Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Four Years An Angel

The morning Big Mare had the feeding tube installed in her belly, we met briefly with the surgical team to discuss the procedure.  The tumor was lodged in her esophagus, like an immovable boulder.  No food could get past it.  Essentially, she was starving to death.  The feeding tube could bring nutrients right into her stomach.  In theory, she'd have a better chance of staying strong and fighting infection.  It didn't work out that way, but it sure was worth a try.
"You're down too much weight, Mrs. Dall," the doctor said.  "You need nourishment."
I could tell that my mother thought her surgeon was very handsome.
"Do you understand what's happening today?" he wanted to be sure.  Mom nodded her head, even though I knew she was confused.  "Do you have any questions before we begin?"
"What's gonna happen to Daddy?" she asked him.

"Do you want to call your father?"  The nurse looked at me.
"Nah, we're good.  He has TBI.  Mom's his caretaker."
"Oh."  She paused.  "Can he stay with you?" she inquired.
"I don't think so.  I'm not sure.  He's diabetic and uncooperative."
"Mary, don't let him eat jelly," my mother insisted.
"Look, I'll do what I can." I didn't want to fight with her.
"Promise me, Honey."
"Okay, Mom.  I got it.  No jelly."

"This is a shit storm, isn't it?" I asked the nurse.
"Yes, it is," she said.  "Are you ready?  Because it's coming."
"I think so." I answered .  What else could I say?
She squeezed my hand, and I let out a noise.  It was a small sound, the kind you might make when the needle goes in.

"Did you ever in your life?" Big Mare inquired, staring past us.
The nurse and I waited for her to continue with what sounded like an incomplete thought.
"I just spent four grand on new teeth.  Money right out the fucking window."


My father had been at the Adult Day Care Center in town during the day.  The folks who worked there were terrific.  They enjoyed my Dad, as most folks do.  Since the accident, he is easy to please.  My mother was the only one who found him to be an intolerable drain.  Then again, my folks had a turbulent history.  Big Mare put a lot of time in, and she wasn't about to let all that resentment go.  In some civilizations, animosity is a valuable currency.
"He owes me," she would often say.
It's a shame that he never paid her back.  He had no idea there was a debt.

The women at Shepherd's Haven greeted me at the door.
"We're praying for Mary," Dawn proffered as she wrapped her arms around me.  I leaned in for an embrace from two ladies I barely knew.  It felt good.  They handed me a shopping bag filled with leftovers from lunch.
"Take care, Gene!"  They called to my Dad as I stuffed his big body into the car and fastened his seatbelt.  He waved.
"They're very nice," he said.
"You're a lucky motherfucker," I reminded him.
He laughed.  He thinks it's funny when I curse.

That evening, we got takeout from the pizzeria.  I ordered a pie for us, chicken parm for my Dad.  I cut my father's meat and tucked two big paper towels into the neckline of his shirt.  He ate his dinner, carefully chewing the cutlet on the side of his mouth where his teeth were still located.  He had three of them at the time. There's only one tooth left, and he manages pretty well.  It's incredible.  He's had the same tube of toothpaste for seven months.

Every once in awhile when my father is eating, he'll start to cough.  It's the scariest thing you'll ever hear.  It sounds as if he is choking to death and the end is imminent. 
"Gene, are you all right?  Can you breathe?"  I holler into his face.
"Yes," he'll say, clearing his throat.
"Here.  Drink something." I'll hand him a glass of water.
"Why?  I'm not thirsty."  He has a point.

David and I sat at the dining room table that night, discussing my father's future. Dad was right there with us, doing his word search puzzles.
"Is Grandpa gonna sleep over?" Desmond asked.
"No, Sweetheart.  Mommy's gonna bring him back to his house in a little bit.  I'll go get him in the morning, and we'll take him to his new place."
I looked over at my father.  No reaction.  

I slept like shit that night.  My heart and mind took turns worrying about my parents.  I envisioned her, dying alone in a hospital bed.  And him, wandering out onto Hamburg Turnpike, getting hit by a truck.

The next morning, I let myself into the apartment.  I found Dad in the bedroom, eating salad from a gallon size ziploc bag.
"How come you're back here?" I asked him.
"I'm having breakfast," he said.
"What are you, whacked out?  Give me that." I grabbed the wilted lettuce from his lap.  "C'mon, I'll make you some cereal."

My old man followed me into the kitchen.  He sat in his usual spot at the table, waiting for whatever.  I refused to see him as lost.  If I did, I wouldn't have been able to move, ever again.  I'd still be frozen in that spot.
"Where's your mother?" he asked.
"I told you.  She's at Chilton.  They had to put in a feeding tube, so she can… get food."  He couldn't really grasp what I meant.  I barely had words to explain what was happening to us.
"Is she coming back?"
"I don't know, Dad.  Do you want some juice?"
"That'd be nice," he said.

"Finish up here.  You need a shower.  We have to get going."  I tried urging him along.
"I'm spotless," he announced.  "And I'm already dressed."
"Dude, you're wearing pajamas and clothes.  Make up your fucking mind."


Mom, today you are four years an angel.  I can't believe it.  The time passes quickly and also goes slow.  Occasionally, I wonder if now that you're settled up there in Heaven, maybe you want Dad with you again.  Sure, it's an abstract thought, and I'm not in a hurry to rush things along.  Whenever you're ready, I know I'll be okay with what happens.  And until then, we're doing just fine.

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