Monday, November 9, 2009

To See Ourselves As Others See Us

We may get old, but inside our heads we must not always see clearly that we are.

The other morning I went to the nursing home early to help feed my Dad his breakfast. He can't walk anymore and he can't feed himself and after he has been showered and dressed, the nurses wheel him into the dining-room-for-the-distressed, where he must then wait for his meal and the help he needs to eat it.

After I arrived, my father's roommate was wheeled to a spot just across the table from him. Bernie is my father's approximate age and spends most of his time in dialysis. When he was placed at the breakfast table he promptly fell asleep.

My Dad raised his ancient, shaking finger and pointed at poor Bernie, snoring away, and then Dad rolled his eyes. "Look at that old guy," he said.

As opposed to you? The young guy here? I had to smile, because my Dad was also smiling.

On that particular morning, my father told me we were in Al's Barbershop and Al must be giving away breakfast to his customers while they waited.

"I'm sick of this," he told me. "All I wanted was a haircut." Still, the breakfast appeared to be free so my father, always both a thrifty and hungry person, partook heartily.

One morning he asked me if we were eating a "full English breakfast." I didn't know what to say, so I just nodded that we were. "But, have you told them we are one-hundred-percent Yankee?"

He's from Alabama and he only claims to be a Yankee if he finds himself on foreign soil. Like London. Or New York City.

When the nice young lady who serves the meals in the dining-room-for-the-distressed appeared with a warm hand towel for my father at the end of his meal, he winked at me.

"He knows how to buck for a tip," said Dad, getting his genders mixed up as he frequently does these days.

Yesterday I took my mother to the nursing home to see Dad and he was so excited to see her that they sat for a while holding hands near the nurse's station at the end of the hallway.

Mom and Dad together at Dad's skilled nursing center.

One older lady, whom I've described previously as Mrs. Anglo, sat nearby, dozing in her wheelchair.

My mother nodded her head toward Mrs. Anglo.

"Every time I see her, she looks thinner," she said. This from my mother, now so thin you can practically see the light through her body.

The good news is that in both my parents, the will to live on is extremely strong. And the feeling of youthfulness prevails, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

On Saturday my father was complaining about doing his physical therapy and we couldn't seem to talk him out of his bad mood. Then I wrote on a piece of paper for him:

"Are you through with life?"

He read it. And then without looking at me, he hung his head. Was it disgust that I would ask? Was it shame that I thought he felt that way? I don't know.

He looked up and me and smiled. And then he shook his fist at me.

And then he did his PT.

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Thad said...

Reading your narrative is a tender way to start the day. Each of your entries is more compelling than the last, as you help us to join you on this sad journey. What hard days, Robin. You are handling them SO well.

Robin Chapman said...

I must say, I enjoy thinking and writing about it a teensy bit more than living it. But my father isn't sad and that's the best part of all this. So, most of the time I'm not either.

lflarson said...

Very well said by Thad and by you in your reply. Hang in there...your Dad sure is! Leslie

Laura said...

I've enjoyed (not really the right word) reading about you and your father. How wonderful for him and your mother that you are there with them. And how lucky for you that you are able to share these times with them.

Most people in my family live well into their nineties, with more than 3 over 100. Sadly, I lost my father in 2000, just after he turned 67. My last conversation with him was on the telephone a few days before he passed on. We both knew he was walking a tightrope between life and death, so it was a very intimate, loving chat. I had tickets to fly to California from NJ, but he just couldn't hold on another day.

I know it can be exhausting taking care of your parents, but treasure every moment. Later on, you will be glad you did.

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks so much Laura. I'm glad I'm here now. Dad is very ill and I've begun to plan his funeral. I know my mother couldn't manage it, so I'm relieved I moved back to Los Altos in time to be of use.

Jack said...

Hi, Robin. Sometimes people who've accepted their passing withdraw, first from neighbors, then friends, then family; they sleep more, delving deeper into themselves as part of the transition. Your father is still engaged; he even has the ability to kid with you, vital and a little feisty to the end. Each journey is its own, and most importantly of all, as you note: He knows he's loved. Too many in their later years waste away abandoned and alone. Not your father.

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks Jack, you are so right. Dad is still engaged. A couple of days ago, I walked in on him when he was sleeping and he was talking to himself saying: "Please make me feel better tomorrow, please make me feel better tomorrow." So I know he is not quite ready to leave us. And he is still funny. When I saw he was better yesterday I patted him on the back and asked him how he felt: and he read my lips and said, "How do I feel? Fine. Except somebody is pounding on my back."