Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Filling in the Blanks

My father is not doing so well these days. He turns 84 tomorrow. He lost his eyesight about five years ago and lost my mother about a year and a half ago. And although he has lost much more than this in his life, these two losses have taken the wind out of his sails entirely.

Dad lives alone now, in the house he bought brand new in 1955, the one I grew up in. It is small according to today's standards, where McMansions abound and computer rooms, media rooms and master suites are must-haves. It is a three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath ranch house with no finished basement, den or office space. Small enough for two, when my mom was alive, but somehow swallowing my dad in his solitude.
He really should live either with lots of help, or in an assisted living situation. He gets disoriented a bit and has hallucinations in the middle of the night. My brothers and I visit, cook meals, do his laundry and shopping, help him with his bills, take him to appointments. He has a cleaning lady once every two weeks.

My dad does NOT want to leave his house. This is not uncommon, I know. He knows every inch of his house and property. He was an electrical engineer by trade and, like many men of his generation, could fix, rewire, unclog or re-route just about anything. He can still feel his way to the circuit breaker box and the furnace.

My younger brother believes that if we insist that dad move, it will kill him. My older brother believes moving him is necessary now. I just don't know. He sits in the living room on one spot on the sofa day after day. The sofa is depressed and worn right there from all the sitting. Because he cannot see, he does not notice when his shirt is stained or his beard has sauce residue. Sometimes, when I go there, I give him a haircut and trim his beard. We both like this. It is a chance for contact - my hands on his head, his face. Dad was never demonstrative in that way. But now, as I wrap his shoulders with a towel to keep the hair off and touch his chin and cheek for a better angle, he closes his eyes and relaxes into my care.

It's a small thing - way too small. Part of me wants to wrap my arms around him from behind and stay there for many moments. But enough of me is not that brave, so I don't.
In my house, my kids - even the grown-up ones - still climb in my bed and lean on me while watching TV or talking. Random hugging is much easier here than it ever was there. How do I give my dad what he needs, what he misses and longs for? I cannot fill the gaping space my mom left. But I can do more. . .

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