Single Parent Faith

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Father, My Child


“A perfect body is not required to achieve a divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail frames. Great spiritual strength is often developed by those with physical challenges precisely because they are challenged. Such individuals are entitled to all the blessings that God has in store for His faithful and obedient children." ~ Russell M. Nelson 

“Don’t Leave!”
“I’m not going to leave you while you’re sleeping, dad.”

I imagine the anxiety of thinking that when he awakens, I will not be here.

He fights falling asleep as he lays in a hospital bed, this cold November evening. I reassure him, 

“You need to nap dad. Go ahead, I’ll be here.”

My hand softly placed on top of his head, feeling the once thick mane, now wisps of strands remain.  The warmth of his scalp penetrating the palm of my hand, as I caress the head of the man who brought me into being.

I look to him as he closes his eyes. This frail and bony figure, once a strong vibrant hearty man whose very laughter incited laughter from any within earshot. Now at 87, tired, weak, and wistfully contemplating, “I never would have imagined this.”

The voyage of a lifetime brings him to a hospital room two days prior to Thanksgiving. Dehydrated, malnourished, sleep deprived, hallucinating…

It’s been over a week he’s been in the hospital after we removed him from a rehabilitation/ skilled nursing facility. After days of hydration, anti-biotics, nourishment, rest, his infection continues.  

“Is your mother alright?”
“Yes”

I tried to cheer him up earlier. I couldn’t find a good get well card, so I opted for a funny Christmas card with a chimpanzee wearing a santa cap. When I showed it to him he quickly admonished, “Put that away. There’s a lot of Jewish people here.” Glimpses of my father’s personality still remain.

As he drifts to sleep, he says,
“Now I’m 99% safe”
“Why?”
“Because you’re here.”

I am now my father’s mother.

Maternal instincts kick in to protect my father and to make him feel safe. But just as a parent needs to balance caring for a child with caring for oneself, I find myself  every evening before I leave telling my dad that though I’d like to stay, I have to return to look after my mom and to get sleep so I may be able to return strong the next day. None of that seems to matter to him. All that matters is the immediate and the now. He doesn’t want me to leave. He doesn’t really think about what’s best for me, and what I need. I don’t think he can. All he can think about are his needs—like a child does.
  
But tonight, before I left for the evening, I stayed until he awoke from his nap. I wanted to make sure he ate before I left for the night. But when he awoke, he did not want to eat.

“No tengo animo para nada, tampoco para comer.” (I have no will for anything, not even to eat)

I attempted to coax him to eat by telling him it was the only way he could heal. But he didn’t seem to care. At one point however, I think he realized that as long as he ate I would stay longer to feed him. The last couple of days he was feeding himself, but tonight he said he couldn’t. It may be that he was feeling weaker because his hemoglobin count is low. The doctor is planning to give him blood this evening.

This once highly intelligent and reasonable man, is now having hallucinations and paranoia. He believes he will be transformed somehow. The transformation he refers to is more akin to a Star Trek type of transport. Earlier today he told me “I feel the changes already taking place in my body.”

“You have an infection your body is fighting, likely that is what you feel.”
“No, I can feel the change already starting. I feel movement in my body.”

He kept having recurring thoughts that his hospital room mate is “one of them” and is going to kill him when he sleeps. I told him, “Don’t worry, he can’t even walk, he is missing a leg.” No matter, my dad reassured me, “He can still strangle me from his wheel chair.”

Sometimes what he says strikes me as funny and I even inadvertently giggle out loud. Maybe this is how I am coping with an otherwise tragic circumstance. Even in difficult times, there is still humor to be found. Even though in my poor dad’s mind he actually believes this as reality.

Where did my father go? He undoubtedly wonders the same. There are moments he is present and making sense. And then he'll lapse into hallucinating. The doctors say this behavior is a marker for infections. But as the days progress, though he seems to be hallucinating less than when admitted, he still has not rid himself of this.  

Last night, like every night, a similar conversation takes place:

“If  you leave, they will transport me.”
“Where?”
“I don’t know. But as long as you are here, they won’t harm me.”
“I promise you’ll be fine. In the morning you’ll still be here and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I hope so.”

I kiss him multiple times, tuck him in and say, “Good night dad. I love you.”

And as I walk away I see the child, sad and shaking his head in disappointment, uttering, “I am so disappointed.”

Tonight I did not walk away in tears, as I have the other evenings. I don’t know if it’s exhaustion on my part, or the realization that just as when my daughter was young I had to make decisions that she didn’t understand, so too now, I must do the same. However, no matter how one rationalizes it, it is never easy to disappoint a child, or a parent.

Ella Venezia

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