Adventures in Caregiving: Dad’s off

Dad at Highlands Garden Village in the public garden he and Mom helped maintain.

On Friday afternoon at two-thirty, I parted with my 84-year-old Dad at security in Denver International Airport. I reminded Dad, ensconced comfortably in a wheelchair for the ride through the airport, to call me when he got to SeaTac Airport in Washington.

“I love you Dad,” I said, and bent over to kiss his cheek. “Thanks for everything you’ve done,” he said. I slipped the wheelchair attendant a five dollar bill, thanked him for escorting Dad, and they were off.

I turned and walked the other way, toward the parking garage and the mountains I would drive over on my way home.

I’d like to say that as I made my way out of the airport and drove west toward the shimmering line of peaks of Colorado’s Front Range of the Rockies the weight of a decade of care-giving dropped from my shoulders. That’ll take time, I think.

Dad and Mom at our house on a Christmas visit

I did think back on the day, my Dad’s last in Denver. That morning at the Westland Meridian where Dad (and Mom, before her death a year ago February) lived, I prompted Dad to say goodbye to his favorite staffers and residents. Everyone we met offered good wishes, and told him how much they would miss him. “Don’t forget you can always come back,” said one. Dad smiled broadly, excited about heading to Washington to live near my brother and his family, including five great-grandchildren.

“It’s nice to be loved,” I commented as we drove away with his suitcases tucked in my Subaru. Dad nodded. “Thanks for reminding me to say goodbye.”

The carousel building with colorful fall native grasses in the Plant Select Garden, Highlands Garden Village, Denver

We took a farewell tour of some of Dad’s favorite places on our way to the airport. First stop, the public gardens at Highlands Garden Village, the first place he and Mom lived in Denver. They joined the volunteer group maintaining the gardens there and continued even after they moved to another senior apartment building. As we rambled through, admiring the bright fall colors, Dad reminisced about the gardens’ evolution. (Thank you, Erica Holtzinger, for making the garden and the group so welcoming!)

The prairie at Denver Botanic Garden, a mosaic of grasses and wildflowers

From there we headed across the city to Denver Botanic Gardens, where we wandered the wilder edges, including Dad’s and my favorite dryland mesa and prairie gardens. We stopped to sit in the warm sunshine, bent close to look at the intricate details of fall flowers and grasses, listened for birds above the chatter of schoolchildren, and ate lunch at Offshoots, the gardens’ cafe.

When we left the botanic gardens, we headed east across the city and along the edge of the Stapleton Neighborhood, the redeveloped site of the old airport, to Bluff Lake Nature Center with its long views of downtown’s tall buildings and the Front Range, dusted white with the first fall snow. Dad and I walked the path down the bluff and turned upstream on Sand Creek to find seats on sun-warmed granite boulders by the stream with its line of short, fat Plains cottonwoods.

Dad “birdwatching” with my brother, Bill, and the five great-grands, Liam, Fiona, Porter, Colin, and Connor

We talked about how he and Mom explored Denver by bus and light rail (Dad’s worsening vision had made him legally blind before the move to Denver; Mom, colorblind from birth, had never driven), the places they found to watch birds, their trips to the mountains and Plains with Richard and me, and how much they had enjoyed their years in Denver.

Then we climbed the bluff to the car and headed for the airport.

Later, as I drove west toward the mountains, I thought about Dad’s next phase in Washington State, and blessed his spirit of adventure, and my family there for being excited about Dad’s arrival. As I turned off the interstate and onto the winding two-lane highway, headed uphill to cross the first mountain pass, I exhaled one large breath, feeling very fortunate to be headed home again–by myself.