Confessions

What Happens To A Memory – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 19

I spent an hour on the phone with my mother this morning talking about her visit with one of the boys who is in Florida to be part of a family wedding this coming weekend.

She related how much she enjoyed seeing him, how handsome he is, how loving and attentive he was, and how much she loves him.

She then told me that try as she might yesterday she just couldn’t recall any other times they’ve spent together. She knows they have spent time together (a great deal of it in the first few years of his life, before his mother died), but that she just can’t bring up any of the memories in her mind. She knows she loves him, but can’t remember doing anything important with him.

“What happens to a memory?” she asked. “How can something as important as that just disappear from your mind?”

Scientifically, there are explanations for what happens to our memories. Recent ones are stored in an area of the brain called the Hippocampus. How long they reside there is up for debate. But eventually the Hippocampus, after telling our brains how to recall that memory (the details of it that become embedded in our minds), the memory is then parceled out to the Cortex, where it lives on, although over time certain aspects of it can be revised or can even fade from our ability to recall it.

An alternative theory suggests that the Hippocampus stores ‘episodic’ memories, with layers of detail such as smell, taste, color, etc., while the cortex stores ‘semantic’ memories which are more steeped in factual knowledge than anything else. The Hippocampus might tell us that we lived in a brown, two story house in a row of houses with a rolling green field across the street where we spent many hours as a child running through the grass that rose up to our waists and chests and shoulders and beyond during the long summer months. We can still recall the sound of summer insects singing their songs and almost feel the warmth of the sunlight that streamed down from above and played with the tips of the grass shoots. Eventually this might be reported to another in much more general terms such as ‘There was a field across the street from my house. I used to play there.’ and little more.

Before the time when the written word became a more wide-spread form of recording and sharing events and history, people relied on the spoken word. Stories would spread from person to person, from village to village, passed down from generation to generation, so that the deeds and words of others would not wane with the passage of time. In this way, stories being passed to me by my parents, I know many things that otherwise I might not as they were never written down anywhere. I know things about myself from a time before I began to remember them and store them inside my own mind.

“I don’t remember my life before here, before coming here. I know I had a house, and I lived there for many years, but I can’t even recall what it looked like inside.” Mom said.

“Close your eyes, Mom, close your eyes and picture something in your mind and tell me what it is, with as much detail as you can.”

“I see a boy – he’s about five or six years old. He has dark hair. He’s sitting in a corner reading. There’s no one else in the room, but he’s just sitting there with a book.”

“That boy is me, Mom. You always said that when I first learned to read, anytime after that when you wondered where I was, you could always find me sitting in a corner, usually behind a chair, reading a book.”

“Yes – yes that’s right. I always loved that about you, that you loved to read as much as I loved to read – and still do. Do you?”

“Absolutely. I always have a book going.”

“Good. Then that’s something we’ll always share. Something we love about each other.”

“Then that’s your answer Mom.”

“My answer to what?”

“To what happens to a memory. Just like you said about your grandson being there and not remembering times you’ve spent with him, but you know you love him and enjoy being with him. Just like you pictured me just now reading in a corner and said it was always something you loved about me, my love of reading. That’s what happens to our memories. Even if we can’t recall them.”

“You think that’s it?”

“I don’t know for sure, but – perhaps we carry them in our heart as the love we feel for others, and that way they never really fade completely.”

“I hope you’re right, Son – but even if you aren’t, I think I like that, and I’m going to choose to believe it.”

Winnie The Pooh said, ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.’ Science might not know what happens to our memories exactly, but our hearts know what they know.

Even though memories may fade, love never will.

 

 

 

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Confessions

Acquiescence – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 8

My mother is in Florida visiting with my brother. She’s been there for three weeks. I have to admit that the ‘breather’ has been nice to have, but in trying to get her house ready for sale and for other reasons it’s not necessarily a complete ‘vacation’.

All my prior ‘Confessions’ have been about Mom, and about transitioning her to a new home near me due to her increasing physical challenges and encroaching dementia related issues. I don’t seek sympathy in writing about it, I seek release. Writing does that for me. However, right at the moment I’m not having day-to-day interaction with Mom while she’s away.

This ‘Confession’ relates to my Dad.

Last night my dad had his second cardiac episode in under a month. It wasn’t ‘significant’ enough to hospitalize him overnight, but the fact that it has now happened twice in recent weeks is troubling.

I spoke with Dad last night as he was refusing to go to the hospital and get checked out and treated. The assisted living facility he resides at contacted me and I asked to speak with him directly. He told me he wasn’t doing well, and I’d better get up to see him because he probably wouldn’t last the night. I said, ‘Dad you need to go to the hospital and get this checked out’. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t going to do it.

At first I felt myself wanting to yell. The fear of losing him was instantly in control of my mind and almost of my tongue. I told him again that I really wanted him to go to the hospital and get treated, and although I did my best to maintain control, I know some of my fear and frustration was evident in my tone of voice. He said no, that he wasn’t going to do it no matter what I said to him, and to not get ‘huffy’ with him. I took a deep breath and changed gears. I asked him, when I was not easily able to cajole him into going for treatment, what he thought would happen if it were a serious condition and he did not take care of himself. His response was, ‘Well, that’ll be it then….I’ll be gone.’

It was very matter of fact in the way he said it, and not at all unlike him to say it in this way.

Dad was born in 1931, during the Great Depression. He married at age 20, divorced at age 47, and married again. He and his second wife were then together until her death in 2005. Dad grew up in Brownfield, Maine. His parents were never even remotely ‘comfortable’ financially, but he hasn’t ever, to my knowledge, looked upon his upbringing as one of poverty and misery. When my parents split up he moved into what was his mother’s and step-father’s ‘camp’ in Windham, Maine and he lived there, first alone and then with his second wife. The camp was essentially two rooms, one open living space that was kitchen, living room, and bedroom and then another room that was used as a ‘bathroom’ and for wood storage to feed the monstrous cast iron stove in the kitchen. He lived there until he retired in his late fifties.

Dad was not in a financially sound place for retirement, but he scraped by and managed, just as he had for as long as my memory stretches. He made minor improvements and upgrades to the ‘camp’ when he could, and never seemed to be disappointed that the house wasn’t larger and more elegant. He had an old television set (no cable t.v.), a vintage washing machine (the old barrel type with the roller bars to wring out your clothing) and other equally vintage appliances, though they were scarce in number. After retiring Dad moved two hours north of Windham and put a used trailer on an inexpensive piece of land and resided there until his stroke in 2006. He never had a ‘new’ vehicle, but they were sound ones due to his being a mechanic. He dressed modestly, mostly in blue Dickies work clothes with the occasional flannel shirt or sweatshirt thrown in for good measure. He never seemed concerned with appearances, which in my eyes made him fortunate in never having to live up to anyone’s image of what he should be. He lived simply then, as he always had.

The way he lived was always a stark contrast to my mother’s wants and fears about having ‘nothing’. One of her siblings once remarked that she was not just reluctant to spend money…she was fearful of it. Over the years I’ve come to see that as being a very astute observation. Mom has said that she saw Dad’s ‘contentment’ with whatever he had as a weakness. I used to believe that as well. In the intervening years I’ve come to see it as an attribute in him. He isn’t educated. He isn’t refined. He is, and has lived as, just exactly who he is.

Dad seems to have always been content with whatever he had and wherever he was. Though he was likely not happy in his marriage to Mom for a long time before it ended, he did nothing himself to change it until she told him she wanted him to move out. He never tried to ‘move up’ at work, and as long as he brought home a paycheck, and he wasn’t starving, he was okay with it. He has had no ladder to climb, nor heights to aspire to. He’s a quiet man of quiet means. He always, in my lifetime, has been this way.

That said, and after my conversation with Dad last night about his reluctance to go to the hospital, I think my Dad is preparing to die. I think he’s reached a place in life where he realizes, despite his mild dementia, that it’s not going to get any ‘better’ really, or not significantly so, and so why try to prolong it? I think he has convinced himself that his ‘time’ is nearing, and decided to not fight it.

I can’t say that this puts me at ease really. It’s been difficult to watch my parents age and face the challenges, both physical and mental, that they are facing with their bodies aging and with dementia, but the thought of Dad being gone, is difficult for me. I feel like, due to all the years I bought into the one-sided concept of why the marriage of my parents failed and all the years of silence between Dad and me, I have only really had ten years of ‘Dad’, despite my being 46 years of age. We’ve had some wonderfully healing talks over time, and I’ve gotten to know him better than I ever imagined possible. Despite his seeming acquiescence about the stage of life he’s at, and the inevitability of his passing, I can’t say I’m at all ready for it.

I guess I’m selfish there. I don’t want to see him ‘suffering’ of course, but I also don’t want to lose him. Not yet.

I know that I cannot control any of this. I can’t force him to take care of himself…I can’t force him to want to live longer than he is prepared to live. I can’t influence his contentment with his lot in life, no matter what that is, because if I try to…I’m trying to change him to suit myself, and that’s not something I wish to do. I have to just prepare myself to handle whatever I have to handle. I have no other option. In the end the only one we have any control over is ourselves. I can beg and plead and cry and scream and reason and debate…none of it will make a difference…Dad will be Dad…and do what Dad wants to do. It took me 36 years to accept that about him and accept that that’s just who he is and how he lives and that he’s fine with it. Why would I try to change it now?

Thankfully Dad did, after we hung up, willingly go to the hospital and got checked out. They released him last night after determining that it was a cardiac event, but not at the moment life threatening.

As happy as I was to know that, the news from the hospital is not necessarily ‘great’ but not the worst case. Dad may need a procedure of some sort to treat whatever is going on with his heart presently. If it’s minor, he may agree to it. If not, I doubt he will get on board. That’s the reality of where he’s at presently. I can’t do anything about that.

There is, however, something I can do, for myself, and hopefully it will be of benefit to him as well. I already do this, out of habit, and will of course continue to practice it. When we finished speaking last night, and before he changed his mind and willingly went to the hospital, I made sure the last few words I said to him, in case anything serious happened, were the most important words to say.

I told him, ‘I love you.’

I believe that if these are the last words I ever speak to someone I care about, then no matter what, our journey is complete. There may be conversations we didn’t have, resolutions we never made, but when their time came, the last thing I said to them was that I loved them. It took me many years to say it to my Dad, and I think it took him just as long to say it back. It’s not that we didn’t feel it, it’s that we let our own baggage get in the way of saying it. Thankfully that is no longer the case.

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Miscellaneous

Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like A Package Of Fig Newtons (TM)

Today I visited my dad in the assisted living facility he has resided in since 2006. He was in good spirits, and it was nice to spend some time with him as I’ve not been able to with snow/snow days for the kids/being available for my mother.

The time we spend together is usually very pleasant and easy. We speak on a variety of subjects; we joke and laugh about things; and the time passes relatively quickly (to my disappointment). Sometimes Dad repeats stories I already know, which is a byproduct of his dementia, but for the most part the man is a wealth of information about Brownfield, Maine in the 1940’s and 1950’s. To drive Dad to Brownfield now he can navigate the area and direct you to various points of interest as if he was just there the day before. I enjoy the stories about his childhood, and even though he and Mom are long divorced, he even shares stories of their early years of marriage with no bitterness or resentment.

My time with Dad wasn’t always this easy. I chose not to have him in my life for many years; fifteen to be exact. I had no contact with him whatsoever for a long time. I was angry with him, and hurt by him, for his lack of understanding and tolerance in having a gay son. Truthfully he never outright rejected me. He never told me I wasn’t welcome in his home, or tried to ‘beat it out of me’ as I’ve known some fathers to do with gay sons. The hurt I felt came from him asking me, when I came out to him, what he did ‘wrong’….which translated, to me, as my father’s belief that there was something wrong with me…and it felt like my father, who was at the least ‘absentee’ as a parent during my childhood and following my parents’ separation, didn’t love me unconditionally. In fact it reinforced something I’d felt for many years – that my father just didn’t care about me.

I know this isn’t the truth. It took me many years to realize it, but my father has apologized for his choice of words when I came out, for being so distant in my childhood, and acting like, in his words, a ‘damned fool’. It healed so much for me, and was worth more than I can ever express to him. I apologized to him, in turn, for not trying to resolve it sooner – and for letting my wounded feelings keep us absent from one another for so long. I enjoy the rapport we have nowadays, as my dad is 83 now. It’s not as if we have decades left to us.

Every time I speak on the phone with him or see him in person, I always say ‘I love you’ to my Dad as I hug him goodbye. Sometimes he says it back; others he says, ‘Yup, okay, Dad will see you soon.’ It always feels good to have him say he loves me in return, but he doesn’t have to, really. I know he does. I know it in the way his eyes light up when I walk into his ward at the facility. I know it in the way he sits and looks at me as we visit. I know it in the way he hugs me with no reserve. I know it in the way that every time I visit he sends home a bag of crackers and candy and little toys he collects from parties in the facility and tells me to take them to the boys. But in truth the bag usually contains, in greater abundance than anything else, packages of Fig Newtons. They are my favorite cookie, and have been since childhood. I told him a couple of years ago how much I like them, and ever since then he’s never forgotten and stores them up in between visits from me.

I’ve learned to understand, via the repair and eventual enjoyment of my relationship with my dad, that there are people who are not fluent in their emotions – people who favor gestures over words – and people who you might think don’t give a damn who, if you look deeper, into their gestures, show you an abundance of love and caring in ways you just might not have noticed because it wasn’t the way you wanted it to be shown to you. Not everyone can be gifted with words. For some people the love itself is the gift they have for you, and you just have to learn to recognize it as it is given.

I know, without a doubt, that my dad loves me. I know that despite never having experienced a gay friend or (knowingly) a gay relative before me, he’s transcended that inexperience and anything he might have felt about it was long ago eradicated by the simple fact that I am his son, gay or straight, and that not being in my life was worse than being in my life, irrespective of what he felt about my life as I lead it.

I know that he cares, because my dad, who has almost nothing to give me now that he has ‘lost’ his home, his (second) wife, and his independence and shares a 10 x 12 room with another gentleman, an elderly Asian man whom dad refers to as ‘The Chinaman’ (and whom he likes more than past roommates), pays attention to the things I say and remembers well enough what my favorite cookie is, and makes an effort to supply me with plenty of them every time I see him.  Every package of them he gives me is an expression of his love, and I accept them as just that. For my dad, who does say the actual words every now and again, nothing says he loves me like a package of Fig Newtons.

This visit to dad also garnered the usual crackers and candy and small party favor toys for the boys. As I emptied the handled paper shopping bag of what I always call the ‘contraband’ Dad sends home with me, I came across what has to be (aside from the Fig Newtons) the absolute BEST thing he’s ever sent home to me. I don’t know if he was actually ‘given’ the item or just sort of found himself in possession of it by whatever means; but it gave me one of the best laughs I’ve had in a long time when I saw it. I am assuming it belongs or belonged to ‘The Chinaman’ (as Dad calls him). I’ll return it of course the next time I visit, as I can’t imagine someone parting with it. The picture is below.

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Thanks, Dad, for twenty individual packages of yellow foil wrapped fig filled love…and for the laugh about the probably stolen mug. You can’t imagine how they both brightened my day.

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Confessions

Drowning – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 6

For anyone that mistakenly believes I have my shit together even part of the time lately, just because I can sit and reflect upon events and write about them in a calm and orderly fashion – I apologize if I have misled you. Calm and orderly is not a reflection of my life presently.

The truth is, lately I have felt like I’m drowning. I’m behind on laundry – so much so that I’m throwing in loads at 5:15 in the morning on a Saturday just so the kids have something clean to wear. I have taken care of some of the Christmas decorations which came down on New Year’s Day. The cellar looks like a hurricane swept through due to my frantic, time-constrained search for what was put up for decorations this year, and boxes and totes lay all akimbo down there, mocking me and my Virgo nature that practically cries out for order and organization.

I haven’t yet succumbed to making boxed mac and cheese every night for the kids for dinner. I’ve fallen in love all over again with my crock pot, as I can take five minutes and throw in the makings of a dinner before leaving for Mom’s place, turn the thing on, and forget about it until it’s time to eat. I’ve become accustomed to three minute showers and gulping down one cup of coffee to at least keep from committing homicide in the morning and find myself wishing the dog peed faster so I could finish up that task and get on to the next one. Taking care of a house, two kids, and most recently my Mom has gotten to be three full-time jobs now….let alone taking care of myself.

I have, from the beginning of her living here, been trying to get her to socialize a bit more, to meet new friends, to find distractions and activities. She has made one friend who chats with her at least four of seven days of the week, and has been to visit at Mom’s apartment a couple of times. Other than that…I’m her entertainment, her housekeeper, her personal shopper, her medical appointment transport, frequent lunch companion, sounding board, etc., etc., etc. – Mom all but refuses to do anything unless I’m doing it with her.

I suppose I should insert a disclaimer here – I’m not saying I don’t wish to spend time with her. I’m saying that while I’m devoting time to that, everything else in my life is pretty much going to hell. My house is a mess (which causes me anxiety – I’m not spotless, but chaos is difficult for me), my laundry is piling up day in and day out – one of the boys is upset with their grandmother because I’m with her so much (taking me away from him) – and a whole host of other things that are falling down around my ears because I’m doing so much with/for Mom right now. I don’t resent it, I wanted her here. It would be worse if she were still two hours away with her two recent trips to the hospital. But I also don’t want to let everything else slide in the process, least of all my duties as a parent to be there with and for the boys.

So what do you do when your 83 year old mother who, less than sixty days ago, moved out of the house she was in for 48 years, all but refuses to socialize on her own no matter what you try to do to help her along, and at the same time you see your child hurting for and wanting your attention and know that while they ‘understand’ that you are with Grammy because she needs you…they need you too….and you aren’t there….that’s pretty much all that remains with them.

You get up at 5 in the morning to do laundry. You tell Mom you have to take a day off for some one on one time with your child. You leave the events of that day up to them, and go with the flow, and let them be your guide. You see the look of fear and disappointment in your mother’s eyes that you are telling her she won’t be going out the next day or have a visitor (unless she does something about it herself), and know that unless you follow this course, no matter how you hate to see that look in her eyes, she’ll never, ever do anything different unless confronted with a stark dose of reality hitting her right between the eyes. You see the sparkle in your child’s eyes when you set up your ‘one on one’ date with them and know that that one day, since you didn’t put it off and will honor even if you are bleeding out your eyeballs the whole time, will make a huge, huge difference in the child’s feelings about all the time you have to devote to his grandmother. You spend time with Mom the day before and consult with her visiting nurse so that you are up to date on what is going on medically, and have to send regrets to your cousin who put you on a very short guest list to her post-elopement reception even though you were likely going to get to see family that lives thousands of miles away and were so looking forward to attending. You have lunch with your other child as well, one on one, so that he doesn’t feel left out, even if you took him to his first Bruins game just a couple of weeks ago and had an incredible one on one night that hopefully he (and definitely you) will never forget.

What else do you do? You pick up things as you go along and don’t try to do it all. You decide, as much as it pains your Virgo nature, that some things really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, like the unfolded blanket hanging off the couch that one of the boys left; or the plastic tote of Christmas decorations in the guest room that will likely sit there another week until you hoist them up and take them to the basement. You completely ignore the basement and decide that if anyone asks, a hurricane DID come through, and fortunately the upper levels of the house were ‘mostly’ spared, and you’re waiting on the insurance adjuster to come assess the damage before you try to clean up.

You decide what tv shows you REALLY can’t live without, and cut back to three hours a week of programming at the maximum. You read because it helps you escape the reality of every day life at least for a little while. You blog, because writing is almost as important to your soul as reading is to your mind and sleep is to your body, and you know that to nourish all three: Mind, body, and soul, is vital to your well being. You recall the words of a wise person that if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of anyone else, and you jump back into the water day in and day out and take a few mouthfuls as you go down and rise again. You accept that you can’t do it all – and you’re only setting yourself up for defeat if you try.

You learn to tread water…and realize that you have the power to keep yourself from drowning if you just admit you are  not able to do everything….and you continue to tread water until you catch the wave that will bring you to the shore where you can take a deep breath and heave a sigh of relief.

Most importantly, you admit you’re human…not SUPERhuman…..and accept your limitations and reset your priorities accordingly…and you realize that in being able to take this step – to recognize that you are not letting anyone down, you are actually doing them all a favor by taking better care of yourself – because you’ll be better at taking care of them.

And what’s more…you’ve saved yourself from drowning already.

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Miscellaneous

A Visit With My Aging Dad

Yesterday I spent two hours with my dad, visiting him at the nursing home he has resided at for several years, following a stroke in 2006.  This event took him out of his home in Strong, ME and into an ‘assisted living’ facility.  Dad’s medical needs were more than my brother or I could provide when this took place, and both of us worked full time, so we had no alternative but to have Dad enter a facility to keep him safe and take care of him.

My dad is 82 years old now.  He looks only ‘slightly’ like the man from my childhood memories who had a beer belly and a receding hairline and wore blue Dickies workwear almost exclusively. He still wears the Dickies, despite my best efforts to get him into jeans and flannel shirts…they have all ‘disappeared’ and his Dickies made it out alive from the fiery pit I asked the nursing staff to be assured they found their way to.  I know they tried, but…he’s a clever one, my dad is. He found them before they were incinerated.

But Dad is also very frail looking….in a way that I’d say he looks older than his years.  He shuffles rather than walking….he has physical ‘tremors’ that are very noticeable…his face is a lot more ‘drawn’ in years past.  He’s aged…a lot.  When I walk into the nursing home he lives in to visit with him, it seems like each visit he appears to have aged another year, even if only a few weeks or a month or so have gone by.

My dad surprised me a few years ago and took it upon himself to tell me that he ‘likely was not my real father’.  Beyond the implications for my mom’s behavior back in late 1967 when I was conceived, it did ‘shock’ me a bit to hear it.  I learned after the fact that Dad was mad with me for not visiting for six weeks (it was a horribly busy time and trips to Maine were just not possible for a while).  I was at first ‘surprised’….then a bit angry, certainly, at potentially being deceived for so many years…….and then realized that at my age I know who I am,…I have a family of my own…I don’t need to seek out an identity or ‘other family’ to complete myself….I am me….and that is the only father I have ever known.  I have never sought out any ‘proof’ one way or another of his claim, but the receding hairline that ALL the men on that side of the family have is a big clue that it was just either anger, upset, or his progressive dementia speaking.  In the end, I don’t ‘need’ to know if it’s true or not.  I was upset with him for a while, yes, for going to this length if it was all just because he was upset with me, but….I gave up too many years with him to ‘anger’….I don’t need a repeat of it. I just put it in a good place for me, that of ‘I don’t care one way or another’…and moved on.

Before I went to see him this weekend, Dad had asked me to bring him an over the counter ‘medication’ that he is convinced ‘someone stole his supply of’.  Dad has dementia, which is getting worse over time, though most days (with proper medication) he’s very lucid, and retains lots of long-term memories as well as short-term ones, but he has a tendency to fixate on things.  He regularly accuses others of stealing things from him, and this was really just the latest for him.  I stopped and picked up what he asked for, brought it to him, and he asked me to also bring him some cough medicine before I headed back for home.  I agreed, and brought him back a small bottle of tussin, but also informed the head nurse of what I’d brought to him.

When I filled in the head nurse, she mentioned that he should not have the tussin as he would just keep taking it and not recall the last time he took it. I noted to her that that was exactly why I was telling her, because I did know that, but he has so many ‘no’ answers to things, I am trying to keep that at a minimum.  She noted that it should be kept at the nurses’ station, and I said ‘give me two minutes’ and went back to Dad and said, ‘You know, I kind of forgot that they have rules about cough medicine and stuff, because too much can make you sick to your stomach, so…..I know you want to keep it, and not risk it being taken by someone, but….I don’t want to be told I can’t bring you stuff here when you want it, and don’t want them to give you a hard time for something I did, so….how about we just play along and let them hold on to this bottle up at the nurses’ station, and you just tell them when you need it?’

He thought about it for a few seconds, then said, ‘Okay…if it keeps you out of trouble,’ and he handed it over without incident.

After seven years of seeing my dad struggle with the ‘rules’ in the facility he’s in….I’ve learned how to avoid most difficult situations, and talk to him in a way that makes sense to him, makes it seem like he’s doing me a favor, and still get what ‘everyone’ needs.  I also try to remember to ‘respect him’ for being an adult…and a human being…not just another ‘old person’ who gets cranky with people telling him no. It’s a balancing act now and again, but….it’s worth it if it provides minimal upset for him in a place he can’t just ‘walk away from’. I turned the bottle in to the head nurse, and she thanked me, and took a moment to speak to me about my dad.

She noted that Dad has been ‘fixating’ on these two things for some time now (the cough medicine and the other item he asked me for.)  She said he’s had a hard time the past few weeks, and she knows his mind gets ‘stuck’ on things and can’t get past them, and it makes it a bit difficult to reason with him. I was also told that there was no need to bring him either the first item he asked for or the tussin, that they had plenty of both on hand, and regularly gave them to him, and it was really just wasting my money.

I had to disagree with her.  I know she meant well, but…..all in all I spent about $23.00 in over the counter stuff for him. I agree that they should ‘administer’ the items to him, to meet their rules and regulations, but aside from that….this is a man who lost his (second) wife after 25 years of marriage.  This is a man who many people were convinced would take his own hunting rifle and ‘end it’ within a few months after she passed. This is a man who never had a checking account, or a credit card, of his own….didn’t grocery shop…didn’t place stock in doctors all that much…and yet he took care of himself after his wife’s death for more than a year before his stroke, with minimal outside assistance. This is a man who then had to give up his home, his friends, his very identity in Strong and learn to live with having a roommate at age 76….with having to dine with people who regularly take his seat because they don’t know any better…with having people wander in and out of his room and get into his things because they are convinced it’s their room….with having to ask for assistance with the basic necessities of life like bathing and going to the toilet.  This is a man who has given up nearly 100% of the life he made for himself and complete control over his medical, financial, and domestic arrangements…….and for $23.00…..he got just a tiny bit of ‘control over his own life’ back.

It was, to me, worth every penny.

I see so many people at this facility who never have anyone visiting them when I’m there. The faces don’t rotate all that much in this unit, and I’ve been visiting Dad whenever I can for nearly seven years now.  The residents sit and stare at the t.v., or the window…or the wall.  There’s very few of them who smile.  They gasp and whisper when I bring the boys in and say how handsome they are.  I know it’s probably the last place on earth a seven and eight year old want to hang out, despite it being their grandfather, but it brings him a small amount of pleasure amidst so much ‘unpleasantness’ that he now has to deal with….not only the ravages of age, but having to spend his final days in the last place on earth HE wants to be.  And yet he always manages to set aside some cookies, or a balloon, or some other ‘trinket’ he came across and sends them home for the boys.  It’s nothing fancy, nothing of value really, but for him it’s likely the whole world to ‘give something’ to his grandsons.  I never say no, no matter what it is.

I hate seeing my dad there, knowing how he dislikes it himself, and I always leave the nursing home sad and frustrated that even if my head knows it’s exactly where he does need to be, my heart hates to see him there.  I realize my final memories of dad will be in an overly-warm bleak industrial building that smells of urine and disinfectant, and that he will get more frail and more ‘old’ and probably won’t even know who I am, and will look at me like I’m this intrusive asshole who keeps trying to talk to him.

And then he’ll be gone, and I’ll never see him again.  I’ll never have the chance to talk to him and hear his stories about growing up in Brownfield, Maine and working for a railroad company and cutting school to go fishing. I’ll never hear any more tales of his stalking and murdering deer in the woods (my term for it) and his days as a truck-driver and mechanic and all the people he met along the way, and some days I just want to cry about it.  Some days I have cried about it.  I wasted so much time being mad at this man and have been blessed with the opportunity to speak to him about it, to explain what had precipitated it, and to hear him apologize to me for things said and done 30 years or more ago.  I have been blessed with the chance to finally rip off those scabs and see that the wounds beneath have been healed.  I have had the rare gift of emptying my heart to the man who made me, and hearing him say to me ‘I was a damned fool to say what I did, and I’m so sorry…you are my son….I have always loved you, and nothing will ever change that.’  I learned that no matter how I felt 30+ years ago that someone who was supposed to love me unconditionally and (to my mind) didn’t…..really did….that I never lost his love, and he never lost mine……we just lost how to express it to one another.  Fortunately we figured it out before it was too late.

There are years that I didn’t speak with him, and thankfully we have worked through all that, but it’s still not easy to visit him where he is.  I have had others say to me ‘Why do you go see him if it makes you unhappy?’ and ‘I don’t think I could handle it.’  The answers to these things are simple.  I feel sometimes like I can’t handle it.  But I can always leave…he can’t…..that’s what keeps me going back, beside the fact that I love him.  And as for it making me unhappy? It makes him happy to see me….it’s easier for me to find a way to deal with my ‘unhappy’ about it than to leave him there unhappy and nothing to do about it and nowhere to go. It’s not about me. It’s about him, and doing these small things for him.

All my shit about it I can figure out later.

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