“A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.”

— Novalis

My dad is 91 years old.  Ask most any little girl, and she will tell you that her daddy is her hero.  I am no longer little, and it has been years since I have called my father, “Daddy,” but he remains my hero in spite of — or because of — all the years we have shared on planet Earth.

It has been years since the onset of my mother’s dementia.  How many years?  Honestly, it’s kind of a blur.  It feels like forever; but I still can remember the sound of her voice as though we had a heart-to-heart talk only yesterday.  It’s easier to let that memory live vividly in my mind than it is to think of the abortive attempts at phone conversations for the past several years.  I always end up in tears after Dad puts Mom on the phone with me — tears for the loss of her wonderful mind and wit and sense of humor; selfish tears of a daughter who wishes she could seek her mother’s wisdom and advice just one more time; tears for my Dad, who feels he has failed the love of his life by seeing her slip away and not being able to rescue her.

My mom and dad have had a wonderful life.  In July, they will mark sixty-eight years together — years of love and romance and building a family and a business together, years of enjoying their shared passion for singing and dancing, years of knowing at the end of every day that they were meant to be together.  Forever.

Forever has taken on a whole new meaning lately.  As mom slips farther and farther away and Dad is alternately raging and depressed with having no control over his life any more, he no longer looks in the mirror and sees Mom’s knight in shining armor.  He sees only failure.  Failure to hold onto their ability to communicate.  Failure to rescue Mom from her isolation and distress.  Failure to be able to change what cannot be changed.  He wants to be her hero, but in his mind he comes up short.

I wanted to take a moment today to recognize the hero who is my dad.  He frustrates me with his resistance to accepting help.  He saddens me when I watch him spending what little life remains to him in a state of exhaustion and sadness rather than letting someone help him care for mom.  But when he finishes his laundry list of complaints for the day and says, “but you know, your mother is the most beautiful ninety-year-old woman you’ve ever seen,” and the love behind his words shines a small ray of hope, I want to tell him that heroes do not always ride triumphantly into town with a parade and a flourish.  Sometimes they just hang on for one more minute.

My Dad is my hero, one minute at a time.  Even if Mom can’t see that any more, I hope he can look in the mirror and be proud.