Family Stories

No Regrets

Well.  Summer’s over.   I mean it isn’t really over, it’s not yet Labor Day.  Outside it’s as steamy as a Turkish Bath and even the dogs are having dog days this August.  They are sleeping, listless in the heat and without the energy to bark.

But I’m home.  I’ve left our summer cottage, driven back down south with reams of clothes and papers and food in freezer bags with melting ice.  I’m home and I’m grumpy and a little bit snitty.   Did I accomplish what I wanted to this summer?  I had lofty dreams about getting lots of writing done in the three hour stretch my kids were at camp, or the early mornings when i could sit by my computer with a ghetto latte (lots of microwaved milk not frothed and a tiny bit of java.)

But I did.  I accomplished so much that I wanted to.  I hiked, I watched movies with my kids, I answered far too many emails and flirted with facebook, only to be driven back by the volumes of messages I didn’ t feel like answering.  We finished that jigsaw puzzle of previous blog fame and we swam and laughed and cooked and ate.  But I didn’t write.  Not much anyway.

Every time I sat down to tackle something on my list, there was some kind of interruption.  And many of those interruptions were from my parents, most specifically my Dad.  I’d settle in front of the computer and through the screen door, cheery as a bluebird, I would hear his voice  call out to me “Helloooooooooo.”

For just a moment, a part of my heart would sink.  “I have three precious hours,” the Type A part of my brain would scream.  And then the dutiful daughter part of me would muzzle it, put a pillow over those thoughts and push down.  And then they would stop.  I would stop.  “No regrets,” I would tell myself.  “No regrets.”

As the summer progressed, my father and I fell into a regular morning ritual of coffee and chatting as he made me the half-way stop on his daily walk down to the general store to be fussed over by the ladies at the coffee counter.  Each morning was the same.  Ground Hog Day.  He’d stomp up the steps, come in, announce how winded he was from walking up the hill and then sit.  In the same tone I use with my children I’d chide him for not drinking enough water, put a full glass in front of him  and tell him to rest, maybe pull off his sweater as the day heated up.

We’d sit and talk about the same things, the weather, when I was leaving, when my husband was coming, where the girls were.  I’d feel myself unwind, relax, the tension would leave my shoulders.  This was my Dad.  He has dementia which means that every week or month or so we can almost feel the little pieces of him slipping away, breaking off.  Dementa is a slippery eel. Some days he is more present and with it.  Other days he will have a hard time getting a sentence out.  He can often form the words, I think he knows them in his head, but they come out wrong or jumbled.  He hesitates a lot more now, more even than last month, unsure of what will come out.  In those moments I see the mask slip, the casual jaunty smile he wears and has always worn, of confidence.  Underneath the mask I see terror, pure, clean fear at what is happening and what the future holds.

I am powerless.  I’m powerless to do anything as he asks me the same questions over and over in the span of 15 minutes.  I can listen and answer patiently and pour him some more coffee and smile at him in that loving way daughters smile at their Dads.  This much I can do.

And as my mind flicks to all the things I need to get done, the dentist appointment to rechedule for my daughter, the school forms so Cathryn can play pre-season soccer, the college shopping list I need to put together for my son and the writing, always the writing, in the back of my mind, I force myself to relax.

“This is what summer is for,” I tell myself.  “It may be his last summer here and these moments, this time in the kitchen, these are the things that really count.  You don’t want to have any regrets.  You want to feel secure that you spent the last good years letting him know he was safe, loved, cared for, before he slips away.”  It’s the very least my sisters and I can do.  It’s the legacy of love.

And so here I am.  Summer is over.  l’ll be planning a trip to see both my parents soon in their independent living facility a state away.  But those visits aren’t the same as summer.  Summer is the warmth of the dock, a cold plunge in the lake, delighted screams from the raft and all of our family around.  Summer is  freedom, roaming, his daily walk, the sunshine and the smell of pine and moon, of the July rains and my Dad’s once carefully tended geraniums.  The other months of the year, lived out in their small apartment, make life seem diminished, circumscribed.  There are smells of new carpet and industrial cooking in the building.  It is a place to live, not a home.  It is not summer.

I am home now, buried under a mountain of things to do.  But I have no regrets.  No regrets.


  1. Katie M.

    August 22, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you so very much for your response to my question from your previous post. It is so reassuring to have confirmed (from someone whose family is thriving, growing, and intact) what you shared regarding quality time v. quantity time with Dad and the value for our children in witnessing a happy marriage and home.
    On a different note, growing up, we spent our summers on a Lake here in New York. I appreciate your descriptions of the sounds, smells, sights, etc… of summers at the cottage. I’m sure it is hard to watch your Dad slip through dementia. What tender memories you shared of your times with him this summer.

  2. Susie

    August 23, 2009 at 2:59 am

    Summer moments w your dad. Isn’t it s
    bittersweet how watching your children grow older fills one w pride but watching your parents age makes us anxious? In both cases I wNt to slow time down. What a gift your summers at the lake are for your family as it allows you to do just that. I lost my dad to an 11year battle w cancer 5 years ago. A couple years before he passed he commented on how strange it was to see me getting gray hairs. I showed him 4 and said each one was from one of my kids. He asked who the rest was from. I replied in a loving and teasing way, you dad. He laughed. Not a day passes I don’t miss him.

  3. EMILY

    August 24, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Hi, Just finished reading your new book ( Perfectly Imperfect ) this weekend, it was great. I laughed so much and could identify with you on so many levels. Especially could relate to the themed sweaters, I actually got a Xmas invitation last year to a girls night out which stated no tacky Xmas sweaters allowed, not that I would have worn one but thought this was most disgusting.
    You are great, continued success.
    PS: when son goes away to college, you will survive and be even closer when he comes home, he will appreciate you so much more.

  4. Karen Putz

    August 25, 2009 at 2:31 am

    I had similar thoughts this summer. My father was diagnosed with cancer shortly after Memorial Day Weekend. We cried a lot of tears this summer, my mother and I. We wondered if he would be around next summer. My Dad is now halfway through his treatments and there’s hope that he just may beat this. Meanwhile, I cherished every moment with him, even when those same thoughts were going through my head of all the things I needed to get done.

    Beautifully written.

  5. Paulette

    August 27, 2009 at 6:27 am

    I can so relate to your feelings of your father and his demetia. I just lost my Mom 6 months ago, from a stroke, but she was in the far stages of Dementia. It is very sad to see them go through the loss of thoughts and memories. Like your father, my Mom had good days and bad days. I have to smile, though, when I think of a particular time I talked to ehr on the phone, I live in Atl, she was in Pa. We talked of her coming to visit me, knowing of course she wasnt able to travel. The next day, she talked to one of my sisters, told her that she went to Atl yesterday.In her mind, she did. My Mom, like your Dad, lived in a nursing home. She would start to say something, and lost her whole train of thought, mid sentence. I miss her terribly. You have the right way of dealing with it all, just smile, and let all other things you have to do wait. Value your time with him. Thank you for sharing that with us. This one hit really close to home for me. Big hug to you.

  6. Anne

    August 28, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    No regrets is a wonderful mantra! I think it helps us deal with the testing moments when we feel most tested. What an aging parent is asking is so very little when we remember everything the parent has done for the child.

  7. Robin Goodfellow

    August 28, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    And, see, you have accomplished the most beautiful and intuitive piece of writing, after all, using the clay of your not-writing moments. They’ve come into my heart, laid themselves down, and I feel richer and more peaceful because of them. Thanks for reminding me of what’s valuable. (blessings forward for your Dad…)

  8. Val

    August 29, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Dear Lee–I have been reading your blog, and saw you share your thoughts, and video, regarding your oldest son’s leaving for college. You touched my heart with your observations..with what you have mentioned about feeling guilt, but that ultimately you have “no regrets”. You have done your best, and that is the best you CAN do…
    We have four children-one right after the other. Our oldest son is an Army reservist (who served overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom when he was 19)m a recent college graduate, and he just got married, and left to start his new life in California with his new bride. There is just nothing quite like the way it feels to experience all the “firsts” with that oldest child…they broke us in! Life is just never the same when they leave…never! It is different–not worse, just different. The sounds in the house change so much with the lack of their contribution. I miss my son all the time! Our second son just graduated college also, and began seminary this past month. He is getting married in January (he is 22–our oldest is 24). Our only girl just arrived home after 8 months in Africa…she is a college junior. Our youngest son just graduated high school, and intended to enter Marine Boot camp on July 6–but 12 hours before he was to leave he was in a car accident and knocked some teeth out. He is still recovering, but will attend local county college until then. He still intends to leave for the Marines in the spring. All these major things happened this year! Here is a word of wisdom–from what you said, you left your son at college last night. Now, on the calendar , circle the date 2 weeks from now. It takes two weeks. I give myself two weeks to embrace the new “normal”, and I do NOT give myself a hard time about it. I have had to TAKE the two weeks MULTIPLE times, so I can attest to the assuredness that it works. It doesn’t take the pain away, but by allotting yourself that time frame, it is easier to go through the feelings, and adjust, without pressure to be instantly “fine”. I have read about your dad, and I do have great compassion for how that must be–the genereation above you needs you, the generation below you needs you. You are needed! That can get tiring, as you know very well!
    Oh Lee, you will miss your boy…but, after a while, you will have had a few weekends with him, heard of his adventures, seen that new independent soul take flight…and there will be a brand new joy for you! The joy of seeing that young man begin his journey! Trust me on this–in some ways, he will need you more than even before. It is much like they need us to stay constant as they bounce here and there, in and out of our homes…visiting, traveling, whatever they do. They need to know we are here for them JUST as much, if not more. I think you are going to LOVE to see who your son is becoming. I am excited for you!
    From one college mom to another– we are blessed!

  9. Margie Rooke

    August 29, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I love the words no regrets…….and the work and piles of laundry will ALWAYS be there and can wait……I was lucky enough to hear you speak at Ladies Night Out at the Bay Head Yacht Club. You were wonderful and an inspiration. I have had a very difficult year… husband has been battling leukemia (doing well) my brother in law, who is mentally handicapped, was sick and in the hospital most of the winter and recently passed away. Your humor and positive outlook on life was so refreshing and so much of what you said I could relate to…..I want to thank you ….I also want you to know that since the day that your husband was injured, I followed you and your family…I have read your wonderful books and wish you all continued prayers and good health…..

  10. Pat

    August 30, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    This is the first time that I have ever responded to a blog. I love this entry – reminds me of my grandfather who passed away over a year ago. He could talk forever about things that happened 50 years ago yet I had to keep reminding him who I was.
    On another note….I was able to see you on GMA this past Friday (due to a splitting headache which kept me at my home office all day). You will survive the college thing. When we took my daughter four years ago, her parting words were..”Its been a good ride!” She just received her BA in Psych this past May. My son, who is a sophomore this year , was beside himself with excitement….moving him in his first year…on the 12th floor. Took the elevator up and the stairs back down. One time on the stairs, I looked back to tell him something and he was beaming from ear to ear…that is when I knew he would be OK.
    They both stay in touch alot and both have their own personalities.
    My daughter ends her conversations…luv ya, peace out!
    My son — Bye, I love you!
    …one last note…sometimes being so close to your kids may make you have to hear some college stories that you might not want to know about!!! Just a little heads up!

  11. Tracey Clothier

    August 31, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Your “No Regrets” post reminded me of the time, at my father’s request, I took him back to our old cottage at Glenburnie. He was 80, I think, and he had every intention of buying the place back from the family that purchased it 30 years ago! I went along realizing this trip was important to him. On the ride up from Lake George, and skarfing down hamburgers at Kettles, he graced me with his memories of that lovely time we shared as a young family at the lake he loved. When we arrived, his face fell as he saw the steep log-faced steps – he realized he could never do the stairs now. It was just a dream – a way back into those waterskiis, the warm duck canvas of the dock, the long long summer. I gave him that day, and he loved it.

  12. Deb Woerpel

    September 1, 2009 at 2:18 am

    I am new to all things computer – have never “blogged” before. Just want to thank you for being you – your writings, your GMA segments, your example! I have read both of your books, and re-read them! I have laughed and cried, remembering family health issues, the “joy” of aging, the college days of my daughters. Your words are validating and inspirational. Thank you!

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