Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Happy Accident

Barbara: Okay, the title is a bit of a writer’s conceit—it wasn’t a “happy” accident per se, but it did remind me of some our favourite Middle Ages-ian themes, the ones which bring us around to, yes, savouring happiness despite our foibles. Foibles like how we hate HATE to feel helpless, and how we sometimes need to be reminded that accepting help can be a great gift we give unto others.

So my dad is a hale and hearty guy, the kind whose actions and energy defy his age. Then late last week, he breaks his foot. It was, in his words, a stupid accident. He was mowing the lawn down an uneven slope and his foot twisted into a cranny. He was in pain, but mostly he just knew. After “rice”-ing (rest, ice, compress, and elevate), he knew an emergency room visit was in order. When the doctor told him he had suffered a hairline fracture, he wasn’t surprised. Pissed, frustrated, disappointed, yes. Shocked, no. But here’s the extra rub: his lovely wife, my step-mother, was in a remote far-away village on a holiday with her daughter. My dad was alone, far from his three daughters, with no immediate source of help. As luck would have it, two of his daughters (myself included) were already scheduled to arrive at his place a mere two days later. But two days later … a timeline that couldn’t be shifted. And Dad would be alone.

So my dad convinces the doctor to postpone putting the cast on until we arrive so he can take care of his urgent needs with some independence, like driving home and WATERING THE PLANTS (caps are meant to indicate daughterly sarcasm). It took at least 6 separate phone conversations to finally convince him that he could NOT drive the one hour each way to pick up my sister and her kids from the train station. It took another several convos to convince him that his very dear friend would go out of his way to do the pick-up. Not only did my father want to carry on as if nothing had happened (let me remind you that if a fracture in the foot doesn’t heal properly, then he might have issues the rest of his life), the very thought of imposing on others was anathema. But even he saw the logic of accepting the helping hands being offered all around him.

On Monday, we made sure he was properly casted up and off his foot and forbidden from any but the most mundane SEATED tasks. He was forced to allow his daughters, son-in-law, and grandchildren to wait on him hand and foot (ar, ar). And he was witness to everyone’s absolute joy in being able to pay back this most generous but independent of people.

The unhappy side of the story? Okay, he can’t walk on his foot for 6 weeks at least, is being delivered a new highly-anticipated car tomorrow and can’t drive at all, has a household that requires much care-taking, and was looking forward to frolicking in the pool with his grandkids (we did make sure his cast was water-proof, but it might be a sinking stone, right?). And thank GOD my step-mom was away—she is an unbelievably competent maven and would have been all over taking care of Dad to perfection, but certainly at the risk of her own health. Imagine this tiny 5’4” woman trying to push and pull my not-so-tiny 6’2” father on his wheelchair while casts dried and crutches were on order.

But it has been a watershed moment for my father: he learned the hard way that he is not immune to bodily malfunctions (to quote him, that he “is not a god after all” ;) ), he learned that sometimes taking is also giving, and he learned to sit back and accept heartfelt service. Frankly, it was a watershed moment for all of us. Nothing like watching your, yes, god-like father come down to earth for a brief sojourn to be reminded of these important life lessons.

As I said, a happy accident.

Deb: Just Beautiful, Barb; this moved me so much. I know all too well what it’s like to see your parents struggle with their independence. I am so glad that this was simply an accident and not an immobility life sentence. It kills me every day to watch Dad struggle more and more to be in charge of his life and to get out and live life. I watched Mum struggle for years after her stroke with it and then watched her slowly make her peace. Your Dad fought for his independence and that is fantastic.  And it seems your Dad is enjoying his stroll among the mortals. This moment will stay with him as he ages, in a very good way I think. 


  1. So sorry to hear about your dads accident . Hope he gets better soon. My grandfather is having a lot of problems right now as far as getting around ; and I am always worried that he and my grandmother are going to fall because they have a few times. And every time that they do it is more and more freaky . I love to be there for them and it's only there that I am there fo them because everytime that j was hurt and sick as a kid they were there for me sk now it's my then. Now I get to return the favor

  2. Oh, I hear you, Lyndsie. My problem is that I don't live close to either of my parents. My sisters and I always lament that we can't help them out more. Thank god serendipity gave us all a helping hand on this one!

  3. Hope your dad gets better soon! Having been in a walking cast (big ugly bulky boot >.<) for 8 weeks in the dead of winter, I can understand the frustration that comes along with being off your feet for a while. It's a very humbling experience because you have to rely so heavily on other people.

    I'm just thankful that my sister and good friends helped me out, including making me laugh, which occurred on several occasions. I can understand the worry though; my grandpa will be 90 in a few weeks, so I am very familiar of the territory of wanting to be there as much as possible. I'm happy to see that your dad still has a lot of independence, and I think that will help a lot! :]

  4. Broken foot. Ugh! Get well soon, Barbara's Dad!!!

  5. Oh, man--so sorry this happened, but yet--BRILLIANT timing so he could learn those lessons. It's great that you and your sister could be there. And such an important lesson that people LIKE to be leaned on.

  6. Great lessons learned in the happy accident. All of us as we age don't want to lose any independence. We will fight it until the end, I'm afraid. SO glad you were all there to help.

  7. I just thought how lucky I am to have had my son and his family move down the street from me. Help is always on the way if I want it. My DIL even made a comment about that very thing. I told her I will kill myself before that happens so not to worry. :)

  8. Dad is physically rallying, but every day seems to stress how much freedom he's losing to the broken foot. But he's so happy having us around. That said, he also refuses (for now) to move closer to us). I understand that desire for independence too. But it's tough to be so far apart.

    Madge, thrilled your kids are close now. It's probably the best of both worlds for you all right now.

  9. Nice blog, Barb! I understand the whole thing about helping out parents!
    As I've mentioned before, my parents are older, and so I still live at home to help out. However, earlier this year I was the one that needed help! You see, in late January, I had a rather silly accident, and bruised my collarbone. For a week (that seemed like two, lol), I had to wear a sling, which I needed help putting on. I couldn't do much at all- no hauling laundry upstairs, no lifting of any sort at work, etc. Because I'm a young adult, and rather stubborn, I was miserable. When you're used to doing stuff yourself, and helping out, it SUCKS. A couple weeks after that, I ended up going to the hospital, and having my appendix out. Yet ANOTHER week of taking it easy, and letting others help me out! It's a hard lesson to learn, but a good one! I hope your dad's foot heals quickly! :)

  10. I hope your Dad heals well broken bones are never a good or pleasant thing. It's good that he is able to accept help and his human foibles.

    This is still an ongoing battle between my mother and I and probably always will be. We've butted heads on accepting help so many times that these days I don't ask what I can do I just do it. My Dad encourages this by telling me what needs to get done and is perfectly happy to commiserate with me and plan out how I can come do things for them without a fight. Usually that involves finding out when she won't be home.

    She doesn't understand that I can't just stand by and watch them go without or put something off because she refuses to accept my help. I'm not trying to take away her independence I'm trying to prolong it. Mind you I'm just as bad at accepting help as she is so it's hard to be logical about it.

    Sometimes giving is taking makes so much sense to me though, I'm glad I do what I can but it would feel so much better if my help was taken willingly. Maybe if I try putting it to her that way it will help. Not likely but I can try, what can I saw we're also both equally stubborn as well.

  11. Oh, Beth!! So sorry about your own travails! Glad you got through that okay. And any of us who are stubbornly independent seem to suffer the most in these circumstances!

    Erin, it's really tough if your givee is so against the help, but I do think you should try telling her what I think is a GREAT line: I'm not trying to take away her independence I'm trying to prolong it.

    How can anyone argue that? (okay, I know, a really stubborn person!)

  12. Just discovered your Blog!!! It is wonderful! The Middle ages is an adventure for sure. Our parent's lives, independence and pride is a challenging adventure as well. Love reading about all your endeavors, holidays, flirting ability, jobs, children and all the feelings that go along with all of that. Thank you.

  13. Welcome Mary Jo! So glad you could join us. Barb I meant to tell you when I spoke to you how CHARMING AND ADORABLE your Dad is in these photos. And of course you too. But you always are! I have met Barb's Dad and he is lovely and bright and a gentleman so I loved this post.

  14. Oh Deb, isn't he?! Breaks my heart. Also, he has read the post and all your comments and he is so very touched. So thanks from him for all the support and well-wishes!

    Welcome, Mary-Jo, so happy to have you!!

  15. Here's wishing your dad well - all the way from Scandinavia :-)

    When I read this, I thought of my own mum, living alone and, until a few months ago, refusing any kind of help from her children.
    She was alone for several years with two young children (my older brothers) in the fifties and had to be strong and independent to manage and it has become second nature to her.
    About 35 years ago, mum had a hairline fracture on her wrist, went to the hospital and had a cast.
    All was fine for a couple of days and then the cast broke, but no, mum didn't go to the hospital, she was so pleased that she was able to use her hand "normally" again..
    I'm not sure what my dad did to convince her, but he managed to get her back to the hospital for a new cast which didn't break..

  16. Thanks, Helle! Great story about your mum. Another classic (I can say with some confidence that my dad would have had the same reaction.)

  17. 73 is the new 53. We are not ready to be shlepped to the nearest junkyard just jet but we do get injured from time to time by undertaking to much physical activities (my garden is over 1 acer on a hilly terrain) ..... my children and Grandchildren (Barbara included) have showered me with kindness and attention, forced me to into a chair, feed me, entertain me and baby-sit me ..... under these circumstances the new 53 has once again become the old 73..... and I do feel much less athletic on crutches, so I deserve it. But I have to admit that I enjoy this attention of my loved once who I see far to seldom, not to be able to spoil them myself this time.
    I also liked all the post which show that this is a time to learn to "take" the kindness ..... but I hope it wont take longer than a couple of weeks .... so I wont die of a sugar overdose ..... Love you all Dad

  18. Barb, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I hope the six weeks feels more like 2. :)
    I'm glad you also have help from other siblings. That makes it easier for everyone. It also allows everyone to help out, and allows your dad to see how much everyone wants to help. It's a different perspective, one he obviously never expected. I'm happy he's learn to accept it (albeit begrudgingly :) ).


  19. Okay, Dieter? Cutest Dad ever!!

    And, Dawn, thanks, you absolutely nailed it.

  20. Barb, I hope your dad heals well! Wishing him a speedy recovery. Broken bones are no fun at all!
    Working in a hospital, I see these struggles with loss of independence on a daily basis. Some deal with these changes with grace and dignity, as your father is doing. Others...let's just say not so much. :) It takes everyone a different amount of time to realize the benefits of accepting help. It's not an easy lesson by any means, but it is a very good one to learn.

  21. Compliance is crucial - after 12 weeks of lying on the couch I am now walking almost normally on my repaired hip. Accepting help with grace - another crucial skill. Your dad is lucky to have you around to remind him.

  22. Tomine, you of all people get this whole circle of pain/helplessness/healing. Thanks for this.

    And Ashleigh, ouch! Wishing you happy continued healing!! xo

  23. thanks for reminding me of this important outlook! I hope your Dad feels better soon!

  24. Thanks, Laurie. He's still rallying!

  25. As I know all too well, accepting help is an important lesson in being human. I'm sorry your dad broke his foot, but glad he got to experience the lesson.


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