Treasure


(January 5, 2011)

I dropped off my girls at school and then went to visit my dad today. He lives in town, about 10 minutes away from me, and a quick 5 minutes from my mom’s house. He lives at the “The Inn” which is his name for the nursing home he calls home. It’s where he’s hung his hat for the last 5 or so years as he continues to do his slow dance with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. He’s a month shy of his 87th birthday but has been doing great while battling a host of other medical issues common among “distinguished gentlemen.” He gets around pretty well with his walker – his “trusted steel companion” that steadies him when he stands, and is always by his side.

Living at “The Inn” has prolonged the quality of his life. For so many people, when they make the difficult decision to transition a family member to a place like that, it often signals the end of the road. But for my dad, it became a place that reinvigorated him. The main reason is that it brought him back to the one thing that time and again, has given him the most joy in his life: being around people.  My dad has been in Sales his whole life. What’s that expression? “He could sell ice to an Eskimo.” That’s my dad. He is the kind of man who can get anyone to divulge their entire life’s story within the course of talking to them for 5 minutes. He has always had a natural curiosity for people – where they are from, what makes them tick, and especially, how to flatter them. And oh, how he flatters! To this day, a nurse will walk by and he’ll say, “Hey Paula, you are looking exceptionally beautiful today!” But he’s done this all my life. During my childhood, if we went out to a restaurant, at the end when the the waitress would bring the check and ask how everything was, he’d steal a quick look at her name badge and blurt out, “Carla, the food was ALMOST as good as the service!” The waitress would inevitably blush and laugh demurely, while my siblings and I would do the obligatory eye-roll to each other. “Dad! You’re SO embarrassing!” He’d just smile, pleased with himself at having created another happy customer.

For the last month or so, our family has noticed a slight change in my dad. I prefer the word “change” over the word “decline.” Somehow that makes it easier to swallow. The morning I visited him at 8:30 a.m., I found him still in bed (this from a man who religiously rises at 6 a.m. or earlier to greet the day.)  I walked in, smiled brightly and exclaimed, “Hey DAD!”  He opened his eyes and his face lit up in a smile. “Well, HI!” he said enthusiastically. Then he looked at me carefully. “Who are you?” My heart leapt into my throat. But instead, I laughed heartily, “Oh Dad! YOU know who I am, silly!” I leaned in closer as he rubbed his eyes. Then he laughed along with me, perhaps to cover his embarrassment. “Oh yes!!! I knew THAT!” he said. He tried to straighten himself up in bed while I coughed loudly to scare away the tears that started to well in my eyes. After a minute, he did know who I was. It all came back to him. That’s how it is these days. Especially right after waking up. It’s just a new reality. A few minutes later and after he snapped-to a bit, there we were, father and daughter again. Except now, my dad simply needed a daughter’s help to get out of bed. I helped him get settled with his breakfast, while flashing back to an hour earlier when I did the same thing for my 4 year-old as we raced against the clock to get to school. Then it hit me how remarkable it is that I am living in such seemingly different worlds, and how strikingly similar they’ve become.  Parenthood takes many forms.

After a while, I looked at my watch. It was almost time to go pick up the girls at school. I grabbed my purse and blew him a kiss. As I started to leave he took my hand, brought it to his mouth and kissed it gently, as he has done a million times before. “I love you. Have I ever told you that?” “Only about a thousand times, Dad,” I said with the instinctive obligatory eye roll.  As I left his room, a nurse breezed in to take his blood pressure. As I walked away down the hall I heard my dad’s distinctive voice say to her, “Amy, you are looking even more beautiful today than you did yesterday!” I smiled. After all, he’s still my dad.

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