There was a time when he called me every day. Sometimes several times a day. Sometimes minutes apart. Mostly he didn’t even know we had just had the exact same conversation, or that he had even called previously that day let alone that minute. Addictions and mental health issues are hard. I was the centre of a very small universe for Bert. He depended on me for nearly everything outside of food and shelter. Trying to remember what he needed me to do to help him, and trying to remember to check with me to make sure I remembered, took up a lot of his time. And mine. It was exhausting -like caring for a young child in a lot of ways. And just like with my own children, when I didn’t think I could humanly do one more thing for someone else that day, the phone would ring, and I would. I was glad to be able to help with practical needs as well as show real love and affection; two things that were in short supply for Bert. But it did take a lot out of me at times – our whole family if I’m being honest. Other times it was a gift that kept giving for us all.
When Bert moved into his home, his room felt sterile – devoid of any personal touches. So we got a frame for the picture our kids drew that he kept in his breast pocket while living on the streets, and we hung it up. Our children littered his walls with “art” they had lovingly made for him. Anything to make it homey. All he wanted for Christmas was a framed picture of our family. It sat proudly on the top of an empty dresser. He loved us so deeply, as we loved him.
As time went on his body began healing and the appointments became less frequent. His day to day needs were much less than months prior and he didn’t need me for much in that capacity anymore. He didn’t love everything about the place he was living but it was becoming home. New routines began to form. New relationships began to blossom and even better, old relationships began to heal. And my phone began to ring less.
The centre space on his dresser holds one of his most valuable possessions; our family photo. It has been given a place of honour. It is more than just a picture of a family he loves; it is the family that helped give him back a part of his former life. Even more beautiful is the medley of photographs that now surround that picture; photographs of the people that made that former life beautiful. People that belong to him. I believe that we will always hold a place of high honour in his heart, just like we do on the dresser.
Even if my phone is silent.
Its been silent for weeks now. He missed calling Alexa on her birthday, unlike last year where he obsessed about it for 3 weeks; wanting everything to be perfect for his little love. He nearly drove me crazy. First is was the calls about the card he found that was perfect for her. Then the calls about the gift he had purchased and all the details surrounding that. Then it was all about the wrapping that some of the ladies had done for him and how beautiful it was. And on and on it went. The juxtaposition from one year to the next was jarring. One too much, the other eerily lacking.
He assured me he had a gift for her and as soon as he was available he would let me know so we could all get together. That was 2 weeks ago.
I feel sad, like part of me is missing. But it’s not. I remind myself that he has simply found a part of himself. This is one true measure of “success”. And I’m happy. This is what I wanted for him. It is what I want for him – so why do I feel sad?
Sometimes growing is hard. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with the physical drain of being needed than it is to deal with the emotional pain of not.
Sadness should have no place here and yet I feel it begin to creep into my soul. It starts to take up residence like an unwanted house guest. I believe in honoring emotions because they are valid. But I also hold tightly to the belief that you should’t just follow your heart, you must lead it. Emotions are great, but they do not dictate how I feel. I do. I honour the sadness, thanking it for all it has taught me, and then dismiss it. Bert’s world is getting bigger; I am no longer the sun, but am still his North Star. He has new universe filled with new places to travel, new circles of positive influences and I got to help be the conduit. Where the sadness once lived, now feelings of contentment, gratitude and even joy start to grow. A smile spreads across my face, an outer reflection of my heart. This feels like home.
To be continued…