. Hopefully, we learn from it.
Time has a way of lulling our senses to sleep, of making us think our lives will always be the same. A mother knows her child will grow. And yet when he becomes an adult, she is shocked that the same little boy who hunted grasshoppers in the backyard and scraped his knees while climbing trees is now the man who lives three hours away and has a family of his own. She looks at his kindergarten graduation picture alongside his wedding picture and wonders how time passed so quickly. She remembers the mindless minutia of motherhood, of never-ending diaper changes and late-night feedings. Of temper tantrums and potty training. Of first words and first steps. Of praying just to survive each day and steal enough sleep to function the next day without yelling at her son. Now she’d give anything to change another diaper or bandage another knee. She is not the same woman who brought her son home from the hospital. Motherhood has changed her, made her wiser. Time has changed her, filled her heart with gratitude.
Time has a way of lulling a caregiver’s senses to sleep, of making us think our lives will always be the same. I know that one day my Father will die. And yet, when a short walk to the mailbox makes him winded, I am astounded that the man who rode bikes and took walks with me just a few short years ago is the same man who must now rest a great deal and has forgotten the words to songs he’s sung for 70 years. I watch a video of my Father reading to his granddaughter seven years ago and now I’m shocked that the pages are blurry and his grandchildren are foreign to him. I am submerged in the mindless minutia of caregiving, of changing his Depends, crushing his pills and mixing them with yogurt because swallowing pills alone is too difficult for him. Of the constant irritation Mom and I feel as caregivers and realizing we can no longer understand most of what he is saying. Of dressing him because he has no idea how to do that himself. Of praying just to survive each day and steal enough sleep to function better tomorrow without yelling at anyone. Now I’d give anything to take another long walk or bike around the block with my Father. I am not the same woman who moved back in with my parents over eight years ago. Caregiving has changed me, made me wiser. Time has changed me, filled my heart with gratitude.
And yet, I cannot help but feel slighted by time. It’s like we cannot fully appreciate what we have until we’ve endured pain and loss. But then after we’ve lived through it, we can never get back what was precious. So the appreciation we feel at its fullest is in retrospect, not in real time.
All I know to do now is try to soak in the moments of shared experiences with my Father, holding my breath during the mindless minutia and remembering that to everything there is a season. I’m going to love till the end. And if I am wise, I’m going to hold nothing back so that when my Father takes his last breath, I will not wonder ‘What if?’ Instead I will focus on the memories I’ve made and say, ‘Remember when?’