These days, I’m feeling guilty.
My father is faring badly hundreds of miles away. My mom’s anguish is palpable. I’ve been frantically advocating for him and trying to calm her down. All by phone.
I have to be prepared to leave to Florida at a moment’s notice.
But lately, and — this is the crux of my guilt — I’ve been having fun. I feel I’m a poor excuse for a daughter for experiencing joy at a dark time in my family’s life. While my father suffers and slowly approaches the end of his life, I’m enjoying life.
My daughter and I are doing so many fun activities together. Don’t get me wrong; she has seen me cry in grief and despair over my aunt and dad, and I think that’s a healthy thing for her to witness.
Nevertheless, lately, we’ve had all sorts of fun. We are having a blast shopping for presents for others. Play dates with Ari’s friends fill our schedule. She’s been ice skating. Lately our obsession is a ceramics place, where we choose bisques and paint them with all sorts of colors and designs. The art studio then puts the pieces in the kiln, and oila! A beautiful vase, holiday decoration, bowl, and so on. Ari and I are in love with this place.
In the near future, we are going to our favorite art store to buy canvases. I’m going to paint a landscape, and she will be painting a puppy with a kitten. We also mold clay into all sorts of interesting objects.
Lately, we’ve been playing with dreidels and all sorts of Chanukah and non-Chanukah games. We drive around our neighborhood, marvelling at all the houses sporting gorgeous Christmas lights.
Ari is fun. She brings out the child in me, makes me happy, and we enjoy each other’s company.
Despite all the fun activities — or, rather, because of them — guilt gnaws at me. My dad can no longer enjoy fun activities. While Ari and I enjoyed dinner out this week at a yummy restaurant, my dad was hardly eating his puree. My mom is understandably depressed, and worry has diminished her appetite. Before my dad broke his hip a few years ago, my parents used to ballroom dance two to three times a week. (In fact, before I was born, they won awards for their dancing talent.) In fact, my dad enjoyed dancing so much, that he has danced non-stop at friends’ weddings — often dominating the bride’s dance time. Poor groom.
Now, my parents no longer can go dancing.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying all kinds of music and dancing with my daughter. And, somehow, I feel rotten that our dancing is so enjoyable. My guilty mind is killing the joy, replacing it with anguish. But I continue to partake in fun activities, even though I know my parents are suffering. I do it for my daughter, I tell myself. But I’ve been watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on my own for selfish reasons: to laugh and relieve the stress. Truth is, I feel I have no right to be happy and laughing while my parents are suffering. I don’t deserve to have a good time.
In fact, I feel like a horrible person that in spite of what’s going on with my parents, I’ve found significant moments of pleasure.
I feel guilty I never moved to Florida to take care of my parents.
In fact, lately guilt rules so much of my world, that I usually feel horrible after Ari and I have fun. Still, if it weren’t for Ari, I’d sink into a horrible depression. The girl is my salvation.
But in the courtroom of my mind, I try, convict, and punish myself for being guilty as charged.
Do you feel that you experience/have experienced joy when you should be/should have been grieving? Feel free to share your experience(s) and perspective.
Tags: artwork, dementia and grief, father and dementia, fun, guilt, guilty pleasure