Slow Down Now

Literally, I get to slow down now.  It’s Friday Night, the beginning of Shabbat.  I should be sitting at the dinner table singing with friends and family till midnight, not sitting out here in the middle of nowhere by myself, writing.  Well, this is my Shabbat celebration: to get to slow down enough to pick up my computer and do what I haven’t had time to do for the past eleven days: write.  I love to write.

Where to start?  I guess I could try to start where I left off: leaving Dad at the nursing home.  That was weird.  It’s even weirder because it’s actually happening.  It’s not, like, he went in there to get all fixed up and then came beaming out the front door, looking years younger, with a spring in his step.  No.

I go in there, trying to give everyone I meet on the way to his room a cheerful smile.  Smile, and the world smiles with you.  I see his room number: 110.  I know that’s where he and his sweet-tempered roommate will be.  I make the left turn into the room.  Lyle, the roommate, smiles and waves.  He beams when he sees that I have brought Noga the Lhasa Apso, who has appointed herself official therapy dog at the nursing home.

Dad is in bed, on his side, with his head and one arm hanging over the side.  His belly, black and blue spotted with the jabs of insulin needles, puffs out feebly from the gap between his shirt and his pants.  I pull his shirt down.  He opens one eye, not at all surprised, and says, “Oh, hi, Laurie.”  As if I had been expected to be in that spot on the stage, at that very moment.  Perhaps I was.

“Hi, Dad.  Are you comfortable that way?”

“No, I’m not.  Would you please call those box top girls to help me”

“‘Boxtop girls’?”

“Yes, you know the ones.  They’re in the hall and they say they have a button, but I don’t see, at least, haven’t found, whatever it is.”

“He means the aides.  I called them, but they haven’t come,” says Lyle.

“I’ll take care of that,” and I do.  Instantly two aides are at the bedside, pulling him into a more lifelike position.

“Would you like to sit up in your chair for a while, Norman?”

“Yes, I would.”

They help him stand and walk the six steps beside him, help him turn and sit.  This is not my father.  This is my father.

Wheel him over to face the chair I’ve parked in, to keep out of the way.  We look at each other.  Start a conversation about….something…..his eyes droop, head drops to his chest….asleep, in mid-sentence.  It happened all the time when he was at home, too.  It’s just that….in this stark-real place, it seems so….pathological….when before it had been just normal, for him, at this time.

Where are our special Mondays and Wednesdays, when we get to have six whole hours just for us, for me to make you sardine sandwiches, ugh, on bread lightly toasted, onion sliced thinly layered, tomato, and you used to like one small piece of lettuce on top, but not anymore.  And after your sandwich, a piece of fruit.  An apple, a tangerine, whatever was good.

Then maybe you’d need a nap, and maybe not–but your eyes kept an eye on your watch–is it four yet?  Four o’clock—le’chaims!  Scotch, sipped neat out of little cups he made for the purpose years ago.

This Wednesday I took a flask of Scotch and our special cups, and arrived at the nursing home at four o’clock.  We would have le’chaims!

Room 110 only had Lyle in it.  Lyle told me they had taken him to the Therapy Dining Room for dinner.  Dinner?  I thought that was at four-thirty.  Honest, they give them dinner at four-thirty.

I had not been to the Therapeutic Dining Room before, although I knew they were working with him on eating issues (I never noticed any issues with eating the sardine sandwiches I made him, other than they fell apart usually, but every sardine sandwich will do that at some point).  I found my way there, though, and it was nothing more than a couple of card tables pushed together in the middle of the physical therapy room.  OK.

Dad was seated with his back toward me.  He was trying to have a conversation with the gentleman across the table from him.  Neither of them speak normally, but when put together it just sounded like two people having a normal conversation in a slightly foreign language.

I walked up next to Dad and said “Hi, Dad!”  He halfway turned to me and said, “I’m busy now.  I’m eating dinner.”  And turned away.

I was not sure what kind of emotion to have.  One part of me was hurt-little-girl, the other part was, OK, he’s creating boundaries, and that’s empowering for him in this disempowering place; and he’s used me for a testing point for his boundary-setting, because he knows me.  So I decided to take it that way.

“What time is dinner over?”  I asked the Dining Therapist.

“Five-thirty.”

“Hour and a half.  Too long.  Seeya, Dad.  Here, let me kiss you on the head.”  Smooch.

I also have boundaries.  They are reasonable.

The next day is Thursday.  I have therapy on Thursdays, an hour and a half away to the nearest city.  I use the day to go have coffee, shop at Whole Foods, buy stuff for Shabbat, eat at the good Thai place.

Thursday, my mom calls me, says Dad wants to talk to me.  Why didn’t I come today?  Because it’s Thursday, and I always go to town on Thursdays, right?  Right.  But you weren’t, yesterday, right?  Were you, did I?  Was I mad because you chucked me out of the dining hall?  Of course not.  Did you hurt my feelings?  Excuse me, but I have known you for a long time.  You’re my grumpy old man, remember?  Laughs.

But are you going to come?  Tonight?

I’m sorry, Dad, but I will be getting home too late.  It will already be dark.

Oh.  Tomorrow?

We’ll have to see, tomorrow.  I have to take Mom to the oral surgeon to get her tooth pulled, remember?  And it all depends on how that goes, whether I can get back in time to come or not.  And then Saturday is Shabbat, so it might be Sunday until I can visit.

Oh. OK.

I feel horrible.  Whose fucking idea was this?

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37 Comments

  1. im so sorry for your pain. i do know how hard it was for you to not be able to visit your dad, especially as he was aware enough to talk to you! it is hard to stop ones life and it is hard to let a person go. sometimes we cant do both. and we feel badly no matter which is left to do. you are doing your best, and that is all that you can give. take care.

    Reply
  2. What a position to be in. I wish you strength.

    Reply
  3. So sorry Laura, it is so difficult maneuvering through this time. Prayers for you and your Dad.
    Blessings, Susan x

    Reply
  4. Oh, that guilt. My mother is in a rehab facility now, over an hour away, and while I visit her as much as I’m able, to me it’s never enough. Whenever I’m not there, I feel I should be. We are torn in so many directions, all the time. Thinking of you a lot, and I think you are an amazing daughter.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Janet. I know that guilt, and it must be so much harder for you, being so far away. I think I would go crazy if I had to deal with that. Sending loads of love and strength your way xoxoxo

      Reply
  5. savemefrombpd

     /  February 1, 2014

    Tough stuff my friend.

    Hang in there. You’re a great daughter to your parents. You really are.

    ST from me.

    And hugs.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Metukah. I’m trying to hang in and not just fall completely apart. But I don’t want to carry trauma either. I hope this doesn’t drag on forever, for anyone’s sake. If this is his last tikun, beseder, let’s get it done and go on to the next thing.

      Thanks so much for being here for me. It means a lot. xxx. ST ChT

      Reply
  6. Scorpio Scribes

     /  February 1, 2014

    *hugs*

    Reply
  7. I so understand the burden of time it takes to visit, the planning, the driving, the parking, only to be kicked out 10 minutes later. So frustrating, like life revolves around the visit.

    Reply
  8. I hope that your Shabbat had a little menucha in it, Laura. You gave your Dad a gift by respecting that boundary, but I am sure you know that already. You are a wonderful daughter.

    Reply
  9. All I can say is HUGS! BIG ONES (my rib is eh, a little better).

    And four-fuckin-thirty? That’s some Georgoe Washington shit (no seriously, I remember reading something about him having his dinners at that time ha).

    I MISSED reading you. You are, as rabbiadar said, a wonderful daughter. Besos y fuerza

    Reply
    • Oh boy, abrazos! I’ll let you give them, for obvious reasons, but I will delight in receiving. George Washington??? Jeez, is that one of the stupid-ass facts they make you learn in order to get your green card? “What time did George Washington have his dinner? a) One a.m. b) Three p.m. c) Four-thirty p.m., precisely d) Who gives a shit? e) none of the above f) all of the above” You can see that one of my jobs in grad school was making up test questions. Love back xoxoxo

      Reply
  10. This makes so much sense to me. It’s a path I’m on with my mother right now and it’s really hard going. It’s so hard to find yourself swapped into the ‘parent’ position. Weird, even. Especially when you don’t know where it’s going to go next and how long it will last. I know it’s a rough road. In NZ we have a Maori saying that is ‘kia kaha’. It means ‘be strong’.. I hope that for you, although I hope for both of us that there will be times somehow when we don’t have to be the strong one.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear you’re in this unenviable place with me. Yes, the parent-child reversal thing is hard to wrap one’s head around. Dad is trying so hard to maintain the shreds of dignity and even authority that he used to have. Autonomy is out the window, and he’s feeling it, even if he has a hard time expressing it most of the time. You’re so right, not knowing what, when, how long, how. And when we get to put aside the face of strength we are forced to wear now, it will be a sad day. Although this is a hard time now, I’m not looking forward to being relieved of it.

      Reply
    • You know, it is one of those funny things. As I get older, I’ve been thinking about this, the parent reversal thing… And I find myself thinking that in a way, I am lucky I won’t have to deal with that (not because I don’t want the inconvenience but because of the emotional pain of watching them struggle). It’s kind of a twisted thought cause really, who wants their parents dead so early but I guess in the end, it is always a good thing when something good can be had…

      I am dreading the time when my kids will have to do the reversal role, though. Even at my age, my daughter has had to do so already and it is so unfair for her.

      Reply
      • I really don’t blame you for being glad not to have the “aging parent thing” looming over you. While I don’t know anything about your particular family dynamics, I know the feeling of dread for my son, thinking about my disabilities and increasing debility, and how much I don’t want to saddle him with that. And on the other hand, if I did what I really want to do, which is euthanasia before I get to the point where I lose my independence and dignity, how will that affect him? Which would be worse?

        Reply
        • Those are exactly my thoughts. I know that my children would take care of my more than gladly but I don’t want to burden them. They already have strict orders not to keep me on life support should an accident happen. Which reminds me, I need to do my will, just in cases 🙂

          Reply
          • Yes, I have a Living Will/Advance Directive that states I do not want any form of life support. I am thinking of getting a DNR bracelet. Nice topic, eh, but we have to think about these things and act on them so our children don’t have to make agonizing decisions on our behalf.

            Reply
  11. aaaaaaaaaaaw 😦

    I don’t have parents but I can imagine that has to be hard. It is a terrible thing having to see your loved ones going away little by little like that. Such is life I guess but it is still hard. HUG

    Reply

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