Turning the Corner

Fern Pessin

Turning the Corner

Fern Pessin

Some caregivers come to the journey with a peaceful attitude about the blessing of spending time with their loved one(s), taking each day in stride with a placid and go-with-the-flow energy. Others come into it as the “tragic hero/heroine” feeding on the sympathy and empathy of family, friends, and strangers. They share the journey with anyone who will listen as they are frenetically overwhelmed all the time. Others are completely flummoxed because they hide from what is happening and believe that if they don’t think about, plan for it, or talk about it…it won’t happen; everything will work itself out. And then there are people like me, the logistics folks, who plan and prepare and study. We know what’s coming. We are ready. But there are the turn-in-the-road moments when, no matter which way you’re dealing with caregiving, some things just hit you in the gut.  

I recently had one of these very difficult days. But I didn’t realize it at the time. It didn’t hit me until after I returned home from spending a few hours with my Dad. Suddenly the tears came pouring down as I rocked in my overstuffed chair-and-a-half while looking out my sliding doors to the terrace where rain created rippling pools on my terrace.

On Saturday (the day before my birthday), I went to see my father and mother. I brought a celebratory lunch to share with them (as we have done almost every year), and my mother told me, “Oh. I just fed your father.” And Mom then went on to do some things in another room and left me sitting with Dad.

While I ate my lobster, conch fritters, and cheesecake by myself (the lobster was still hot from the gourmet market steamer and I was hungry after all), my Dad talked to me. His words were real words, but they followed no logical connection to anything I could understand. I nodded and laughed and agreed with him, taking his cues on what he might expect as my response. He grinned at me. I stuck my tongue out a little bit at him, and his eyes twinkled as he returned the same gesture. It was a sign, a private signal, we’ve always shared. Other people wink, we do a tip-of-tongue-wave.

Today, Wednesday, just four days after that birthday visit, Dad looked at me and smiled with the same placid energy he gives a new aide or nurse who comes to take some blood or do an assessment. Like I was just another person here to perform any of the myriad of services my father, on hospice care, gets all week. He’s a nice man. Friendly. He smiles at people because he’s always liked to make people happy. But there was no warmth in his eyes today. No joy to see his daughter. No reaction to my proffered tongue wave. His eyes closed again soon after I arrived.

He spent the rest of my two plus hour visit pointing, stabbing, and reaching out for someone from somewhere deep in his dreams. His eyes remained closed. His face expressed what was going on in his mind…anxious and then happy and then confused. He was gone from me. In his own world. My wish/hope is that he is finding happiness there in his younger body and mind. I hope he is dancing through fields filled with flowers or playing ball with his friends or hanging around with Miss Pensacola as he did when he was in the Navy.

Some days the “window is open” and my father’s dementia is not so obvious. He knows me. We can connect. Today, for the first time, he did not know me. We’ve turned the corner, and I do not like the new direction we’re destined to travel together.

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