Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dealing with Dad

I actually mean my real father. He's being moved to assisted living by me and my siblings this weekend. And not just regular assisted living, but a memory care unit. The place is nice, but he'll still be in lockdown. This happened very suddenly, and yet we knew it was coming. He'd been in bad shape for awhile. But one day, a few weeks ago, he started hallucinating. My brother and sister took him to a hospital to see what might be causing them. But there was no real cause. His mind simply isn't working right anymore. There was this frantic search to figure out what to do with him as the hospital prepared to discharge him. The reality that he could not ever go home again bore down on each of his children. And when we found a temporary place (respite care, it's called, and very expensive) we were both relieved and horrified. Moving him there, where he could get the care none of us were qualified to give him, was so very difficult. He'd have lucid moments when he'd say he didn't belong there, making us wonder if we were doing the right thing, making us doubt and second guess. Then he'd drift away again, or see puppies and kittens in his room (and, yes, we've been grateful he doesn't see monsters). When that happened, we'd look at each other and know we had to stay the course and leave him in capable hands there, no matter how hard it was to do. He said to me that everything he didn't want to happen to him was happening to him. But he couldn't have prepared better for this moment. Because when he was my age, he could not have expected to live as long as he has. The extension of life-expectancy too him, and us, by surprise. He's 83. In his day, he was a robust, lively, outgoing man. Strong, sometimes obstinate, often overbearing. Now reduced to reviewing the names of his five children and trying to remember if he has more than three grandchildren (he has 13 of them). We appreciate that we've been able to find him a lovely permanent place to live, affordable and well-staffed. But when we move him this weekend to his permanent new home, my siblings and I will be thinking about how this is my father's last abode, a place where he will gradually lose all the memories of his long and full life, until he departs this earthly plane. And I will strive to channel the heartache and tears into my next book, giving my father some tiny measure of immortality that way. Because I'm a writer. And that is what we do with our sorrow.

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