There Will be Absence
From writings about helping my father as he completes his life.
Late night. Alone in my bed. The wind sighs heavily in the maple trees, sifting through branches with fewer and fewer leaves to rustle. The sound sits on me. I feel my feelings. Windows of connection with my father shrink. There are no longer infinite moments. I digest this. I feel this.
Earlier he woke from a long nap in his chair, befuddled and peevish. I settled at his feet, took his clammy, boney hand and gazed into his eyes. He gazed back, curling his fingers around mine the tiniest amount. He has grown so weak.
He was sad about everything. I smiled at him, letting love pour gently into his eyes. Not too much or too fast so that he felt a strain, but steadily, calmly. I felt, for a moment, his fear. And I felt a sharp twinge in my heart, a wave of my own ‘holding on’; it started to billow up and I caught it, sent it back down, swirled it around in my belly. I could sip it later.
My desire to hold him here a bit more is genuine and, yes, it’s fine for me to have my feelings. All that, of course. But I’ve made the contract to be here for him. This is not a matter of spoiling him, or of him getting his way, or of me sacrificing my life. We are in the purity of dying. I am here to rise above, penetrate beneath, and embrace what lies beyond my feelings and his. The love pouring through my eyes is service, serving this passage which must be done. It is a natural time, but not an easy time. There will hours for crying, for missing him, for lamentation. There will be absence later, but now we are here.
Saturday: John and I move my father gently, clearly from the armchair to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair onto the toilet. He shifts his weight, slowly turns his body, now inches one foot forward, now the other foot. He has to lower his bottom onto the seat as he does a 90 degree turn. He is afraid. I get behind him and place my palms gently and securely along the outside of his hips, but just a bit under his seat. As he lowers, I guide him around and down, like landing an airplane. He lands just right in the chair. He gives a little grunt laugh. Relief! and I beam. Good. We made it.
Sunday: Today he collapsed on the few steps between the toilet and his chair. John had him. It was okay, but it shook Dad.
Monday: He suffers patiently not being able to stand. He would like to stand, to step over to the toilet. He would like to have his bowels empty, leaving him relaxed and sleepy. But he cannot stand, even with John and me helping. It is too much. We finally heave his heavy legs onto the bed. And he sighs, lying back. We are ready. We have heavy diapers on him, and a bedpad underneath. We know how to turn him on his side to change him and clean him. We’ve Googled this and asked all the CNAs. It’s going to be fine. Looks pretty easy. But, he doesn’t just lie there sweet, quiet, and compliant. He’s a dead weight. Or he’s sleeping like a possum then darting up when our guard is down, suddenly lurching off the bed or chair or toilet to waver unsupported on the verge of crumpling. Precarious. Life is precarious. We are worried about the first time he gives up ambulation. But it will be fine. He mustn’t worry. It is fine. Part of it all. Part of him falling gently and being caught.
He can no longer get a spoon to his mouth without spilling most of the contents. I cut all his food into finger food–hot dogs, green beans, roasted potato, English muffin, sandwiches. It’s rather elegant. Anything else, like a bit of vegetable soup or ice cream with chocolate sauce, I feed to him, making it a game of pleasure.
His body gradually unhooks bits of itself. He has patches of awareness between veils of sleep or agitation. Every day, like the progression of autumn, the sun dipping lower across the southern sky, the leaves dawdling down, the chipmunks scurrying with full cheeks, he moves in the passage.
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