Piglet: “How do you spell love?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it. You feel it.”
“Where’s so and so?” I ask DooDaddy, over supper at the Old Folks Home (name omitted to protect the elderly). Picture a spry geezer in khakis and New Balance running shoes. He kinda reminds me of The Professor on “Gilligan’s Island.”
“Oh he broke the rules and got sent straight to Assisted Living,” says DooDaddy, with an ominous eye roll. “He kept walking across Middlebrook Pike to the fast food places.”
“Is that not allowed?” I ask, not knowing all the secret unwritten rules of Shannondale.
“Guess not,” DooDaddy replies with a shrug. “That and he was falling down a lot.”
So another geezer is bustled off to the The Other Side. Assisted Living. Only thing worse is the actual nursing home. There are rules, you see. Retirement facilities are businesses, after all. It’s about heads in beds. And they can charge more for assisted living, so best keep your wits about you and follow the rules. It’s a cautionary tale.
“Aunt Edie was oversleeping and hitting the bottle when they moved her,” DooDaddy recollects. “She always did enjoy a stiff drink.”
And so, as we prepare to receive the results from Gmamma’s painful needling biopsies, I am wary of her options. I know she would rather die than go to the next level of care, with or without DooDaddy.
Back when he was rehabbing from his broken hip, DooDaddy got a little complacent, letting the kindly staff at the nursing home shave him and bathe him. They even opened his salt packets for him at meals. DooDaddy thought it was all just part of the service, until they threatened to keep him there, based on his inability to do anything for himself. Well, he snapped out of it right quick, and started opening his own salt packets. Sugar too. And he got to come back, returning like a war hero from The Front. Because most folks who leave in an ambulance never come back.
I remember reading an article about African villagers refusing medical help for Ebola, because to get in an ambulance was the same as death. No one ever returned to the village. It’s like that in Geezerville.
Gmamma has been characteristically stoic throughout the recent unpleasantness. I’ve been losing my mind, which mostly manifests in logistical mishaps like driving down one-way streets and leaving my hazard lights on after stranding Gmamma on a curb outside Fort Sanders Professional Building. I sprint back down the sidewalk to guide my frail mother on her walker up a steep ramp in a stiff wind. Her Bernie Sanders hair blows wildly as she is buffeted about. I sit sobbing as the doctor repeatedly jabs her in the neck to extract cell samples. She squeezes her periwinkle eyes shut tight and holds onto my hands for dear life. Or maybe it’s me holding onto her, because I don’t want to lose my mother. Not yet. Not like this. Her suffering is my suffering. Her pain is my pain.
After it’s all over, I take her back to the apartment, where DooDaddy waits anxiously. She collapses into her chair, exhausted and small. I offer ice packs, Tylenol, Babybel cheese, anything I can think of. But Gmamma just wants to rest her eyes and regain her equanimity.
She grounds herself with familiar surroundings and privacy. It’s like nothing has happened, and she’s still in her living room back in my childhood home, surrounded by boxwood bushes, magnolias and cats.
My cousin Rebecca recently told me she always thought of my parents as immortal – “always there, always so very much themselves.”
“When I said it I knew the same thing I know now – it’s not possible, but how I love the idea,” she says. “For as long as I can remember they have been a haven of unconditional love to me and mine.”
As we face an uncertain future together, I remind myself that this haven will always exist, beyond fear and pain, regardless of space and time. Because family is not bound by mortality. And love always wins.