My dad, Reuben Soldinger, was ill for nearly two years. His mind was confused about many things. Sometimes he thought he was at a hotel, not in a nursing home. Often he didn’t recognize my mother. Some days, he thought his son was his brother. But he was so much more than his forgetfulness. He was clever. He maintained a sense of humor. He still had a sense of amazement. He remained engaged in life.
His confusion defined his existence. He knew he was confused at least half of the time and wondered what he could do about it. He looked for the train, or he tried to do his job, or he would give a speech. But confusion was where he lived. He didn’t know his age, the year, or his surroundings, but he did know that he could still have an impact on things. He knew it until his last days.
On this path he went forward with his heart. His mind no longer shielded him from feelings that he didn’t want to face. Every emotion was authentic. There was truth in his interactions. Each moment was new, but it was also full of love, anger, or fear, and he had to travel through it.
Through this journey with my father I have been transformed. I walked the narrower path of being awake to the present moment. Before his illness, I had a very good relationship with my dad. Yes, it was laced with dramatic teenage strife, miscommunications as adults, some disagreements and sometimes a lack of real understanding; but mostly he was my primary source of support and my loving guide for how to be in the world. Our relationship, as is true in most relationships, relied on past history for understanding each other. As this became less available during his illness, I had the opportunity to see and hear him differently. The pain and the tragedy of it all was there, but so was the heart’s ability to love, and the ability to see and hear his spirit, and this became the avenue for many unexpected gifts.
Dad changed. And he grew. Growing happens all throughout life, even at the end. I recognized his spiritual and emotional shifts and asked many questions along the way. How does one walk with someone who doesn’t function within the social norms? How do I see to the needs of my beloved parent? And most important, how can I accompany him?
Accompanying Dad on this journey has been an honor. This writing is a tribute to who he was as a human being and a tribute to the growth that happens in every moment of life.
Thank you, Dad.