‘I’m afraid your father isn’t a fit for the program,’ says the coordinator.
Recently I’ve had doubts about whether Dad would be happier in a place with more people his age to interact with, rather than living at home with just his caregivers, pets and regular visitors like Mum and me.
My previous attempt to schedule Dad into a once a week day program for seniors had failed a few years back after a woman had gotten irritated with him on his first day. His feelings hurt, he refused to return.
In hopes the weekly outing would improve his quality of life and/or signal whether he’d be better off in a professional home for the elderly, I try again.
‘He’s better suited to one on one interactions,’ the woman from the senior’s centre continues.
I get what she’s trying politely to say.
‘He told the same story five times this week,’ she explains.
Dad isn’t skilled at conversations that aren’t dominated by his stories, on repeat. The irritated woman from before wouldn’t be the only one triggered by Dad’s cyclical tales. Still, I can’t help but feel like my baby was rejected from daycare.
‘He has cancer,’ says Mum, returning from a doctor appointment.
He has basal cell carcinoma on his chest. The doctors say surgery would be difficult to recover from so he goes for a single dose of radiation instead. Like his prostate problems, he’ll likely die with it, not of it.
‘I’m calling to see about Sandy using a walker when he comes for his bath,’ says the bathing assistant.
She’s right. Dad is increasingly unsteady on his feet. Though he depends on his walker in the house, he still refuses to use it on outings and instead wobbles his way to and from the car with just his cane.
‘I’ve decided to pack it in,’ says Dad about church. He finds it too hard to get down the aisle for communion.
So after many decades of Sundays spent kissing church ladies on the mouth and needling their husbands in hopes of a reaction, Dad stays home watching TV with the dogs.
‘You need to keep moving,’ I say to him, worrying as he kicks back in a dog friendly cocoon for longer and longer lengths of time.
‘I move all the time!’ he says, irritated.
‘I’m always running to the bathroom,’ he continues. His humour returned.
Dad sings to me:
’You can’t get to heaven on roller skates
cause you’ll roll right by those pearly gates
You can’t get to heaven on the CPR
cause the god damned thing don’t go that far’
Getting old and dying is hard. It isn’t easy to watch happen to your loved ones either. I understand why the nursing home culture has flourished, why children don’t want to watch their parents grow weak and die. Sometimes I envy the ones who move away and support their siblings from afar to make the hard decisions.
After five years of carrying the responsibility of my treasured father, my heart and soul are tired. My productivity on the farm has dropped to a snail’s pace and I come home to the mainland Sunday afternoons bleeding invisibly from my throat to my chest.
‘I need help,’ I tell my husband and mother while in fetal position.
It’s become too heavy to sit alone with Dad while death taps on the windows at night making her way to the closest unlocked door.
‘What do you need me to do?’ they each ask.
I need the island to be more than the place where a gentle man’s soul approaches its end.
‘I don’t need you to do anything,’ I say, ‘I need you to spend time with me while I keep Dad company at the farm.’
My next visit, Mum answers the call and spends her Saturday with me in Dad’s kitchen phoning the washing machine repairman while I battle the piles of paper that have been growing around me during my overwhelm-induced paralysis.
Back on my feet, I sit and talk with Dad.
‘How are you today?’ I ask.
He tells me about the dogs on his lap and the beautiful weather we’re having.
‘We three make good company,’ he laughs, ‘my echo, my shadow and me.’
My doubts and overwhelm assuaged. He is where he belongs. Happy at home.