After 30 years of retirement, I found myself once again working as a D.S.S. (Derriere Sanitation Specialist). In other words, I was back to changing diapers, only this time it wasn’t some sweet little baby – it was my 95-year-old father.
When my dad moved in with me in 2011, I knew there would be challenges for both of us. For him, it would be his complete loss of independence and the agonizing feeling that he was a burden. For me, it was the constant fear of making a mistake. Our time was limited, and I wanted his remaining days perfect.
All went without a hitch the day he arrived – until the caregiver left at 4 p.m. Then, I was in charge. Not only did my father need to be spoon-fed, medications administered and helped with his tooth brushing, but there was also that stack of Depends sitting next to his bed.
Standing over his crippled body, a powerful, cascading avalanche of fear crashed down. When I flunked with my first child, Michelle, my mom swooped in to the rescue. Now I was all alone.
Knowing his daughter was about to see him in his entirety, my poor father’s body stiffened and his face shriveled up like an apple doll drying too long in the hot sun. Hoping to make light of the situation, I giggled, “OK, Dad. Close your eyes and just think of me as some cute nurse. This will be over in no time.”
After detaching the plastic strips, I guided him onto his side and yanked off the old underwear with no problem. I struggled to get the clean one positioned just right. After several frustrating minutes that felt more like a lifetime, I was sure I had it.
Rolling him over, I easily fastened the left side, but when it came to the right, there was a gaping hole between the two ends and a huge expanse of white skin exposed.
“Now what do I do?” I cried inside.
Sweat dripped down my body like some form of Chinese water torture. The thought of redoing the entire thing became overwhelming. Not knowing what else to do, I quickly ran for the bolt of electrical tape and secured him back together.
“Dad, I’m so sorry,” my lip quivered, tears dribbling down my cheeks. “This will hold you together for now. I’ll get it right tomorrow.”
Smiling sweetly, he said, “Honey, you did just fine.”
His words hugged my heart as I left the room. I’d wanted each day to go smoothly from start to finish. Being my idiotic human self where blunders abound was not part of the plan. But I remembered his gentle words when I was too hard on myself.
“Your life is all part of a beautiful universal plan where God makes no mistakes,” he said. “The error comes in not seizing the opportunity to learn from your mishaps so that you can reach your highest potential.”
I know I’ll always cringe when I think I’ve done something stupid. Old habits die hard. But with each new faux pas (and there will be many), I hope to grab the opportunity to learn something new and spectacular.
The best classroom we ever attend is the one we wake up to each day – our life. Diapers, electrical tape and all.