I’ve been worried about Dad.

He’s having progressive short-term memory loss. He’s feeling woozy and dizzy. Of course he says he’s fine, but he’s not the most communicative person on the planet, so I worried there was more. Living half a continent away it’s hard to tell.

I arrived on a recent visit in high gear, ready to “do something.” But I found my stepmom coping. In fact, considerably better than coping. She’s taking on many roles dad used to be in charge of, and handling things. Many things!

Luckily for me there were a few projects I could help with, so I got to take some action. Knocking down wasp nests and dealing with house and yard stuff felt good.

But my dad had had enough when I started to replace a wall switch that was broken. He got his tools out and made it clear that he was going to do this one. I could be the helper. It was a job I loved as a kid, working alongside him as he sorted out mechanical and electrical stuff. I learned a lot that way. So it was sweet to be standing by again, holding the other screwdriver and some miscellaneous screws while he futzed with the wires.

A few times he lost the thread of what we were doing. “Are we taking this off or putting it on?” he asked at one point. “Taking it off,” I told him, and he was back to being the boss. We replaced an electrical switch and changed out an outdoor light. Outside I stood close behind Dad, hovered really, him unsteady on the short ladder but refusing to let me do it. It was terrifying, but also moving how determined he was to handle this.

Afterwards, he was tired out.

The next day we managed a walk around the block.

Again and again, I realized that my impulse to push him was as much about my own needs, and my own fears of what comes next, as anything that’s going on for Dad right now. Yes, he’s needing more help, and the time may come when he and my stepmom may need to make a change in how or where they live.

But on this visit, again and again, the action I needed to take was to breathe and stay put. The uncertainties of age are frightening, but they’re also somewhat slow and unpredictable. And my folks are managing right now. That’s something to be really grateful for.