How's Your Father?

Occasionally some long lost acquaintance of dad's will come out of the woodwork and ask, "How's your father?"  The politically correct response is, "As well as can be expected, I guess.  He's hanging in there."  This banal reply will usually suffice.  I'm always poised for further inquiry, but no one wants to know more - to be perfectly honest they don't really even want to know that much, but they have to ask.  It's only polite.

How's my father?  He's miserable.  He struggles to do the simplest things.  He can barely form a sentence.  He doesn't know who anyone is and he doesn't remember his past.  He is only truly at ease sitting in his chair in his room, for that is the one space left that he still understands.  There are no surprises there, no perplexing unfamiliar faces, no unusual disorienting surroundings, no mind-taxing stressors. His world is so small.  I could easily make the mistake of thinking I should try to broaden his horizons if I didn't recognize this is the only place he feels safe.  The joy he used to feel on an outing has been replaced by anxiety.

How's my father?  When I tell him I'm his daughter he looks surprised.  When I tell him he has three daughters he looks distressed.  The conversations that used to bring him pleasure now torment him because he knows he should know. Recounting tales of our family's antics once served to jog his memory and make him smile - now those same stories upset him.  I'm not sure he even believes what I'm telling him.  I suppose if I had no memory of an event and someone insisted I was there, I wouldn't believe it either.  He is alternately suspicious, sad and distraught. It's hard to comfort him; I can no longer rely on snippets of history to make him happy.

So, I have adapted.  Instead of spending time trying to coax him back into reality, I now concern myself with cleaning his fingernails and his ears; dismantling and washing his electric shaver; restocking his diaper and toilet paper supply.  When that's done, my mission is no longer to try to engage, it is to placate.  We (meaning I) talk about the weather.  His "outing" consists of being pushed in his wheelchair through the hallways of the building.  It is the same level of interaction I would have if I visited a nursing home and took a complete stranger on a walk.  I am nothing to him.  Therein lies the problem - because he is everything to me.  I'd give anything for just one day - one hour - with him as he used to be: full of life and humor and wit.  Just one hour when I could talk to him and he would know who I am and remember that he once loved me.

Maybe next time I see him I'll get lucky and he'll be better - it comes and goes. Mostly it goes.  I know the time is fast approaching when his mind will be completely gone.  Once he reaches that point, I wonder how much longer his body will continue to function.  Months?  Years?

How's my father?  Languishing.  Has been, is now, and will be until the day he mercifully dies.  Thanks for asking.

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