Collecting Garbage with my Dad

While driving back from my second trip to the landfill today, I began thinking about how proud my dad would have been of his granddaughter and her ecological activities. Her choice to help clean up a messy environment would have been the same choice my dad would have made in the same situation. Then I began to realize two things; he may have actually encouraged her from the other side and he was still making his presence felt in my thoughts and actions. A way of joy moved through me as I recognized that even though six years have passed since my father’s passing, he was still taking care of us.

As my daughter and her roommate were driving around the countryside, they spied the mounds of trash atop the mounds of broken trees and limbs blocking the flow of the Antietam Creek. Believing they had to do something about it and remembering that they had a huge box of white kitchen garbage bags leftover from a Costco run a year ago, they set out to attack the garbage. My daughter and her friend then created an opportunity for me by picking up trash off this huge pile of debris in the nearby creek. While I was astounded by their stewardship and enthusiasm, I didn’t realize how their choices would impact me. Amazed by the mass of garbage bags filled by them, I was inspired to help them complete the process and intended to find someone to take the bags away to the landfill. After a day of unsuccessful attempts to get the local Universe to help us, I woke up this morning detertmined to cart the 50+ bags away, even if it was by myself with our half-size truck.
Determination was my dad’s middle name; essentially everything he did in life was driven by it. Even in the midst of his dementia, my dad still picked up trash on his one mile walk to church every morning. By that point in his life, plastic bags were forgotten as he filled his pockets with the cans he crushed, with fast food bags squeezed small and with paper cups smashed with lids and straws dangling. Dementia affects each person differently; in my father’s case, he continued the long rituals of his life; walking to church every morning for the 6:30 am mass, attending mass and walking the mile back to home regardless of the weather. I remember thinking back then about how lucky we were that our father’s habits were directed towards hanging out in church rather than in the local bars.
Even though my father could not remember who his children were or who his friends were or what time it was or whether it was day or night, he was still able to function on a minimal level. We were so blessed as a family that my mother could enforce limits on my father’s activities and that he would comply. Only my mother knows how much sleep she lost from random interruptions by my dad requesting that she unlock the door to let him walk to church. No matter what time it was, my dad was always ready to go to church. How wonderful for him to find comfort in the midst of his lost years within his church.

Many things were accomplished by the simple act of collecting garbage and I am grateful for being reminded of my dad and his values and seeing how these values have trickled down through our family.