Monday, June 16, 2008

Still learning from Daddy

Daddy didn’t even know it was Father’s Day Sunday. Actually, he didn’t know it was Sunday. He did know my sister. And finally came up with my name. Although he knew his name, he couldn’t recall his date of birth.
In his reality, Daddy still isn’t sure where he lives either. The last time he talked about it, Daddy thought he lived in a castle - and it was the best castle he had ever lived in. According to Daddy’s story, the castle was owned by Tishy, the woman who lived down the road from Papaw and Granny and helped rear him. He also believed that Tishy’s children and grandchildren helped “run” the castle.
In actuality, Daddy lives in a nursing home and has for almost four Christmases. That’s how my sister and I remember how long he has lived there. Despite the fact that we asked her to wait until after the holiday, my stepmother put him in a nursing home right before Christmas three years. She also placed him in a nursing home 50 miles from us.
But that really has no part in this story.
Visiting Daddy at the nursing home is difficult at best anyway. Going there on Father’s Day, his birthday, Christmas or any other significant day during the year just seems to escalate the emotions of the time. My sister always quietly cries when we get to her SUV; I just pack the feelings further down into my heart.
The last time we had visited Daddy was perhaps the most difficult and frustrating visit of them all thus far. He didn’t know who I was at all and I honestly don’t think he was certain who my sister was either. So it was an understatement that I was dreading our visit this time. But since it was Father’s Day, there was no way we were not going to make the trip up there even if we didn’t visit for very long.
We found Daddy still sitting at his place in the dining room. Someone nearby was still eating lunch and it looked and smelled, honestly, good enough to eat. When I asked him if lunch was good, Daddy simply said “uh-huh” but I knew he had enjoyed it, too.
Generally we sit on one side of the dining room to visit. It contains a couch where we can sit and plenty of room for his wheelchair. Since we were early this trip, though, our visit began out front by the entrance. Daddy would watch the door and comment when a child would walk up to the door. “Look!” he would softly say. “There’s a pretty little girl coming in the door!”
The dialogue pretty much consisted of questions from us to him that Daddy could answer with an affirmative or negative. Apparently he hadn’t had any visitors since the last time we were there, according to him. He isn’t watching TV and he has a new room complete with a new roommate (we, of course, had gotten attached to the old roommate and REALLY liked the old room cause there was lots of room for us to visit there if we wanted to do that).
Very little else was said by him or us. He seemed content for us to sit there with him and we felt the same. Still not comprehending what the day was all about, Daddy looked with apprehension at his new shirts and pjs that we got him for Father’s Day.
In time, though, he got “antsy” so my sister and I convinced him to show us his new room. It wasn’t really a new one, per se, since he had been there before with the same roommate. That one, we don’t really care for to be honest. And since it was about as hot as the back side of the sun in there - yep, the roommate had the heater turned on full blast on a hot mid-June day - we talked Daddy into going to get him a Dr. Pepper.
Usually he wants a Milky Way or Snickers chaser to go with his DP. Not Sunday, though, since he had just had lunch. Instead he drank the soda from a cup as we continued our visit. As soon as the last drop of his drink was gone, Daddy was, too. Literally. He pointed the wheelchair toward the door as a cue for us to get ready to go home. We rolled him back to the lobby and said our “goodbyes.” My sister hugged him first and told him she loved him. He responded with a whispered, “I love you, too.” I followed suit and got no response. I tried not to take it personally as difficult as it was.
Walking toward the SUV, I glanced back over my shoulder hoping that Daddy would slightly resemble the man I’ve known, well, all my life. Instead, I saw my Daddy sitting there with his head bowed, studying his hands.
Dementia - or whatever you want to term it - is a difficult thing. It’s frustrating for the person afflicted with it. It robs them of not only their everyday existence, but steals away memories to share at the golden times of their lives. .
For my daddy, it has stolen one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. Daddy could spin a yarn verbally better than any sentence I’ve ever written from the very depths of my heart. I will forever regret that we didn’t force him to use a Christmas gift from long ago since no audiotapes of family stories exist.
Although I’m getting used to the crew cut-style haircut Daddy now sports, it’s hard to see it on the man who took more time with his hair in the mornings than most Miss America contestants I’ve ever known.
Despite the fact that Daddy and I have had a complicated relationship at best, it simply hurts to watch as time and an unpredictable mental disease slowly ensnares him and threatens to shut him away from us forever.
A longtime educator, Daddy didn't turn off the teaching when he left work. Although it was Mama who helped make sure I did my schoolwork and learned my lessons in life, it was Daddy who would often quiz me about both areas. I miss the political debates, spiritual discussions and historical recollections we used to share.
As we drove away Sunday, though, I silently prayed that God would continue to bless me with good mental health. I also prayed that God would continue to bless all the residents of Daddy’s castle and the hands that care for them there. I also asked God to continue to give me the patience, the courage and the strength to continue visiting Daddy there - no matter how difficult it may get in the future to make the trip.For as hard as it may be to understand, I believe I still have a lot to learn from my daddy.


Mandi said...

I know it's hard. You know I'm always here as a shoulder, but you've found the only One who can make a difference.

Michelle said...

I love this entry. Yes, it is hard on you. I experienced the same thing with my Papaw Byars. Just know that there is some reason that he is still with you are still learning :) and sharing...