Sunday, April 5, 2009

To Dance With My Father Again

An early morning phone call from my sister started my Saturday morning.

"I'm calling a family meeting today at 2," she let me know.

Knowing she was in from Texas and at my parents' had me quizzing her.

"Everything ok?"

"They're fine. Promise. Just be here at 2. Mother will be gone to her Ladies' Tea for and hour or so. We need to talk while she's not here."

"I'll be there."

The reason for the call was obvious. It's a call we've all made to one another over the last few months, with the previous meetings proving to be futile.

You know when that call comes what discussion will be coming next and no one has to even say anything. It's a daily battle we each fight inwardly in silence. To actually articulate the thought aloud means facing the pain of the decision that lays before us.

As I put down the phone, my mind raced back to the very first family meeting called with all of us as adults.

That particular day, it was Mother who had called the family meeting. Since I still lived at home, I was there at the appointment time by default, and I knew the purpose for her bringing us all together.

She loved him.

He loved her.

They wanted to be married.

They wanted the blessing of all the children.

One by one, my brother and each of my sisters exchanged hugs and happy words with them.

That day, I hung back and just went to my room.

As I sat on my bed, hot, stinging tears came from my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks. I could taste their salt as they made their way down to my lips.

I cried quietly so that no one would hear me. I didn't want to be sad. I wanted to be happy for her.

I had no problem with him, personally. I really didn't. I was just scared for my mother. She had already lost one husband and I had seen her hurt through that.

Certainly by his white hair I could tell he was even older than my real dad. He couldn't possibly live much longer.

It just seemed to me such a risk for her to take. Why do this now after she had finally gotten herself back on her feet?

Eventually, I did come to terms with their decision, and when I opened my mind, ever so slowly, my heart begain to open up to him, too.

He gave me away when I married.

He sat in the waiting room, anxiously anticipating the births of both my children.

He was the first person I sought out when I realized my marriage to my children's father was over. I needed his wisdom over that of even my mother.

And he shared it with me...

And, he held me up through it all.

He has been my protector.

He has been my friend.

He has been my mentor.

He is my dad.

In every sense of the word, he is my dad.

He owns my heart.

I own his.

A few years back, we began to notice that his normally sharp wit was dulling a little.

At first it really wasn't noticeable and we could explain it away as normal aging.

He would forget what he was saying mid-sentence, or go off on a completely different subject during a conversation.

When he began to have trouble walking and began to fall, we knew there was a problem, and had to admit that something really other than normal aging was happening.

A few trips to the doctor and a few procedures later, we all became well-acquainted with the cruel reality of Parkinson's Disease.

The diagnosis wasn't hopeful at all.

In fact, the Neurologist's honesty with me in the hallway let us know that this was a downward spiral and there was no recovery.

His motor skills would continue to slow and then, eventually, his organs would follow. He couldn't give me a time frame on it, but did let me know that my dad was progressing pretty quickly.

His advice to me was, "Get with your siblings and make a plan."

That was three years ago.

My siblings and I are still trying to make that plan.

My mother wants no part of our "plan".

She will always hear us as we talk, but she refuses to listen.

"You children are asking me to do something I can't do. You are asking me to abandon my husband. I cannot do that!"

That's usually where the conversation stops.

25 years after our first family meeting and the subject of yesterday's meeting was the same as the first.

She loves him.

She doesn't want to face life without him.

Where she finds home is where ever he is.

The pain in her eyes is more than any of us can bear, so we usually let the conversation drift, trying to steer it back when we think she's ready to deal with it a little more.

"I cannot put him away for someone else to care for him. He would never do that to me!"

This statement is usually followed by one of us reminding her that she is not putting him away. She would simply be putting him in the hands of a staff of people trained to care for him.

None of us want him deposited onto strangers, never to be seen again. We can put him close, where we can be there each and every day.

"I just can't. Right now, I can still manage. When I can't go anymore, someone prays for me and I wake up refreshed. I can still go on for a while longer."

And, we let it dwindle out in open air, as if we all can see it and touch it. The silence is deafening, and the weight of the burden, although suspended in the air, threatens to bowl us over.

Yet again, she is not ready.

This conversation is over.

We will not mention it again until another series of falls, or another series of "bad days".

The pain and mental stress of being a child caring for a parent is brutal.

You never stop worrying.

You call ten times a day just to make sure they answer.

You never go to bed without your phone beside your head, because you never know when it may ring. Your ear is trained to respond to late night phone calls, and when they come, you answer holding your breath until the first words are uttered through the receiver.

You check their medication to make certain their dosages are correct.

You look in refrigerators and cabinets to make sure they have what they need.

You check laundry hampers to make sure they don't need help with the countless towels, underwear and clothes needed to just maintain one day.

And, all these things, you do out of love and devotion, remembering all the years they did it for you...

You live with the guilt that you can't be there 24 hours a day to do it around the clock...

You live with fear that one parent will suffer because of the others weakness...

You live with the helplessness of knowing that the decision really isn't yours...

And, with all we deal with, I cannot imagine what it must be like to be my mother.

To face the reality that life is now different and that keeping up with the health of the person you love more than anything is actually endangering your own health must be heart-wrenching...

When in her mind, she is determined that one day, she will dance with my father again.


  1. Wow, Pam. This was beautiful. Im sitting here crying like a little bitch. I cant imagine how hard this must be for your mom. Not only the loneliness she will feel if he's placed in facility, but the guilt too. But this is life, right? Dont you hate being a grownup?
    This was really, really moving. I hope she comes to terms with what is best for herself, your second dad, and you guys. Hang in there.

  2. It has been too long since I read your words. I miss them.

    In one way or another, we all walk this path. My dad got worse and worse, admissions to the hospital, falls, stitches, trying to balance his medications and his disease. For 4 months it was hell on wheels. Always on call, always going to bed ready to walk out the door on a moment's notice - the rest of my life shrinking. When my father was failing and we knew it was a matter of time, he wanted to be home, and the 5 of us and my mom made it happen. Those two weeks, the world went on hold and there was only that time to be with him. Painful and beautiful until the end. When work called and asked me when I'd be back, I said, "when it's over and he dies. This is the only time I have."

    You begin preparing yourself to let him go. You promise to be strong for your mom, for your siblings, for your children. But you need to take time, Pam, to feel it all and take care of you. I have been there, and my arms are here when you need them. Love and hugs, darlin'..

    Your other friend, Cherie

  3. So beautiful Pam. SO beautiful. I'm sorry that this is a route you are forced to take.

    Your parents are beautiful souls. I'm glad they have you to listen and care. I don't envy your position. I wish I could help you through this somehow.

  4. *sobbing* Beautifully written, Pam. Promise me you'll let me know if you ever need me for anything. I'm there in a nano second.

    I love you to pieces!!!


  5. I missed your amazing expression of what's deep in your soul. I'm not sure why you ever stopped writing. I'm sorry for your struggle - I know how much you love them both. They are lucky to have you. XO

  6. I have missed your writing. You convey emotions in prose better than pretty much anyone I've ever read. Including some heavy hitters.

    Poignant blog.