There were times that I resented my dad for having moved so far away. He would complain of loneliness although he had made some friends up there. He would drop hints that he didn't hear from us or receive visits from us that often, but I often could afford to only go see him once a year and called him fairly often. Being lonely, I don't think it felt to him like it was often. I would miss him and tell him, but it wasn't easy.
Last year I swore Christmas was going to be the one I wanted my way. We made arrangements with my brother who lived even much further north in Maine than my father to meet in Portland (which is in the southern part) and stay in a hotel for a few days the week before Christmas. I had so many things going on for work, but made arrangements to go and worked my butt off to get everything in place at work and for our trip. Meeting in Portland was about a halfway point for my brother and dad to travel and for my husband and I to go.
We spent time together. It was a pleasure to see my dad there. He seemed more at ease and had a better time getting around (being more feeble and having more of a shuffle than a walk) than when we would visit him in his home. We got together in our rooms at the hotel as well as went out to eat a few times. Dad would eat well when with us, unlike when on his own. One restaurant we went to is called Cracker Barrel, which is a chain. The waiting area is a big store with all kinds of neat things. They sell a lot of things that you can't get anymore like certain brands of candy and other products. There are all kinds of unique gifts and clothing and these special rocking chairs they sell (something like you might see on "The Waltons" if you remember that show). This place had a special appeal to my father, perhaps because it was like a wonderland of yesteryear. He could reminisce, ect. He got excited when he found a big furry fleece jacket with a beautiful winter scene on it and was even more excited when he found it was half price. He bought it for me for Christmas. Although it isn't something I would wear all the time, it is something that I wear when I want a cozy feeling or to be snuggly warm. It also reminds me of his childlike excitement he displayed when he found it and picked it out. That is even warmer than the jacket.
When we sat down to eat, he opened his gifts. We stayed small this year for the sake of traveling. The gifts he liked best were a small photo album of some times we spent together in Maine the past few times up there and some blown up family shots in nice frames. When he opened one shot that my brother had picked out (mischievously to see my dad's reaction) that had my father in it with a funny grumpy look, his face lit up with a very warm sappy smile, which was unlike my puritanical stoic dad. I think he was on to us as we watched more intently with that gift than the other gifts. That smile was not what we expected. We wanted to tease him like he teased us, as was his comfortable way of showing affection. Don't know what made him smile about that photo, but I caught it as a digital image (can't say on film anymore.).
That photo's smile has carried me at times during my grief. He enjoyed those photos for a couple of months, as we were told by others that he would whip them out to show people proudly and happily. For his not being overly demonstrative, it meant the world to me to hear this. Near the end of February, he woke up at 3am and couldn't see. Although he had to go through several tests before we found out, it turned out he had a stroke.
Over the next few months he went into a couple of nursing home/assisted living type places. He was unable to care for himself up in Maine. Care and agencies that provide in-home services are somewhat scarce compared to the much less rural place I live. I won't talk directly about his death. There is no reason. It won't help what I'm writing. The only thing about his death that I wish to share is that we were with him, he knew it, and it happened during the 3rd week of May 2011.
I feel so good about that trip to Portland, Maine. About that smile. I am sad that I won't get the chance to do it again, but I have that smile in my memories and heart and a picture of it too. That sums up the whole visit. Although we enjoyed each others' company the rest of that trip, that smile is what stands out. Can't beat that gift.