It went on for years, with no one questioning how I had both a SickDad and a WellFather, with no one treating SickDad more kindly than WellFather.
When WellFather met SickDad, he smiled and extended his hand over the wheelchair’s arm, leaning forward slightly. He pushed SickDad’s wheelchair along cracked sidewalks to welcome him to the house, holding the door open with one hand while pushing the entire wheelchair with the other. He rolled him to the table and piled his plate highest with steaming food, insisting that SickFather take another serving as soon as the mound on his plate began to shrink.
WellFather was always patient, holding the door for SickDad, wheeling his chair carefully over the threshold’s lip, steadying him with a hand under his armpit as he crouched into sitting. Pulling his chair closer to the heaping rice, meat, and vegetables on his plate, urging him to eat more, take more, drink more.
Somehow, our family had grown. When we needed advice about talking to oncologists, nephrologists, or hospice staff, WellDad always shared an encouraging word. At first I was confused to have a SickDad and a WellFather but over time it felt natural, even normal somehow. WellDad was always present, but SickFather grew increasingly adrift.
When I asked WellDad what to do about SickFather he was first pragmatic. Out of earshot, he seized a fruit basket from the table and emptied it. Lifting it energetically, he said, “This is what you carry,” carefully placing four apples inside one by one: mother, father, son, son. He gazed at me knowingly, significantly, brows raised for emphasis. Then he proclaimed, “Don’t try to take on this unnecessarily,” piling an orange and a pear into the mix.
Eleven months later, I asked WellFather, what should we do about SickDad? He grew more thoughtful, stared into the distance and said, “Things are becoming more challenging. It will be difficult for a while. We’ll do the best that we can. And you, you do what you need to do. You have kids to care for.” He grasped his coffee mug in both hands, eyes on something far outside the window.
Months became years. I pleaded with WellDad, “What now? Things have spiraled downhill…SickFather in and out of the hospital, his medical issues multiplying. Climbing the front steps is becoming impossible.” WellDad said, “Yes, you do your best to prepare. We’ll figure out the rest when the time comes.” He peeled a banana, sliced it into rounds, and offered me the plate with an encouraging “hm” that meant, “Here, eat.”