How many times have you relished course after course of a fabulous meal, only to have it go downhill with a not so fabulous dessert? This particular culinary faux pas has the power to forever mar the evening simply by virtue of its placement in the meal. No matter how many talk shows extol the virtues of "new beginnings" or "fresh starts", we have a tendency to remember most clearly the ending of an event. It ain't over until the fat lady sings, so let's hope she delivers on key or we'll be stuck with a dissonant memory.
With this in mind, it might be better to start out at the end of our life and work backwards. Our recollections would be colored with youthful optimism rather than the melancholy of age. But then, moviegoers saw how it worked out for Benjamin Button; I guess either direction brings with it the possibility of winding up in diapers.
As I witness my father's decline, I am trying to view his life as a whole. Rather than focusing on these final images of exhaustion, I search my mind for the man who fixed my bike, drove me to college with a U-Haul trailer full of way too much stuff, and made me check my suitcase for cockroaches whenever I came home from New York City. No kidding- he'd insist I go through my bags out on the picnic table. I may have grumbled at the time, but now it brings a smile to my face and reminds me what a wonderful pain-in-the-ass he was.
Friends attempt to help with the "He lived a long, full life" bit. Yeah, 83 is not a bad run, but let's see how we feel when we get there. How many of us will truly be ready to cash it in? Dad's later years have been assaulted by my mother's dementia, his own macular degeneration and a laundry list of painful and debilitating maladies. Sure, he's told me many times that it would be better if he just "popped off" and how he wished he were laying next to my mother. Loneliness and depression plagued him daily, but he has persevered. Cancer is, however, bringing down the curtain and we are moving him into an assisted living facility for his final months. I will do my best to look past the disease and spend my time with the man and the memories within the tired shell. This final course may not be particularly sweet, but I'll try not to let it ruin the whole meal.