Eight years ago today my father celebrated his 94th birthday. Tho he had been bedridden for two months and was in serious decline, he really did celebrate. The entire family came by that day to see dad. This gave Beth and me a chance to go out, a brief respite from care duty. While out we confirmed to each other that we could no longer care for dad at home.
We tried. He required 24 hour care. Even with a hired caregiver, Beth and I were swamped. And how was it all affecting Erin?
When I entered the room, I found people making the best of dad's best. Dad had perked up as he hadn't in two months. He was alert and responsive, even if he didn't speak. And he even ate ice cream and cake. He really hadn't eaten or drank anything in weeks but now he was enjoying ice cream. He was shockingly perky, as if belying the effort of Allen and Beth.
Dad went into the hospital with pneumonia, which he'd had before. As a patient, he was stoic. He didn't complain much, accepted the eternal annoyances of hospital care. At some point, he confided to Beth (not me) that this was his last. It didn't seem like it except that he had stopped eating and drinking. The hospital sent him to rehab after a few days. He didn't improve. I don't remember the details but at some point there was a meeting with the rehab people and the social worker with the result that dad would be brought home.
An oxygen system was brought in, and round the clock caregivers were hired (one per shift). I remember one wild night with a blizzard and shift change. It was like a hallucination for me, trying to rest with brouhaha all around. Beth or I had to help the caregivers because there were things that a single caregiver could not do alone.
My father became surprisingly combative at this time. I was helping to turn him over and he wailed at me, “Why are you doing this to me?” It was all too much.
His 94th birthday then. I entered the room with this family of mine, carrying a burden of betrayal. It felt cruel that I now had to announce that we could no longer take care of dad. And on his birthday, and at a time when he showed a boost. I burst into tears as I did so. No one argued the point but no one thanked us for the effort.
The next morning, I waited for the ambulance to take dad back to the rehab, which now would be hospice care. Beth took Erin to homeschool class and some normalcy. I had to watch as the ambulance drivers put dad on the gurney and lifted it into the ambulance. My brothers, their wives, their children were elsewhere, anywhere else, I presume.
We visited him at the rehab but he was clearly going down. He didn't want anyone around.
On his ninth day back at rehab, Beth and I visited him. After a while, Beth left me alone with him. His breathing was terrible. I was prepared to stay with him till he passed. I spoke to him. He was awake but not responsive. He didn't seem to want me there. He gestured unhappily. I decided to leave.
My mother died when no one was around. The family kept a pretty thorough attendance but she seemed to wait until she was alone to die. It was this thought that let me leave dad. I stepped from the room and again burst into tears. The attending nurse hugged me.
When I got home, I called my brothers and let them know that dad didn't have long. An hour or so later, one of my brothers called to say dad was dead. None of my brothers were able to get there in time. I took and still take satisfaction, I'm sorry to say, that they did not get to see him one last time. The day was, it seemed fitting, the last day of winter.
I write on a chilly day that nonetheless feels like spring. Red polls are chirping and investing themselves at the birdfeeder. I miss dad. I don't really miss my family—those brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews, and nieces—except as a kind of unsatisfying invention of family loyalty and love. They complained about how we cared for dad, and this, and that. Burdened those who were doing the work.
Both my parents just wanted a family. They wanted to see their children and their wives and their grandchildren. Lives of busyness made visits rarer and rarer. The nucleus disintegrated. Little else remains but ill will.
I've seen one brother since dad died, at a funeral of someone we both knew. I have heard from none of the others, nor have I tried to get in touch with anyone. The three brothers, the three wives, the six nephews and nieces. Petty things occurred and petty things grew.
Eight years later, I see the boundaries that I assumed didn't exist. We weren't really that close. We tried, in honour of our parents, but we were too ready merely to delude ourselves. And I want to write about this but I don't want to complain. I know we all have our stories. I'd like to step across the boundary.
I'm a little envious of those at the AWP groupgrope, just down the road. Arcane subjects to share in Publish or Die Land. It seems a closed system. The panels would interest me, but would they help me? I'm still talking my father's death, and disappointment with my family. I'm trying to find a language in between the anger and sadness, and better than either. Poetry is no good if it lacks intensive spring.