My Shadow and Me

‘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.

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About Morbid Optimist

My name is Katryna Mary Brooke Ormiston. I am 35 years old and after living in Vancouver for a decade, I am returning home to my 81 year old father’s hobby farm on Vancouver Island to care for him in the final stages of his life. This blog is to document my journey, process my experiences along the way and hopefully share and feel connected to a community beyond the three and a half acres I find myself on. A message in a bottle in the cyber-sea.
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6 Responses to My Shadow and Me

  1. shdavi says:

    Living this world, right now. Thank you for these words, it all makes sense💓

  2. Carlene Neeve says:

    Love to Sandy and his still amazing humor. Thank you so much for sharing with us your life with your Dad. It gives my heart an ache and a reminder as to what age does to each of us. I’m especially sad for the children who plunk their parents in old age facilities so as not to go through what you are going through. It’s part of life. I would hope my sons are there for me and with me every step of the way. Kudos to your beautiful gift to your Dad.

    Carlene Neeve
    Former Secretary,
    St. Stephen’s Church

  3. Touching. Difficult. My dad is in a lovely assisted living home in Ottawa near my sister. He is from Wpg – lived there for 80 years – and thus has no friends in Ottawa. Gulp. He doesn’t suffer what he perceives as fools gladly. He went to a trivia night at the home. Another resident kept yelling out ‘stupid’ answers so he shouted out that she was stupid. He felt badly, he said, until he realized that she was stupid. I can’ t even write this without tearing up – my intellectually arrogant father in a beautiful assisted living home but far from his pals. And his wife of 53 years gone for almost three years. I haven’t seen my dad since he moved to Ottawa – last time I saw him was at my mom’s funeral when he could still (kind of) take care of himself. After she passed he went downhill quickly. He just turned 81. Tender is the heart.

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