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.’’
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.