My father is slipping away. Physically, he’s ok but mentally he’s declining. Two days ago on our call he said he was working on a secret project for the governor. The next day he was tired because they’d been “getting on and off the airplane” and “flying around” all day.
I didn’t know what to say, because there was nothing to say. The facility is still locked down. He isn’t going anywhere and no one is visiting, but in his mind he’s all over the place.
His speech has become so compromised that we can’t talk about much. He can’t come up with words. It’s worse now than six weeks ago before the lockdown. I hear him struggle and I feel his frustration. Most of the time, he trails off. So usually I just ask him questions: how was breakfast, how did you sleep, how are you feeling?
There aren’t many questions to ask so our talks our short. He sounds like he wants to hang up, so I let him go.
That’s what this process feels like—letting go. But it happens slowly. I’m not really letting my father go; I’m feeling something pull him away from me. Every day I lose another piece of him. I say goodbye to something else, sometimes a small thing like having breakfast with him. Just a few years ago, my husband and I took my father to the diner every week.
Breakfast is his favorite meal of the day. When I was younger, he preferred a savory breakfast: fried eggs, omelets, eggs Benedict, bacon. He loved corned beef hash, home fries, and toast or biscuits drenched with butter. In the last five years, he’s switched to sweeter foods like French toast or waffles, both with lots of syrup. He dips his sausage in the syrup. Actually, it’s more of a dunk than a dip. The syrup swims on his plate. He likes his coffee so sweet I’d cringe as I watched him with the sugar packets: three or four in one cup of coffee plus lots of cream.
Before his disease, my father liked certain desserts like cream pies and ice cream, but he wasn’t as into sugar as he is now. I’ve read as we age our taste buds dull, and that’s why many elderly people like sweets. When we were allowed to visit I’d bring him carrot cake or pudding or milkshakes.
It’s all stopped now. Visits haven’t been allowed for over a month and deliveries aren’t allowed either. I speak with him by phone every morning. I ask him if he got his sausage, because if he didn’t he’s disappointed. And If he doesn’t get coffee, his day isn’t off to a good start.
This morning he said he got both, which was good. But he sounded tired. His voice was thick and muddled. He said he didn’t sleep well. I asked him if he was ok, because the facility called me at 4:50 am and said he’d rolled out of bed. They keep his bed at floor level but even so he got a skin tear. They told me he was all right, but I wanted to hear it from him. He said he was, but I don’t think he knew what I was talking about. I don’t think he remembered rolling out of bed.
I’m glad he didn’t, because what good would it do for him to remember? It would only remind him of his helplessness, of the danger he lives with every day. He’s not even safe sleeping on a bed pushed up to the wall, the mattress flat on the floor. It’s better he isn’t aware of it.
Better for him and worse for me, but that’s ok. I’ll take it. God, thank you for giving it to me instead of him. My father has enough to bear. Thank you for allowing me to help in these little ways, for strengthening me through my weakness. Because my weakness makes me seek you, and with you I am stronger.
I hung up today relieved my dad was ok. I told myself everything was fine, he was fine. Then a profound sense of despair surged through me, so strong and sudden I didn’t see it coming. I was driving and had to stop the car. I couldn’t concentrate, so I just let myself feel all the emotions I keep fighting back: relief, gratitude, longing, sadness. Mostly the latter, because I said goodbye to another piece of my father.
It is a long, sad goodbye.