When Father's Day arrives in December

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

I have enjoyed a life largely free of the misfortune that time and circumstance can bring. All things considered, it's been a pretty good ride so far.

But even the most fortunate among us does not get off scot-free. I get a reminder of life's darker side about this time every year. For it was in the first week of December that my 60-year-old father was done in by a heart attack. That happened 17 years ago, but it still almost feels like yesterday.

Nearly two decades after my father's death, the approach of this anniversary still fills me with dread. And it usually takes at least a few days for me to feel normal again. Father's Day may officially be in June, but December is when I tend to really think about the old boy. Perhaps the best that can be said of the experience is that happy memories are a part of this package deal.

Certainly, the relationship children have with their fathers is a subject that has been extensively mined by writers and researchers. Yet no matter how much you read, you'll be hard pressed to find a description that aligns exactly with your experience. For there is always an invisible wall separating what's described and what actually happened.

And that's sort of how it is among those who work in eldercare, and the elderly themselves. No matter how close we get, there is almost always a sort of divide that keeps us in separate baskets. I'm not sure how to explain it and I'm not trying to pass judgment, but I think it may come down to this: We are with them, not of them.

Yes, we may be helping residents live with a bit less hardship and a bit more dignity. But we are not, as some Native Americans might say, wearing their moccasins. And until we reach the point where we need help with bathing or dressing — or with remembering what day it is — we really don't know how those moccasins really feel.

But we also know that if we live long enough, we will probably get a chance to find out. We can only hope that if or when that point is reached, that those who are entrusted to take care of us are guided by their better angels. Should that happen, we could easily count ourselves among the truly fortunate.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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