I hope this post brings back my positive voice. I’m looking out on the green after a beautiful long needed rain shower. I have not written about my parents or myself for so long that I feel I will lose this voice and the memories if I do not begin immediately.
Today Dad and I heard an amazing sermon: five things God cannot do. I will not go into those now, save to mention one most relevant for today: God cannot undo what has already been done. I watch my father shuffle slowly with his walker into the service. People greeted him kindly and greeted me too. They know I’m on the tail end of a 3 week bout with some sort of bronchitis, and my father is on the tail end of a lifelong struggle with COPD and dementia.
I was overjoyed to be there and hear a positive message. I brought two sandwiches forban impromptu picnic afterwards- not quite al fresco, in the car with the windows rolled up against pollen. We watch the rain on the lake, the geese and their baby goslings and the ducks and their ducklings. He seemed very content. I know how important it is for him to get out of memory care and do something in the real world.
Still, there was a diminishment about him. He doesn’t talk much anymore. Sometimes we have good conversations but they’re never as long as I want. It seems they only last for 10 minutes or so. Afterwards he wanted to go to the library. And he’s waited a week to do this. I took him, but we could not check out any books because it was a different county. They told us to go to another one. So I stopped to get an ATM cash withdrawal to pay a small fee we owed the library and then take him to the next one.
To my amazement, when I got in the car, he said “I’m sorry, but I am just so worn out after all the running around. I really appreciate what you’ve done for me, but I just don’t have the strength to go.” That was shocking to me so I took him home out of respect. I went downstairs with him as I wanted to hang some pictures on his wall.
Just last week he turned 89 years old. After a plea on Facebook, he received some 64 cards. They came from across the US , Germany and on Facebook, a greeting from a friend in El Menia. Egypt. When I shared that last one with him he seemed delighted. But, there’s something about him…the joie de vivre has left his eyes. I was attempting to hang up as many of the 64 cards that I could and I asked him where they were, thinking he’d put them in a box. He said “Oh well I threw them away.” I said, you cannot just throw away these wishes from people that really love you and miss you. Then, “…you’ll find them in the wastebasket in the bathroom.” Half of them were indeed there. I don’t know where the others are. Among the others was a poem I wrote 20 years ago in calligraphy. It was one of the best I have ever written. I have no other copies of it. I put it in a card for him but he says he doesn’t know where it is.
Everyone says that he seems fine. But in these moments lie the hints of the ravages of a dementia soon to come. Its effects, and what it will bring, we cannot even guess. As he sounds as if he is having another COPD flare-up, I admonished him when I left to be sure and call me and tell the staff if he felt feverish. Another bout of fever is all it will take to send him into full delirium again. He seems so unaware of this. And I know he doesn’t think about it or make the connection.
He looked at me helplessly: …”but if I have to leave here where will I go?” As if he hadn’t even thought that the next logical step is a hospital. I just looked at him and said “…well Saint Joseph’s or the VA. Dad if you’re sick you have to go.” That seemed to be enough and he said “okay.”
He had his Oxygen without any admonishment from me whatsoever. He put it on immediately on after returning to the room. As he almost never wears it I was secretly shocked by this-even though it was a good thing for him to do. I hope it is not too late. When I left I could still hear him wheezing horribly. I stopped the MedTech and asked that they look in on him and let us know immediately if he became feverish. The kind young woman assured me she would.
As I returned home I glanced up at the sky, for thunderstorm clouds are rolling in. Heavy drops hit the top of the car, sounding as if small pieces of hail are coming down with it. I marveled at how fast the storm had blown in and then when I raced through a deluge to get into the house, a clap of thunder hit so loud and so sharply that it sounded like the crack of a gun. I jumped almost out of my skin and looked around to see if there was any immediate damage. The radar shows lightning strikes 6 miles north west. I pray that nothing could happen to either mom or dad’s place to mess with the electricity. This is such a problem in this area.
Everytime I hear Dad’s raspy cough, I never know if it is going to be the last one. How will I even know it’s the cough that will deal the fatal blow? How fast can I act? I almost feel as if he knows he’s slipping, this is why he did not want to keep the cards, he did not want to be reminded of a birthday where he sat helpless in a room, afraid that if he went outside his lungs might betray him. Even before.
My father is a die-hard optimist. He always jokes about how he’s going to shoot for 105 because he’ll have parts of his body preserved. However, I really believe that somewhere in his consciousness, the reality of his situation is beginning to sink in.
The old Dad would have rejoiced that he got so many birthday cards and would have wanted to personally write everybody who sent him one. Right now he’s just not interested. Also as excited as he was about the computer yesterday, when I tried to show him how to use it, his voice was too weak to dictate effectively because of his cough.
Saddest of all, today he did not even ask me where the computer was, when I was going to bring it over next, and if I got the kinks worked out of the program. I honestly do not think he remembers any of it, and if he does, that he was not even interested enough to ask about it today.
I cannot even imagine the fear he has and the loneliness not only because of the disease, but he has to wonder what is going on with his memory. So frequently now he will say things like, we haven’t eaten at a Persian restaurant before I wonder where there is one around here? This was almost funny to me because we’ve been to so many Persian restaurants and so frequently, and each time he says it is the best one he’s ever eaten at.
Of course when you have grown up in poverty, all food tastes good, and you almost never encounter a bad restaurant. I am grateful for this as he is always so appreciative of wherever we take him. What a pity that he can’t remember any of.the meals he’s enjoyed.
I can’t help but wonder when the tyranny of this disease will make him forget whether he’s had lunch- whether he’s called anyone -and whether he’s supposed to go anywhere that day..
This, this year is the story of how dad’s book will get written-or not. All the heartaches, all the trials, and all the shared joys. This is the other side of his story…the back liner note of his novel. Today I gave him an old manuscript. I hope he gets a chance to look at it and voice dictates it next time he sees me.
Dad takes in the Chilhuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on the day of the opening, courtesy of wonderful friends Ned and Barbara Decoppet
I hope it brought him some rays.of.sun.