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.
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.
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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