This past weekend, I visit my nearly 100-year-old dad who is now in home hospice in an assisted living facility. With several major organs failing, he remains the perennial survivor. As a literary guy, he always used to quote Dylan Thomas, saying: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” And he continues to hold on…
I leave his apartment after my visit, feeling both a sense of relief as well as a deep sadness, even though I know I will see him in two weeks (assuming…), and that meanwhile, he is being well-cared for. As anyone who has taken care of an older person knows, caregiving is stressful, and caregiving from afar has its special stresses.
The ride to the airport is straightforward in this small city. It’s always a bit nostalgic as I pass by my father’s old house, where he continued to live alone up until two years ago, when we moved him into assisted living. As I pass the old street, I call my husband to let him know my plane is delayed, ignoring the state’s anti-cell phone law. (Okay – I know it’s unsafe, but I was at a stoplight!). And then it happens – BOOM!
I feel my car being hit from behind. I say matter-of-factly, ‘Oh my G-d, I was hit. I’ve got to go.’ And then my car gets hit again! I manage to move into the next lane, and this car keeps charging forward, hitting the car that was in front of me.
I jump out of the car, realizing that I’m okay, but see that my rental car is not. The driver responsible for all this reckless bumper car action is an older man, probably in his 80s. I tell him to pull over and then follow him. Turns out that he had put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake! He claims that his foot was stuck. He is on his way to visit his wife’s grave. She had died six years ago, and he has borrowed his son’s car to get there.
The front bumper on his car is mottled, but aside from being stunned, he isn’t injured. Of course, what happens with him and his son is their next chapter, not mine, and I can only imagine. (Will the man continue to drive? With the son lend him his car? I hope not…) With this crash, we are connected by our humanness – this elderly man who is grieving for the loss of his wife, and I, who am grieving for the gradual loss of my father.
But there isn’t time to meander. My flight is leaving soon. I get advice from the rental car company about information I need from this guy, and after well wishes, I move on, driving down the highway, with half of the bumper hanging off my rental car.
As I enter the airport roadway, I call the rental car company. Like relay racers, they are ready and waiting, as papers fly between us and I gather my luggage. Running to the ticket counter, I arrive out of breath, only to be told that boarding for my plane is closed, and it’s too late to get on the flight. I plead for the airline worker to do something, sputtering fragmented sentences about my dying father and my accident. Just an instinct to use a sad story to manipulate authority… And then out-of-the-blue, another kind airline worker intervenes and calls the gate and tells them to hold the flight for me. Just for ME!
They tell me to HURRY to the gate! I get through security as quickly as one can get through security, run up to the gate, heart beating wildly, and apologize to the airline worker for holding up the flight. She looks at me whimsically, and says with humor, “Oh yeah, the whole flight is waiting just for you!” It turns out that they have not even started to board the plane. In fact, I have about 20 more minutes to wait. With that relief, I blurt out my story again, and this time, start to cry. For a moment, she looks me straight in the eye, and then she wraps her arms around me, saying, “I’m such a softy. I feel like crying with you!” And we do. Me and an airline employee!
Today, the airline gave me a $50 credit for the “inconvenience you recently experienced with us.” So thank you, Jet Blue worker and thank you, Jet Blue.
But most of all, I am grateful that in the midst of the challenges of caregiving, I have encountered people – strangers – with whom I connect, who gracefully help to diffuse those challenges.