The rest of the story

So, I alluded to there being a “rest of the story” in my last post, so I don’t want to keep all two of my readers hanging.

The rest of the story is that Dad’s fears about taking the trip were not unfounded. After arriving at Liz’s house, Dad fell almost immediately on the one step down into the living room. He simply didn’t see it, missed it, and fell into a wire basket full of magazines. Ben was right there watching him, as he is fascinated by everything Grandpa Bill does, and couldn’t understand why he had fallen or that it was an accident. Dad tore a fingernail and banged up an elbow. Since he takes blood thinners, he bleeds easily, so there was blood and Band Aids were provided. Dad wasn’t hurt badly, but his pride was hurt, and he soon disappeared into the guest room for a long overdue nap. To his credit, he rallied and enjoyed the cocktail hour sitting out on the patio, watching his great-grandsons run around the backyard and talking politics with Liz’s husband, nicknamed “The Emperor Justinian,” whom Dad later declared a “hell of a nice kid.” So, the evening ended well with no further mishaps; everyone slept through the night, except me–I stayed awake worrying about Dad getting up in the middle of the night to smoke outside, which would involve navigating several sets of steps. In the morning, Dad was chomping at the bit to get going for home, which was no surprise. I remember my mother-in-law being that way whenever she would come from Iowa to visit us–drive five hours to get there, spend the night, and be anxious to head home first thing in the morning. At the time I didn’t understand that for the elderly, being away from home can be extremely stressful, and in Dad’s case, dangerous, as it turns out.

We ate a simple breakfast, and Dad went out the front door to sit on the bench and have a smoke before getting in the car. Son-of-a-gun if he didn’t miss the step from the front stoop down to the sidewalk and fall down again. This time he fell on both knees and  onto concrete. More blood, more embarrassment, more ministrations with Band Aids–to the knees this time. Finally, we got Grandpa Bill and his two great-grandsons, Ben and Jamie, situated on the bench on front of the house for a final photo, said our good-byes and hit the road.

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Dad and I didn’t talk much on the way home. He muttered several times about being “a clumsy old fart,” and was clearly disgusted with himself and embarrassed. There wasn’t much I could say to make him feel better, so we were both relieved when I delivered him home in one piece, minus a little skin. The next day he was pretty stiff and sore, but we agreed that it had been a successful trip, and we were both glad we had undertaken it. Again, I felt relieved and that I had helped him fulfill a wish that he had been harboring for a long time.

Now, two months later, I realize that the reason Dad finally agreed to take the trip in July is because his health is failing and he knew it might be his last chance. His feet and ankles are so swollen now that most days that he can hardly get his shoes on, and he shuffles around in his slippers. His balance is terrible, just standing up from his chair makes him huff and puff, and where before he had very little “umph,” now his umph has completely deserted him. I’m worried about how he will make it through the winter in northern Wisconsin all on his own, but I think he’s not at all sure he will even see the winter. As Dad would say, “It’s hell to get old and have the shits besides.” But, he has his affairs in order, and he’s adamant about how he wants my sibs and me to continue to see to Mom’s care and not fight over their stuff. Even though he has always said that if he couldn’t take it with him, he wasn’t going, we do our best to assure him that we will do that for him.

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On death, the afterlife and new cars

Death and dying are frequently on my mind these days because of recent events with my parents, and I assume they are topics that also preoccupy my Dad. Both he and my mom have experienced some potentially life-threatening health problems over the past couple of years, and my mother’s dementia steadily worsens. Couple those issues with their eighty-plus years of age, the death and decline of friends, various stays in hospitals and nursing homes, and the subject of death is bound to be foremost in his mind. While he’s perfectly capable of being absolutely maudlin at times, my dad’s sense of humor does extend also to the subject of death and the afterlife. He is fond of ruminating out loud to his black Lab and best companion Paco, “Paco, Paco, you have it so good. We haul the food to you and the shit away. When you die, you just die, and that’s it. When I die, I have to go to hell yet, besides.” Dad also refers to death as “going to the fields (of ambrosia).”

Despite any preoccupation with death and its imminence, my dad recently bought himself a new car even though it was probably not essential. But, who doesn’t love a new car? I take it as a very good sign that he’s not ready to “go softly into that good night” yet himself. Unfortunately, cars have changed enough in the past few years to create a rather steep curve around learning how to operate a new vehicle. For example, the lack of a key, having to depress the brake pedal in order to start the engine, figuring out how the cruise control functions, and–the biggest frustration of all–the placement of the fuel intake on the passenger side of the car. That discovery unleashed a flood of “pungent vernacular language,” some might say a diatribe, over the absolute idiocy of fixing something that wasn’t broken. Somewhere Dad believes it was written that the gas intake goes on the driver’s side, by God, and that there is no possible good explanation for putting it on the other side, necessitating walking around the car in order to fill ‘er up. Oh, the aggravation of having to take ten extra steps! A month ago I would have told him it was good for him to take those extra steps, given his very sedentary lifestyle. However, in mid-December he fell at the dump, standing right next to his car–lost his balance on icy terrain just turning around and probably broke his collar bone. I say probably because he has opted to treat himself with gin and hydrocodone rather than go to the doctor to confirm the break or not. Why pay $500 just for an x-ray and a sling? So, now I’m not so sure that any extra walking out in the wintry elements is a good thing for him, and I wish I could turn the clock back to a time when their local gas station offered full service. But, then, if I could turn back the clock to easier times, there would be no need to fret about infirmity, death, hell or cars with push buttons.