“Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.”
Well friends, we have a lot to talk about.
DooDaddy had a series of seizures. The fire engine came. I don’t know why. Guess the fire station was closer than the hospital.
We knew the drill. Fort Sanders ER. Then Neuro ICU. Aphasia due to misfirings in the brain. Heavy doses of anti-seizure meds. Getting strapped to the bed with wrist restraints was new, but other than that, we’ve been down this path before. Home to the apartment. Subsequent UTI and various complications. DooDaddy was weak as a kitten. Couldn’t stand, much less walk. Slept a lot. My brother flew in and stayed with our father 24/7 for 10 days.
DooDaddy spent Christmas at a rehab facility and was not cleared to return to Independent Living. This last bout of stuff took too much out of him. The spirit was willing, but the body was weak. He was devastated by this news. Only my brother could make it sink in.
Me: “Dad, you have to go to Assisted Living.”
DooDaddy: “I have no intention to going to Assisted Living.”
Randy: “Dad, you have to go to Assisted Living.”
DooDaddy: “Well, if you think that’s best.”
We moved him to Assisted Living between Christmas and New Year’s. We painted and hung portraits and made his room perfect in every way. We packed and purged and cleared out the apartment where he and Gmamma managed to accumulate nearly as much in a couple of years as they did in almost 50 years at the house we grew up in. Or maybe they just brought everything with them – keys to cars and houses they no longer own, yellowed newspaper clippings, decades of tax returns and Texaco bills, the world’s largest CD collection of cocktail piano music. And opera glasses.
An angel friend of mine measured and chose colors and orchestrated everything. Even the placement of his beloved latte leather recliner. I rented a storage unit for the rest. And just like that, the next chapter of his life began. DooDaddy’s world got smaller. Again. But it’s still tasteful and elegant.
He didn’t want to go. But he’s making the best of things. That’s my father.
Most of his fellow residents are mentally as well as physically impaired. Familiar faces from Independent Living who have migrated before him. Ghosts of their former selves. DooDaddy recognizes them and calls them by name, but they stare at him blankly. He’s McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
He has help now with showers and getting dressed. And there are nurses checking in on him all night in case of a fall. His mind is sharp, but his bones are made of chalk.
Another angel friend of mine takes him back to Independent Living to play bridge every Friday. The first time he went, he got a standing ovation – it was like the Mayor of Shannondale had returned. But it was only for a couple of hours. There’s talk of getting up a game in Assisted Living. On the sun porch, with a few other residents who still have their wits about them.
You have to sign him out when you come to take him anywhere.
There’s Bingo and a Walking Group. And Kickball (seated, of course). And the Doo is doing it all. Because he’s a joiner and a glass-half-full kinda guy. He’s lost weight – the food’s not as good, he says – but he’s feeling fine.
And then he tells me there’s a lump on his neck. Been there about a month. He didn’t think to mention it. My mind flashes back to two years ago when we discovered Gmamma’s neck tumors. Same side as DooDaddy’s. Hidden under her turtleneck like a squirrel’s stash of acorns. Six weeks later she was gone.
I have tried to block that horribleness out of my mind. Her suffering. Our fear and helplessness. Ultrasound. Biopsy. Morphine. Cancer isn’t contagious, is it? My father can’t have caught it from my mother or taken it on as a show of support. It’s not like when she was pregnant with my sister Keeling, and he gained 20 pounds right along with her, eating brownies in solidarity.
We don’t have a diagnosis yet for DooDaddy. He’s unfazed by it. Just. Like. Gmamma. Says when it’s his time, it’s his time. He’s ready. And I marvel all over again at my parents’ utter fearlessness in the face of death. All we know so far is “matted lymph nodes.” Maybe it’s nothing, but I don’t think lymph nodes benignly tangle themselves and grow into leathery alligator skin on your neck just for shucks.
As for me, I wanted a respite. Selfish, I know. Just a hot minute without death, disease, divorce, moving or job changes. But it’s not to be. Because the only constant in life is change.
My book comes out in April. I hope DooDaddy is still here to enjoy his celebrity. It’s my story, but it’s also the story of my parents. Their faith and frailties, their humanity and courage. How they reinvented themselves as grandparents and geezers and found humor in the awfulness of growing old. They aged gracefully and set an example for me of lives well lived.
Geezer Stories is my memoir and my love letter to my parents.