This morning zipped by quickly as a fast approaching unwanted chore bore down on me. You would not think that Thanksgiving lunch with my Dad would be an unwanted chore. To be honest it was not so much unwanted as an uneasy feeling of dread. The food at the Memory Care facility where Dad lives is heavy on carbs and salt and low on flavor. Plus visits with Dad are always stilted and uncomfortable for me as he and I have such a troubled history between us. But I turned my Subaru into the small Facility parking lot, expecting it to be filled with family visitors. Sadly it was almost empty.
As I entered Dad’s “cabin”, as they are called, the female caregivers were pleasant and friendly. One lady helped my Dad from his bedroom; she carefully and lovingly brushed his hair and straightened his clothes. Dad saw me and gave me a big hug. Who knows who he thinks I am, his wife, his daughter, a girlfriend? Of course, he loves attention, a visitor.
We sat down at a table together waiting for the Thanksgiving feast. This is always the hard part, an hour or two of talking, him unable to hear me, the tone of my voice too low for him even if I yell. Our conversations are loud and repetitive and always shared with everyone in the room.
Dad’s cabin is a men-only building. I looked around at the cabin and wondered if this would be my future too, imprisoned in a female-only small building waiting for the Grim Reaper. But my father, one month shy of age 90, is the healthiest of the patients in this particular cabin. I’m reminded not to try and trick him as he still has a sharp wit and his control issues are still visible. Several of his roommates did not communicate, were barely able to eat or forgot how to eat, or in one case of advanced Alzheimer’s, had no interest in eating or talking to the stranger (his wife) sitting next to him. On the other hand there were a few men, Dad included, who flirted with the female staff. It was funny to watch them; boys will be boys, even if they are seniors.
With dinner still not ready, I decided to show Dad a video on my little IPhone of my recent visit to a nearby Perdido Key beach in Florida. He was amazed by the quality of the video on my small phone. So I showed him all the apps on the phone, a technology that had surpassed him a decade ago.
After dinner, Dad started to belt out a love song to me. The staff laughed and said he sang it to them too. He still remembers the words to a song from his generation. Dad has never been shy and didn’t care about the other people in the room. His audience never said a word.
Then it came to me, something we could share, something I knew he loved. At home Dad used to quote almost the entire Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven, from memory. For no reason, definitely with no prompting, he would raise his voice as if on stage, and start the first lines. Today I Googled the poem and started to read it to him.
After each line, I’d say, “Do you remember that?” “Yes,” he whispered.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Dad smiled at his cherished lines. “Yes”, he said. “I remember that.”
While I nodded, nearly napping suddenly there came a tapping,
His eyes glistened as I read that line. Who knows what memories the poem brought back to him. College? All the times he’d presented the poem to his friends?
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
At home when he spoke this line he’d always look at Mom, his own Lenore.
For effect, I went to Dad’s best line in the entire poem, which he used to say with a strong, low voice.
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”.
He repeated the line, thrilled to relive his role as the voice of Edgar Allen Poe. It was like we were alone in the Memory Care cabin, daughter and father, yet all of us together, a family of four, Mom, Dad, my brother and I. We were back in time, back in Massachusetts, young again.
It was a great Thanksgiving for Dad and I, an unexpected, meaningful celebration. I see now that Dad is content and happy, and I need to feel less guilt about putting his life into someone else’s care. I reminded myself today that the drugs they are giving him are a gift of acceptance. His lifelong anger is gone, only his humor remains. For that I’m happy. I’d have to say that this was one of our best Thanksgivings together-ever.