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Last Man Standing

 

What’s it like to be the last one standing? To be the surviving spouse, the last of your friends, the tail end of a generation. Who in your family is the survivor? For us, it’s my dad. And I’ve decided that distinction is a mixed bag of emotions, challenges and benefits.

My father has seen so much in his 92 years, living through the Great Depression, World War II and sweeping social changes. Not all he’s experienced has thrilled him, but he’s accepted change as best he can. Seeing family grow and the generations continue is certainly a blessing he’s treasured.

But being the last one can be tough as well. Aside from his 95-year-old sister on the West Coast, Dad has outlived his wife and six siblings. Most of my parents’ friends are gone as are his contemporaries in the church and community.

During Father’s Day and his birthday weekend, calls and visits from friends and extended family boosted his oftentimes sagging spirit. And so did car rides.

Among my father’s remaining joys are those rides around my hometown and the surrounding countryside where he hunted, trapped and fished as a boy. Those rides we take together around town can be emotional. Revisiting the past just seems to accentuate the loss for both of us.

On Dad’s birthday, we drove past my grandmother’s house where he and Mom married in a Sunday-morning service in 1948. The family who bought the house from my parents still lives there. The property is well maintained, and we commented on how my grandmother would love that the current owners value flowers and beautiful landscaping as much as she did.

Dad in front of my late grandparents’ home where he and Mom were married in 1948.

We continued driving to the outskirts of town alongside a beautiful river valley where he and Mom moved as newlyweds. The now-desolate house is still standing, just barely, with vegetation and vines creeping over rotting wood.

Then I suggested we go see the farmstead where family friends had raised three daughters and carried on a thriving family farming operation. So Dad directed me there without missing a beat. A relative is now working the farm, but the house and yard where I once played as a child have been abandoned. Ghosts of the past were everywhere—for Dad and me.

My parents’ wedding.

As we made our way back into town, we drove by all the houses my father and his crew had built in the late 1950s through the mid-1970s. I’ve heard the same stories about the houses and the homeowners again and again, but I don’t mind.

Even though I enjoy much of our visits, I often wonder why I feel so down when I’m visiting Dad. I used to think it was because I’m witnessing my father’s declining health. But that’s only part of it. The loneliness of loss affects me too. Have you experienced the same thing, or do you embrace memories as a source of comfort and happiness? Maybe I just need to look at it from a different perspective. Any advice?

Sometimes I can’t wait to say goodbye to those ghosts and return to my home, fun job, family and friends. It’s like a time warp—moving from the past back into the present. I wonder how Dad feels. He seems to find so much comfort in that past.

When you’re the last man standing, often all that’s left are memories.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 2, 2016 at 11:47 am | Posted by Eileen Lurvey

    Hello, I just found this blog. I have never written on one myself. Having just read several of your writings, I wanted to reply. They had an effect on me, even though I have many friends who continue to inquire and listen to me about my mom. She is also the last woman standing from her generation of sibs and in-laws, all my aunts and uncles. She is 93, much like your dad. I have been her right hand girl for some 12 years now, a real progression. The last 1 1/2 have been furiously filled with medical crises and mental decline. I have been her live-in help at her assisted apt (last summer for 2 months), then 6 months she was in memory care unit, then in my home 9 weeks this past winter and finally nursing home since April. She is 5 min from my house and I am there 2 and sometimes 3 times a day (if she experiences a distress that the staff cannot handle). I am not complaining a bit, but I do feel the drain. This morning I could not get myself there and laid back on the couch with the newspaper and dozed back off... I can go now. Just reading the blogs made me feel encouraged to continue the day. She is complicated emotionally, from calm and even funny to sometimes deep emotional pain that I can't fix. I am so much into her life, but also wanting to keep my own. So I will be back to see what is written here this month. Thank you for what you do. Eileen

    Reply

    • August 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      God bless you, Eileen. You have had a very long journey with your mother. Please take care of yourself. I'd bet that your mother would not want you to sacrifice your own health for her. And I hope she appreciates all you do. She is a lucky woman to have you for a daughter.

      Reply

  2. July 9, 2016 at 11:15 pm | Posted by Peggy Krason

    Georgene - Imagine my surprise when I was scrolling through FB and saw a picture of a wonderful elderly gentleman in front of our house! I wish we had been home when you took that picture so we could give him a tour. We have lived there since 1984 and we are only the second owners of our home. There are times when I can almost feel the presence of Mrs. Rola (sp?). The older I get the more flowers I plant! Lol! Please let me know when you're back to visit and we would be happy to have you and George over for a visit.

    Reply

    • July 11, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Hi Peggy, I did send you a private FB note letting you know I would be coming by. It may not have made it through to you. Knocked but you weren't home. Not sure Dad could make it through for a tour. He's pretty frail. But I would LOVE to see the house. And, yes, Grandma Rohla would be so thrilled to see the yard and all your flowers!

      Reply

  3. July 9, 2016 at 9:59 am | Posted by Juanita Camacho

    Hi Georgene, Thank you for sharing your beautiful story filled with the memories that both haunt and comfort you. I am so happy that you have the opportunity to spend those moments with your dad and create memories that you will cherish forever. I praise God I that my Dad is still with us and I thank God for the beautiful memories I have in my heart of Mom. Your story makes me wonder how my dad handles the loneliness even when he is surrounded by others I can see the loneliness in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I pray that he feels loved, appreciated, and valued however deep in my heart I know he feels he is a burden to his family. I don't know what to say or do that will make him feel better all I can do is continue to love him and help him as much as I possibly can. You have inspired me to go back to my hometown and visit the ghostly good times and sad times. Your story has reached the depth of my heart and I thank you for reminding us that we are caring for the greatest generation.

    Reply

    • July 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      I am glad you could relate, Juanita, and that the blog helped you. It sounds as though you are doing a wonderful job with your father. Being there is what our parents want the most. Have a meaningful time revisiting the past. Georgene

      Reply

  4. July 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Posted by Katherine Chu

    I can understand your sadness and the sadness of your Dad. I am the last one standing in my biological family. I do have several aunts still living though, which makes me feel less lonely for my parents and siblings. My own children don't really comprehend or understand why the family stories are so important to remember. I can see, however, that as time passes and age creeps up on them that they are wanting to know some of the family history. It is important to realize that our time on earth is relatively short and that what we experience in life is not really all that different than prior generations. We all work, play, help one another, and value family and friends as well as God and country. We just do things a little differently today than previous generations. We drive cars and ride in airplanes while they drove buggies and took steam ships but in the end, they struggled with finding a purpose for living as do we. I suggest that you write the stories down because you will want them someday and over time details get a little hazy. My children record conversations with their elders and that is a neat way to keep a record of the family stories as well. Thank you for this post and thank your Dad when you see him for the impact he still has on many of us.

    Reply

    • July 7, 2016 at 11:18 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Insightful as always, Kathy. Very true about how so much has changed throughout the generations yet much remains the same. I do remember that you are the last woman standing as well in your family. You know how this feels!

      Reply

  5. July 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Posted by Joyce Hamelin

    Georgene, what a beautiful story you have shared. Your love, commitment and dedication to your father is so wonderful. Thank you for sharing. My dad was also, "the last man standing". He had 12 siblings and when his last brother died, I could see my dad crumple. He would often say, "It's so hard to be last." He also would tell me and my siblings, to always remember, "You can't have a future without a past." In my younger years, that advice drove me crazy. But now, as I move in to my middle years, I totally get it. Those words bring me solace, as I look back on my own childhood memories, mourn the loss of one of my own dear sisters, who died too young, with breast cancer, my dad too, died about 6 years ago, some friends and even clients, whom I had grown so fond of have moved on in the life/death journey. I remember my father's words and think about all these people that I have loved and how they made a difference in my life. They taught me so much. They had a huge role to play in forming my "future" and my present. We often grieve for times gone by, for loved ones we miss so much. What you seem to be experiencing is- or can be referred to as "anticipatory grief". You have an inner- knowing, that your dad's life is finite and you are already grieving for him, because you love him so much. If you can go with those sad feelings, let the tears flow and actually go through the valley of anticipatory and then actual grief, you will come out on the other end, you will be stronger and your father will be so very proud (as I'm sure he already is) of how resilient you have become - because, he is a part of your history that forms your future. God Bless. Joyce

    Reply

    • July 7, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Thank you for sharing your story as well, Joyce. Your advice is good. It helps to have the support of so many who have gone, and are going, through the same thing.

      Reply

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