This latest journey with Dad is certainly different from any we’ve taken before. It’s about to take a new twist on Monday, when he returns home from Southwind.
He’s made all the progress he can, and it’s time to get him home to the renovated house. Most of the cleanup work in the living room and kitchen is done. I’m working on the office space now, wondering where I’ll put all the boxes of books — not my books, mind you, but his. He loves to read, and now I’ve got to box up another bookcase in the small room off the garage. I’ll haul them to Lake Charles to my storage unit there, those that are not staying, anyway. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, but every time I turn around it seems as though there’s even more that has appeared overnight.
His return on Monday — “homecoming,” as he’s referring to it — will be to a hospital bed and a wheelchair ramp and a new sit-in shower with a bench. His dresser and chest of drawers are now in the living room, along with the two Bambi heads, three prize bass, and lots of photographs of family. The photos are actually in two of the boxes for now. I’ve got a scanner and a digital photo frame to load as many family photos as I can manage. Less room, easier to manage. His medical equipment and supplies must also fit in the living room. For the first time in the nearly 46 years we’ve been in the house, he won’t be in the bedroom he and Mother shared. It just wasn’t practical — too difficult to get around from there to anywhere else. So the upheaval in his living space awaits him; he’s certainly been aware of it, having followed the changes around the house with great interest. It will be a dramatic change, though, I know. Most people don’t keep mounted deer heads in their bedroom, but since they have occupied wall space in the living room for years, they’ll fit in with Dad’s new bedroom. The recliners are still there, as they have been for years. So is the stereo unit. The carpet is new (at last) and the wall-mounted flat-screen television is as well. And the front door and new glass storm door also are new. He’ll be able to lie in bed and look out the door at the road and the yard, and if he feels like it, we can sit on the front porch for a change. I’ve recently put in lots of planted herbs, a hanging basket (with a few more to come) and a wonderful wind chime that my friend Carolyn gave me.
Our journey over the last year or so has been headed this way, but it’s certainly arrived more quickly than I thought it would. For months, I stayed here and commuted, since all I really needed to do was drive him to dialysis and to doctors’ appointments. He has weakened, though, and the fall in December really was the turning point. Since then I have done full-time duty — cooking, shopping, cleaning (sort of), feeding him when necessary, and dressing him. And shaving him — which has brought back lots of memories from childhood. I remember “helping” Dad shave when I was 3 or so — what a treat that was. Now I help him with shaving — I’ve cut his hair at times — and I give him pedicures to pamper his feet (he was in the Battle of the Bulge and survived, just experiencing frost-bite).
Finding that balance between daughter and caregiver hasn’t been easy at times, but that role-reversal certainly is a real one. I keep the books, I have the power of attorney, and so on — but always consulting him. Despite a few bouts of hallucinations and delusions, he’s absolutely sharp enough to engage in conversations, though perhaps less often than a few months ago. He tires much more quickly. Dignity is crucial for geriatric parents and my father deserves to live with dignity. He and I spar at times verbally, but with love and laughter. Still, there are times when the tasks overwhelm me, as does the sadness that deluges me as it did last Friday. I drove to Baton Rouge and cried for the first 20 minutes or so — probably the first really good cry-fest I’ve had in a while. Then it was over, and Canned Heat kept me up all the way to the hotel.
Dad always wanted to travel in retirement, and he and Mother managed to travel in a motorhome around various wildlife refuges in Louisiana and East Texas. But he never really got to see the Civil War battlegrounds as he’d dreamed of doing. I hoped that once I retired, we’d be able to do that together, but that hasn’t worked out either. I did manage to get him to my timeshare in Lake Tahoe two years ago, and he was like a curious kid, sitting at the window on the plane, fascinated by the landscapes visible below. He was perfectly content to stay in our room, observing the snowplows at work below the building. I’d hoped to get him back there, too, but that won’t happen either.
After my brother died in 1996 and his fiancee moved to Germany to work for a few years, Dad announced one fall that he’d like to visit Darcy and see Germany. I blinked, got his passport application, and made reservations after talking to Darcy. A couple of days after fall term ended, he and I headed for Frankfurt. He joked that at least this time he wouldn’t have to sleep in snowy fields. We traveled by train from Frankfurt north to where Darcy was living, visited a Christmas fair in Bonn, and enjoyed visiting with Darcy. While she worked, he and I would sit and look at the hills behind her house, where people walked every day. I’d go out for snacks, bringing home yummy German goodies for tea. His curiosity never ceased to astound me. He could spend hours on the balcony, just looking at the landscape, taking in how people farmed and what methods they used.
One day the three of us took the train down to Weinheim, where Dad spent the last part of World War II and stayed for part of the Occupation. With Darcy’s German and my photographs and maps, we managed to find the very street where Dad and his buds were billeted. What a treat to watch him try to figure out where everything had been. The town was never bombed, and the small town of about 4800 grew with refugees after the war was over. At the time we visited, the population wasn’t quite 50,000. On the trip back up to Darcy’s town, Dad narrated his experiences in the war as our travels took us parallel to the river. I found myself thinking that this was a trip that Phil would have cherished, so I think I had a double responsibility — and a double reward — for our two weeks. We slept in the attic room where one set of roommates was gone, one twin bed for Dad and a cot for me. Houses so different from our own, narrow roads that didn’t look as though buses could navigate them — everything interested Dad.
As I was planning the trip, I figured that I’d never again have the opportunity to get Dad to Greece, so I simply told him that’s where we were spending the long Christmas weekend. I booked a room in Plaka, near Syntagma, and managed to get Dad to Cape Sounion and up the Acropolis. One of my most cherished photograph is of the two of us in front of the Parthenon. We ate at Platanos Taverna in Plaka — and he loved the okra and vegetables, just as he does here. Again, his curiosity kept him observing and asking questions. We had coffee with my friends Jane and Nick and Nick’s mother, another wonderful memory.
And I took him to see the apartment I was considering buying. Another adventure (peripetia) — two realtors who spoke very little English, me (with my little Greek) and Dad (who just sat there listening and wondering whether we’d arrive anywhere safely). The apartment wasn’t very impressive — lots of dirt, nothing remodeled, one light fixture that I carried from room to room. But it caught my eye — and my imagination. By the time I was back in Greece that May, the owner and I had agreed on a price and I bought an apartment. In Greece. In millions of drachmes. I spent a few weeks cleaning, painting, finding a carpenter and an electrician, and buying furniture — and getting it delivered. After I returned, Dad was fascinated by the photographs and the improvements (especially the electrical ones — Dad was an electrician, and he had been particularly attentive to the naked wires extruding from the breaker box).
He’s never been out of Texas and Louisiana since (except for the week at Lake Tahoe). But we’ve traveled to the farm many times, to my sister’s home in North Louisiana, and to friends’ homes here in Egan. Until a year ago, he drove to my house regularly. He felt it necessary to mow my yard for me, though he knew I could do it myself. As he aged, he kept apologizing that he couldn’t do more. Even in the last month, he’s made the same comments, apologizing that I have to do it all. As I told him, I can do it because he taught me how to do these things.
Yesterday my friend Charles asked me if it had hit me yet that after Dad returned on Monday, my freedom would be gone. I nodded and said yes, that I had realized that. The days of lots of alone time will be gone, but they’ll be shared. I hope we can travel in conversation and watching television shows.
He has always teased me that I came out of the womb ready to hit the road. This time we’re hitting the road together — the next stage of the journey awaits us.
It’s Easter Week, and I think I’ll buy some lilies tomorrow when I’m in town.