what did i expect to see when we walked through the doors of the nursing home this summer to visit my father...
my heart was pounding, as it always has whenever a face-to-face with him is imminent. he is my dad, yes, but he still terrifies me- flashes of a horror-filled childhood and his years of raging/depression/raging/depression still have me trapped in the anticipated fear of being around him. i'm still about 8 when i'm with him.
the summer sun was hot, and the tall green trees sheltered us as we entered the home...waited for the doors to be unlocked ('we've got runners', they said) and choked at the smell of old age and despair. i applauded in my heart the one brave soul sitting in his wheelchair outside.
down the hall...into his room...around the bed we gathered...and he looked up with a bright smile and called my name...i put my arms around his bony shoulders and gently hugged him, an old post of a man who yields no more now than when he was strong...
a brief hour out in the shady courtyard...feeding him raspberries and chocolates, his blue-veined fingers slowly sorting out the bright fruit and carefully putting it in his mouth...reaching slowly for 'just one more' chocolate...
he entered into the conversation sometimes, but i knew he was listening even when he said nothing. his eyes slightly faded and his cognition delayed by the medication he is on to keep him calm, nevertheless he was 'there', briefly. once or twice a spark of the old dad i know flared up...he laughed softly at appropriate times...talked of old times once...was pleasant and pliable and too ready to say 'ok, ok' when we asked or suggested anything.
this was not the dad i knew. this pleasant voice, this contented body language, this gentleness...who was this, and what have they done with my father?
for the thousandth time, i wished i could care for him...but the chance is gone. i live on the other side of the planet from him.
it is what it is.
after that brief hour, after he became weary and i wheeled him back to his room, after i gently hugged him again, still stiff as a board, and we said slow goodbyes, we walked down the hall and out into the sunshine of a july afternoon.
my heart was pounding, still.
i wanted to cry out and beg them to be careful with him, to be gentle with his old bones, to wrap him carefully and watch his feet when you wheel him around the doorways, and brush his teeth and comb his hair and don't leave him alone all the time...be gentle with him!!! he's the only dad i'll ever have! i wanted to scream.
i didn't, of course. i'm told he's well cared for. i'm told the staff love him and enjoy him. i'm told he has friends that he chats with at mealtimes.
but oh. oh. oh.
how hard it was to leave him there and wonder...
wonder where my dad was, and feel like an 8-year-old leaving home.