How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day in the Land of the Lost..

Sunday, June 16 2013
            It is Father’s Day and my dad doesn’t even know what day it is. I visit him at the V.A hospital and when I kiss him and tell him “Happy Father’s Day" he tries to say it back to me like a greeting that perhaps he has forgotten.  He barely gets the word “happy..” out before the disconnect between his brain and his vocal cords short circuits leaving him puzzled and frustrated.  When my lips touch his cheek I can smell my daddy underneath the chemical soap they wash him with. He has been freshly shaven for Father’s Day, as have all the vets on the floor.  Dad’s dinner tray arrives. Mom places a nice clean towel over dad like a bib. She chops the chicken into tiny pieces. I pour milk into his mashed potatoes to correct the over dryness of the spuds.
            Staff  seem a bit short today.  Mom is taking care of dad. I go in search of my own to take care of.
            There is Mr Couey in his wheelchair, who many years ago served in the U.S Army. He speaks in one word communiqu├ęs. His eyes bright, yet he can’t open the Frito bag. I open the bag for him and place two chips in his  hand. He eats and I place two more chips in his hands.  This goes on until the entire bag is gone. He is thirsty and I offer him grape juice pierced with a bendy straw, He places his lips on the straw and in one long sip he manages to drain the cup dry . He ask for another. I slip a straw into a fresh grape juice, guide  the straw to his lips and again a miracle as the grape-juice disappears in one breathless sip. I push thick frosted chocolate cake into his mouth and he makes a pleasing sound as the chocolate hits his tongue. We develop a rhythm: two bites of chocolate cake, one sip of cold milk. He doesn’t want the peas and carrots, just the chocolate. The chocolate that brings forth memories of boyhood and romance and home.
             I move to Mr. Harrison, He is very hard of hearing. He sits alone in his wheelchair at a round table. On the table is a smorgasbord of food: peach pie, sloppy joe, vanilla ice cream, grape juice, milk, ensure,. His  eyes grow wide as he states loudly, “This is a whole heap of food!” I offer to assist him and he yells, “What? I can’t hear!” I tell him my name is Teri, then I repeat it louder and I see the perplexity furrow his brow. When I say my name again even louder, he finally hears me and gives me a shy smile.  I sit and feed him ice cream, then place a sloppy joe in his hand that will end up half on the lap towel and half in his mouth. When I wipe his mouth with a napkin he tells me “Thank you’. A thank you I don’t deserve. I should be telling him “Thank you”.
             Then there is Mr. Fuddell. He sits at a table by himself, a red, white and blue patriotic hat perched on his head. He shows me the watch he is wearing and I tell him it is very nice. I sit slowly beside him and ask if I can help him. He nods his approval. The fork I am holding makes its way back and forth from mashed potatoes to banana pudding. He wants one bite of one and then one bite of the other. Occasionally a sip of milk is called for, but it’s just baby sips. Mr. Fuddell is much too entranced by the banana pudding. As I leave to go check on Dad, Mr. Fuddell grabs my hand, brings it to his mouth and looking all the world like a gallant, noble, black Knight, he gently kisses the top of my hand and whispers, ‘’Thank you.’’
             I go back to where dad has finished eating. He is very tired a lot lately. Constantly slipping off into sleep. I don’t know if it’s the medications they give him or what- all I know is that he isn’t crying all the time, he isn’t angry and agitated, he doesn’t get frustrated anymore. He sees me and smiles and then nods back off to sleep in his Gherri chair. Sometimes while he is dreaming he smiles...
            He is losing muscle mass at an alarming rate. When I wrap my arms around him it feels as if the muscle, the tissue, the skin that  holds him together is slowly disappearing. I sing, “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and this elicits a smile of remembrance and joy from him. He even opens his eyes and looks straight into my eyes as I sing. He remembers so much more than people understand. He still understands societal “niceties” and will greet  newly introduced strangers with a smile and a brief nod of his head in their direction. My father was always a gentleman, and he continues to be one even as he is losing himself to Alzheimer’s.
             Mama dips her head on the table and cries while dad sleeps in his Gherri chair. I want to weep, to grieve, but I can’t do it in  front of mom. I’m the pragmatic, strong one, although I am still a wee bit confused on who cast the ballots for the roles each family member has assumed during this journey of losing my father. Maybe the roles are assigned based on the way a person grieves. Maybe I am reading too much into it and in the end it’s all happenstance and blasted default.
            My dad has been busy unlearning: he has unlearned how to read, unlearned how to play guitar, unlearned how to form a thought into a sentence, unlearned how to dress himself, unlearned how to feed himself. But he has not (as of yet) unlearned how to love my mother. It is the one thing he has that still connects him to this life. When his eyes focus on my mom he smiles and pulls her in close for a kiss. He tells her that he loves her. Tears run unashamedly down her cheeks and she tells him that she loves him. They kiss again. A slow, tender kiss meant to last the ages. I turn away because it is almost too intimate a scene for their child to witness, even if I am grown. The moments are too private, they are not meant for other eyes. Just as grief is private, so are these kisses.
             I go home, find a dark corner after my dear husband has gone to sleep, and I finally let the tears out, the sadness. I touch my broken heart and can feel the shattered edges pressing under my skin. The shards that cut and cause so much pain. And I try not to remember how Dad used to be- that blade cuts too sharp. Maybe after all of this is over my skin will be tougher, the old memories will bring smiles, and if I sit very still and listen very closely I will  hear my father telling me, “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay. You can cry now. I’m here”.
 I just need Daddy to tell me that it’s all going to be okay and make me laugh again..                                                  


  1. Oh, Teri, What a powerful writer you are. I've got tears streaming down my cheeks. Thank you for what you do for your daddy and for all the Vets at the VA. You are a treasure.

  2. Why do you wait to cry until he is asleep?? You should not cry alone, my friend. Even you need a "real" shoulder, not us virtual ones.
    Perhaps you are aiding and abetting your role assignment :) just sayin...

    1. Yes, I am probably guilty of "aiding and abetting".

      I do cry on my dear Jim from time to time, and he gives me huge shoulders to lean on, but sometimes I just have to cry alone where I can wrap myself in a place of no explanations or words. Just me,the dark, and the quiet. But you are right.. I really need to learn to deal with my grief in ways that aren't so private. One of my great character flaws is my unwillingness to allow others to witness me crying. I'll work on it..