I visited my dad today.
I visited him for the first time since he spent close to a month in a geriatric psychiatric unit, balancing medications meant to stop his volatile, aggressive, and violent behaviors.
I hadn’t seen him in over four weeks as visits to short-term residents of the geri-psych unit weren’t allowed. His transfer to a memory care unit that also dealt with behavioral issues had happened just a week earlier. I had been excited, looking forward to visiting him the day after his transfer when things took a turn for the worse and the staff sent my mother home to protect her from his temper and violent behaviors.
Another medication added, another week of waiting before I visited, another awful story stored in my memory.
I stopped at the administration building before I went in to see my dad. I didn’t want to just ‘drop in’ when I wasn’t sure if I was welcome, or if he was having a bad day, or if things were just too volatile to risk a visit.
Let me tell you, the poor guy in the administrative office was so busy that I wondered how he was handling it all with a smile. I waited with a man who was paying for his mother’s care; when all the phone calls and billing issues were finally completed, the gentleman in the administrative office walked me to the door of my father’s cottage while wishing me a good visit.
Visiting my father had filled me with apprehension. So many scenarios played out in my head, visions of uncomfortable visits with him before his transfer to the geri-psych unit; visions of the behaviors that landed him in the geri-psych unit; fears of how I would explain it to friends and coworkers if he got out of control and put his hands on me. All the fears of my childhood combined with the memories of recent events to torment me; together they made it very hard to visit my father.
I couldn’t get the picture of him smiling and laughing out of my head. My mind was filled with memories of visits to my parent’s house in years past; mornings when we’d gone out for coffee and talked for hours; days that we had wandered together in Costco, laughing and talking about what we’d buy and what we thought my mother would buy. I have far more good memories of my father than bad, but my fears would rather replay every bad report I have ever received, every painful memory from my past and the all the memories of the last eight weeks. I finally decided to meditate on the memory of my father’s smiling face to remind me of all the joy I’ve experienced with him, all the laughter and warmth we’ve had together.
It was those memories I meditated on as I drove to my father’s newest memory care placement.
If you are wondering, the visit was a mixed bag of great moments and negativity. I didn’t have to quack (see my blog post from March 31, 2018), not even once! My father could barely focus on his fears that my mother is out drinking, carousing, and having an affair for more than two or three minutes. Between you and me, dear reader, his fears are so ridiculous as to be laughable. My mom is so in love with him that she hasn’t begun to get over her grief that she can’t have him at home with her. While the effects of his medications were evident—he drools and is slow of speech—he was calm and easily distracted from discussion of my mother. When I showed him pictures of my youngest daughter’s wedding, he remembered both her and my oldest daughter, asking questions about their careers, their love lives, and where they were currently living (both are out of state.) We talked about my daughters and at some point he smiled and laughed. It was divine!
He admitted that he has little memory of the injuries that forced my mother to place him in a memory care facility. He admitted that he has few memories of the last twenty years in Arizona, including the odd jobs that he worked after his partial retirement. He has no idea how old he is and asked me about his age repeatedly. He admitted that he knows that he has good days when he remembers things, and bad days when everything is a confusing and frightening. He admitted to me that he doesn’t anticipate any significant improvement in his condition. He also admitted that he would rather die than live this way.
I shared pictures and memories with my father, and when he admitted his deficits I shared his sorrow and his frustration. When he expressed a desire to die, I granted him permission to go home to God and be freed of his dementia; I promised that I would not be angry with him for leaving me.
It was a great visit and I am truly glad to have shared a moment of my father’s clarity with him.
Just before my visit, I waited in the administrative office with another man who was paying the bill for his mother’s care. He is at least ten years older than I am, and was dressed like your average Arizona cowboy. I asked him if he had a loved one in this memory care facility. He told me that his mother had been there for at least seven months. I asked how she was doing and he revealed that she was just now getting over her anger and beginning to forgive him for placing her there. I noted that my father had only been there for a little over a week and that he was similarly angry and volatile with my mother for not taking him home.
Let me tell you, it is hard to watch a cowboy cry.
His eyes filled with tears, and he promised me that it gets better after six months or so. He encouraged me to hang on, to push away the guilt and remember that we are doing the best that we can to care for my father. I took his hand and said that I sincerely hoped that we both might remember these days when we became old and unable to care for ourselves; that we would understand that our family was doing their best by placing us in a memory care unit. I expressed the hope that while we might be angry about our lives, that we wouldn’t blame our family for our circumstances.
It broke my heart to watch him start to cry much harder.
He hugged me and wished my family well, reminding me that we are doing the very best for my father that we can do.
I don’t know what did my heart better: my father’s smile or a cowboy’s tears.
I can’t decide, so I’ll just praise God for both and pray that I remember this day when I am old, infirm, and entering long-term care.
From this page to God’s ears for all of us.