Thursday, February 11, 2010

Living in Dad's Imagination

Dad giving the thumbs up to one of his nurses.

Dad was in a wonderful mood today at breakfast, a nice change from his grumpiness of the last couple of days. I didn't know at first why he was so cheerful, though that became evident as the morning progressed.

I never know quite where we are each morning, until he begins to talk to me. Sometimes, he tells me about a car accident we were in that burned up the car and how he was worried that I wouldn't get out safely. Yesterday, he told me about a house he bought that already had people living in it who didn't like the fact that he was beginning to remodel it. These, I believe, are dreams he's had that he continues to experience shortly afterward in his waking life.

Other times it becomes evident that he believes we are in, for example, the Homewood Dairy, an ice cream store where he once worked in his Alabama hometown. He'll tell me how he knows the owners so we are sure to be getting our food for free. The Homewood Dairy sounds like a lovely place--just the name has a cozy sound--and even though we are having breakfast, he always wonders when the ice cream will be coming to the table and what form it will take--sundae, soda, or cone.

Sometimes we're in Al's Barbershop, and Dad wonders why Al is serving breakfast with his haircuts. "All I want is a haircut, gosh darn it."

Today, however, was an especially happy day. Today, I gradually began to realize we were on an Army base at the end of World War II.

"The war is over," he said with a smile. "And we won!" Then he leaned forward a little conspiratorially and said: "That's why we can get away with not wearing our uniforms here."

Since Dad is deaf, and only speaks between the bites of toast and eggs I'm feeding him, the conversation is pretty one-sided. But today, that was definitely for the best, since I had a hard time anticipating where he was going with this end-of-the war scenario.

I made a happy face with my smile and mouthed to him: "I'm happy the war is over."

He nodded and said, as if apropos of my comment: "And I'm boxed."

I must explain that remark. It involves a very personal and private matter for the elderly but it does have its funny side. When my father had care at home, he often expressed a concern to the nurses that he might not make it to the bathroom in time and wet himself. Several of the nurses dealt with this by telling him they would "check his package" to make sure it was dry. His "package" stood for his adult pull-ups to which they added an extra pad.

Somehow, at the nursing home, Dad's mind transliterated the word "package" into the similar word "box" and now he frequently asks me--and just about everyone else--"Am I boxed?"

This caused great puzzlement among the nurses, until they caught on, and now they, along with me, always give him the okay sign when he asks about his "boxing."

He is very curious about this boxing thing and asks me about it frequently. "Is boxing just for the men?" he asks. I always assure him it is.

"How long does it last?" he asked me once. I held up two fingers--two hours I guessed, which seemed about right--and he let out a sigh of relief.

So this morning, when I said I was happy and he said he was boxed, I think he meant he was relaxed and felt safe. But he did add this curious detail:

"Though how they accomplished it so quickly, I don't know. They must have done it at the factory."

I started to think about a factory where men are pre-boxed and, I'm sorry, but I just couldn't keep a straight face.

I began to laugh so hard the scrambled eggs were falling off the fork. Dad smiled and seemed very pleased that I was having so much fun. I found some Kleenex, wiped away the tears and managed to get through the rest of breakfast.

We usually take a little promenade in this wheelchair after breakfast and today, when we stopped at the birdcage that contains the nursing home's resident budgie "Kiwi", he confessed to me he was a little disappointed.

"Why?" I asked him in pantomime.

"Well, I was expecting flags all over the place and a parade or something."

I gave him a salute and he saluted me in return.

"You're darned tootin'," he said.

Then, we saw a very tall, very thin, elderly man approaching us in his wheelchair, which he was well enough, unlike my Dad, to manage on his own. He was just wheeling himself out of the dining room when my father spotted him.

"Finally," said Dad. "A parade!" And he reached out and shook the somewhat startled man's hand and said "We won!"

"Not yet," said the man, perhaps referring to the wars going on in this century.

But all the stages of our lives have their compensations. My father's deafness served him well. He missed the irrelevant retort and smiled as the parade passed by.

The Colonel, giving his daughter a salute.


Jack said...

Hi, Robin. As always, it's fascinating and in this case, fun to read your notes about your Dad's new virtual life. I took a caregiver class a few years ago, and one of their instructor's comments was, "Join the journey." If your loved one thinks he's picking apples in Georgia, tell him they're delicious and go with it! I love the way you move with your Dad to each of his 'locations', on the fly. It's like reading about a dance. You and your Dad are good partners; he's very lucky to have the Belle of the Ball at his side. Seems like he knows that now, too.

Preston Benjamin said...

Robin, this is a wonderful article. I smiled when your dad transliterated the word package to box. It's moments like this that makes our day special at a nursing home. Although our loved ones may oftentimes be irritable and all, they bring joy that covers all bad days.

Robin Chapman said...

What lovely comments from both of you. I've learned to try to work well with my Dad, who, even with his dementia has a quick mind and a lively sense of humor and who can also be a terror, as he was before he became ill. When he's being terrible I can walk away, and he knows I can, so the balance of power is better now.

We had friends for lunch at the nursing home the day after I wrote that piece and my dad was explaining to the man, our friend Bob, and to his wife Vivian, how "boxing" works, and I was so fascinated to learn exactly what it entails that I almost spilled soup all over the place. I laughed til I cried, and he just made a gesture at me with his eyebrows that said "She's always been such a goofball," and that just made me laugh harder.

He is often heartbreaking, but he is never dull. I don't know what I will do without him.