Answering the bell

Last time I wrote my dad had broken his hip, underwent surgery, and was recovering pretty well five weeks post-op. We left him to his own devices with low expectations for his survival through the winter. And, here we are, on February 24, 2019, and the old man is still ticking, if not exactly thriving. And, it hasn’t been easy for him, so he gets points for tenacity, known as “answering the bell” in his vernacular.

My mom contracted pneumonia (“the old man’s friend”) and died in the hospital within a few days in mid-November. She went quite peacefully, with what seemed to me minimal suffering; nonetheless, it was a huge blow to Dad, who I think still expected to go first. He faced the myriad decisions and administrative details involved with death resolutely and efficiently, albeit in a bit of a fog and with a lot of help from us kids. He doesn’t remember seeing or receiving the condolences of many of the people that attended her memorial service, although he was enormously gratified by the large turnout. To make matters even worse, Dad’s old dog Paco had to be put down the day after Mom died. She must have had cancer, was skinny as a rail, not eating, shitting in the house almost every night, and yet, my dad had not been able to do the dirty deed. It fell to my brother to do the compassionate thing for good old Paco, and Dad agreed, even though he was incapable. Again, we thought his grief would derail his recovery and shorten his life. Again, we were wrong.

He now seems less sad and feisty as ever, sick of winter, but entertained by tracking all of the family’s travels on his antiquated maps, confusing, much to his chagrin, whether Hemingway died in Bozeman, MT or Ketchum, ID (“It scares me to think I might be losing it like Mom did”), preparing his taxes and unsuccessfully trying to balance his checkbook (another source of consternation over “losing it”), worrying about where the plow guy will put the next big dump of snow,  looking forward to spring, when we will visit more often, and there will be more activity on the lake and, possibly, even a new roof on his house. The swelling in his feet and lower legs is worse than ever, but after a brief battle with compression hose and an increased dose of diuretic (“all I do is run to the can”) he gave up trying to treat it, and chalks it up to “part of getting old.”

A big boost to Dad’s mood and enjoyment of daily life has been keeping my brother’s dog for him on several occasions this winter. I say “keeping” and not “taking care of” intentionally, as Dad doesn’t really take care of anything much. He and the dog are more like housemates, but, he likes having a dog around, (“Smiley’s a lot of company”) and doesn’t let a little barf or poop on the floor ruin his appreciation. In fact, Dad mentioned that the notion of getting another dog has crossed his mind. A friend of mine had wondered a while back if he might find joy in having a service dog, as the elder President Bush had. I’m waiting to see if the dog idea resurfaces in the spring, but if there’s a service dog out there that can empty ashtrays and mix a martini, I have the perfect master for him.

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