Thursday, March 4, 2010

So Dispensable, That's What I Are ...

Dad holding that second child that turned up in his life (that would be Robin) in the front yard of the house he built with his own hands on Echo Drive in Los Altos. Looks like he just got the landscaping completed and I'm wearing my first real pair of shoes. He holds me a little gingerly: "I didn't know anything about what to do with girl babies," he later confessed.

Do you know the Randy Newman song "My Life is Good" in which everything in Newman's life is falling apart and he's trying to tell himself how well it is going? He brags about a famous musician friend of his ("And the name of this young man/Is Mr Bruce Springsteen!") and recounts how Bruce says to him:

"Rand, I'm tired/How would you like to be the Boss for awhile?"

I wanted to say that yesterday. Not to Randy Newman. But to somebody. How would you like to be the boss of my dying father for a while?

Watching Dad die has grown more wrenching each day. Two weeks ago he was looking and feeling good, at least good under his present circumstances, but now that has changed. He is yellow from jaundice as the cancer in his pancreas moves into his bile ducts and liver. He is more incoherent than ever. Slurring his words. Throwing up. Losing weight. Saying strange things about my mother. The staff has sent me to his physician for a morphine prescription.

And all this horrible weakness has the added overlay of the worst of his old personality. The bossiness. The sarcasm. The cruelty.

Yesterday, I called the nursing assistants to get him back into bed after breakfast, and, like a three-year-old (he only has a "now" not a "few minutes from now") he grew increasingly impatient and upset with me when the CNAs didn't appear immediately to serve his needs.

I had written on a piece of paper "Help is coming" and showed that to him each time he told me he needed to go to bed, but he got meaner and meaner anyway. Finally, after yelling at me for not understanding that he needed to go to bed "right now," he leaned over and said: "You know, Robin thinks she's indespensible, but she's not."

"I'm Robin," I said. He read my lips. He closed his eyes. He was embarassed. But it didn't make me feel any better.

Believe me I've known all my life that I am a despensible child.

All the sarcastic comments he has made to me and about me during the course of my life came back in a rush. "Robin's never at a loss for words." "Robin thinks she's so smart." "Robin always has the best of everything." The cruelest of comments, damning with faint praise. Frequently said to others while I sat in the room.

Now that he is ill, I've learned to excuse myself when he says things like that and leave. I know he isn't in control of his mind. I know it is too late to discuss my hurt with him. But I leave for me.

It took a thoughtful psychiatrist to explain to me why my father said these things:

My father himself was constantly put down and told how inadequate he was by the most important person in his life. Unable to convey his anger and frustration to that person--since so much of his life depended on that person's goodwill--he turned to a weaker person and expressed his frustration there.

Not a good thing to do to a child. A child cannot walk away.

But an adult can. And now, that is what I have learned to do. When Dad is cruel to me, I have to leave him alone for a while. Not to punish him: he has no ability to understand that or even to remember what hurtful thing he has done and certainly no ability to change. I walk away for me and me alone, because now, I at least know I have that power. I only return when I feel better again about helping him.

With the lawyer and the bookkeeper and the CPA, I'm working on our Chapman Family Trust tax returns. With the help of my sister, I am cleaning out the family home--sixty-five years of photos, letters, memories and dust. I am hiring people to paint the rooms, I am updating the appliances, repairing the neglected bathrooms. I am working on my mother's estate. I am paying my father's bills.

And, since I'm not St. Robin of Los Altos, nor the Boss; I'm tired. Because, in addition to all these other things, I am also planning my father's funeral. It will be the second one I've had to organize since December when my mother died.

I could use about a year of good health from my father right now. A year to adjust to my mother's death and clean out all the closets she didn't sort through during the last six decades. A year to balance my own checkbook and see my own doctor and go to a spa, paint my toenails, lie around like a sloth. Have my face and my spirits lifted.

But life isn't giving me that this year.

So I've been thinking. Maybe I'm taking on too much. Maybe I do think I'm indespensible and I'm not indespensible. Okay. I get it.

Lord? I'm tired. Why don't you be the Boss for a while?

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Jack said...

Hi, Robin. This is what makes your blog so critically valuable to so many people. You don't confine yourself to glossy coverups of what it's like to care for someone near the end of life, nor do you hide your hurt as your father, and your mother before him, unleashed their slashing words on you. My grandfather became very belligerent with my sister on a trip when she accompanied him, and it was very difficult for her to exercise restraint, knowing, as you point out, that at least part of the venom comes from a disoriented, frightened, decaying mind. You also provide us with a road map, as you deal with the various aspects of your parents' lives as they move on. Nothing can erase the hurt, but having shared your feelings and experiences with this community listening daily for the robin's voice, know that we care.

Robin Chapman said...

It means so much to hear from you and to know you understand. My father is saying some strange things these days--even about my mother, so I have to step back and let it rattle around in my head and not respond like a five year old, as I know he is ill and hurting. My sister has been taking over breakfast duty for me this week and that has been a nice break. But when she comes he always asks her, "Where's Robin?"

Jack, this is, of course breaking my heart. But writing about it helps to take it out of my heart and helps me to get through it. Bless you, out there, for caring.