Dear Dad,

These days, I keep thinking of the old times.  How you were so playful when we were toddlers, too strict when we were teenagers, my rock during the turmoil of my twenties, and, along with Mom, your kids’ greatest cheerleader.

Sometimes I think that I see the glimmer of the old you.  Beneath the bizarre outfits and the confused talk.

Our weekend of celebrating your big birthday was wonderful.  (After 90, they are ALL big.)  Sometimes you didn’t really understand what was going on, but you were happy that your family was around you.

10630568_10202625072736212_3324593164443517949_o(And you knew to wear the appropriate outfit your aide set out for you.)

And I know you didn’t need the luncheon to be in such a fancy place.  I know if we said, “Dad, we are coming over and we are eating cardboard for dinner [fiber-rich],” you would say, “how wonderful! I can’t wait to see you.”

But you might worry about whether you would get an evening cocktail.

And so I know you have not lost your mind completely.

In the light of day, you know you get confused at night and, appreciating the humor, refer to the nighttime aides as your guards.

Your kids prefer the term, body guards.  So, let’s use that term, shall we?

Today, you were mostly discombobulated and, yet, and yet, you were ready to go to the aid of an old friend whom we didn’t see in the diner today, and whom the waiters hadn’t seen since last week.  You called him to pay a visit and bring food.  In a clutch moment, the old you comes shining through.  (P.S.:  Sam is ok.)

This is a hard road, Dad, for all of us, and, most of all, for you.

And yet.

And yet, even in the waning days of your life and the continuing diminishing of your faculties, the essential you shines through.

You won’t ever read this.  But I had to write it.

I love you, Dad.

~Blogger

P.S.:  See you tomorrow, Dad.  Same time.  Lunch.  But let’s change it up a little; let’s order something different.  Because I cannot watch you try to put jam in your coffee or on the tomato slices that comes with your usual order of scrambled eggs.

 

 

 

The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

And the White Knight is Talking Backwards

What do Grace Slick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Slick) and Dad have in common?

Ok.  It sounds like a trick question.

Grace Slick’s nickname was Acid Queen.  Dad’s nickname was Nachy, short for his given name Nachum (his older brother later changed it to an American name).

She was the doyenne of Acid Rock and her heyday was the 60s.  Dad’s heyday was the 40s and 50s.

Grace Slick tried to slip Nixon LSD (we later learned that he was on far better stuff).  Dad made a killer Rob Roy — very, very dry, with a twist of lemon.

Grace Slick’s songs had surrealistic, metaphoric lyrics, sometimes using the mundane as “cover”.  Dad, a sculptor, was firmly rooted in realism but sought to imbue a sense of emotion and motion in his work.

But both believed in change; both were against Vietnam.  Grace protested on stage.  Dad marched on Washington.

I loved Jefferson Airplane as a kid because it spoke to my as-yet-unidentified angst and different-ness.  When things didn’t make sense, I would think of the lyrics of “Go Ask Alice” — “and the white knight is talking backwards. . . .”

And when, as a preteen and then a teenager, I knew I didn’t fit into the heterosexual world and felt let down by everyone and by G-d because I was different, the first lyric of “Somebody to Love” reverberated in my head:

When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug32SjIWfKs

So, what does any of this have to do with Dad?

Well, it is complicated.  As little as Dad understood about the turmoil in me, he was my champion.  He held me once in what was almost my rock bottom and said, “hold onto me.  And nothing bad can happen.”  He held onto me then and so many times after that when I thought I would have otherwise been consumed by my demons and by my different-ness.

Over these few years, Dad’s mental capabilities have diminished.  Most times, in person or on the phone, he gives me enough reality so I can make a conversation around it and maybe even garner a laugh from him.

In the last week, it has become almost impossible to identify something in what he says that I can’t spin back to reality and bring him back to us.  And I keep thinking, “Oh shit, the white knight is talking backwards and I hate Alice in Wonderland.”

And Dad probably hated Alice in Wonderland.  We are too logical.  Which makes this most recent decline even more difficult.  He is still razor sharp on some things, but those things have become islands in an archipelago, where once the archipelago was a seamless land mass.

And so Dad is talking backwards.  And he lost his love, my Mom.  And he lives a psychedelic existence that is not tethered in reality or surreality.  But is not just a “bad trip” in 60s and 70s parlance.  It is old age and the vagaries that come with a life (maybe) too long.

But he is truly happy when his family is around him, even if he cannot follow or contribute to a conversation.  I feel it in the hug and our saying, “I love you” to each other.  And through the haze, he sometimes says that he knows we are here and he is grateful for our love and support.

And I cry.

Because he lives life like a Grace Slick song.

Because my white knight is talking backwards and it is my turn to save him.

 

Saturday in the Park . . . .

I have been pretty overwhelmed by life and responsibility.

Then, as if from on high (ok, via cell phone), comes a booming voice:

“I read your blogs.  I have a few comments:  Schmuck, you are 50. Count them, I will wait.  [No waiting time] Ok, I will bottom-line it for you.  50 years old.  Are you going to spend the next decade in the dumps?  Because your father will live that long.  You know he will —”

“But,” trying to get in a word, “there was AROB and ULOB and —-“

“Done.  They are gone.  It is hard to clean up after people who are dead.  But you are not hurting them by selling their stuff and doing whatever you have to do. It is a job.”

Pause.  I am trying hard not to shriek, “You don’t f&^*ing understand!  It has been toooooo much these past two years!!!” But I didn’t.

I did seethe, however.  And think about my martyrdom.  I felt sooooo self-righteous.  And then I remembered I was Jewish and there is no sainthood.

And, then, I thought:  Really, [Blogger]? Are you kidding me?

Martyrdom? 

MARTYRDOM? 

MARTYRDOM?

Do ya read the newspapers?  [NOW, I am calling myself, schmuck.]

I stopped.  Mostly because I exhausted myself, even without uttering a word. And, I was letting stuff get me down which, if I stopped for a little perspective, is hard but so life-affirming.  I was getting stuck in a quagmire of details and legal issues and I forgot to be grateful for the lives my elders lived and my part in making those lives happy and secure at the most vulnerable times.

But, perspective can be tiresome and short-lived, especially if one is a self-indulgent, overly-consumptive New Yorker.  (Oops, that would be I.)

Still, even I couldn’t shake the idea that I need to think differently about a situation that isn’t going to change (until the BIG change).  Saturday was such a sunny beautiful day that it was hard to feel sad.

I decided walking to Dad’s house for lunch (at the you-know-where) was just the thing to put me in a good mood.

I walked the three or so miles there, through the city streets and Central Park.

It didn’t start out so well.

I heard a woman ranting at her boyfriend (possibly fiancé) about how much money he gives to his dead-beat dad.  The man didn’t even utter a word.  She just kept on responding to his unspoken answers.

I wanted to scream. Oh, please, shut up.  Did you ask what he gets out of it and what pain he avoids by doing this, even though you say he doesn’t want to give his dad money?

I heard two joggers disagree about whether helmets save lives.

Ok, thought for the day: it may or it may not, but what the hell, wear it.  I couldn’t hurt.

OK, this walk in the Park thing is — how shall I say it — no walk in the park.

Then, I heard one biker, who apparently had been cut off by another biker, yell, “Youw mothah is a man!!!” [English translation: your mother is quite unattractive.]

So unexpected in a City where, in fact, his mother could have transitioned from, or to, a man.  Such a throwback comment, ripped right from the urban playground where we born-and-bred New Yorkers cut our teeth in the 1960s and 70s.

I don’t know why, but I laughed so hard.  Maybe because it was a different kind of nostalgia — ludicrous one and so out-dated.  And the laughter made the sun felt brighter and warmer.  And I hummed all the way to Dad’s house, even skipping a little.

I think I will try to walk to Dad’s as many times as I can.

The Years Spin By and Now the Girl is 50

Dear Mom:

So I have moved 50 times ’round the seasons.

And my dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.

There were new dreams along the way.  Some of them still matter; some were fantasies of youthful exuberance and abject cluelessness.

I am not scared of growing older.  (Ok, I am not happy with droopy eyelids you gave me.)

And now I drag my feet to slow down time (or the circles, to keep the Joni Mitchell motif).  Really, to hold onto to the stories and memories of you, Dad and the older generation.  I look at the old pictures to remind me of the people who made me (for better or worse) the person I am today.  Those fallible, lovable and wildly eccentric (ok, our family once was poor, so I think we only qualify as “crazy”) people.

I am starting to forget some of the stories. Dad has forgotten almost everything. I can’t lose you any more than I already have.  And I need room to experience and remember the joys of your grandchildren, all three wonderful boys, and especially my little guy, SOS.

Years ago, when I imagined turning 50, I thought I would have security, maturity and direction in life.  And I fully expected that you would be telling me the story about my birth, as you always did.  Life doesn’t conform to expectations; they are really hopes and desires locked into a time and place.

Even though life at 50 is nothing as I expected, I feel lucky looking in my rear-view mirror and I am (cautiously) hopeful about the road ahead.

Ok, maybe I am scared a little about the road ahead.  I have to remember that I am strong and the road these past years hasn’t been a cake walk and I am still standing.  And I have to draw on the memories of those who made me strong without wallowing in the past.

But it is hard when you, my biggest cheerleader, are gone.  And sometimes, late at night, when the world is too much with me, I need a guiding hand, a loving voice, and my Mom who had lived through so much, quieting my fears.  I try to imagine you.  It doesn’t always work.

Tonight, we had a pre-birthday dinner.  SOB and I fought over the check.  (Could you tell her to let me win just a few times?)  SOB and I told the stories you would have told about SOB’s birth, BOB’s birth and my birth on our birthdays.  The same stories, over and over again.  And they get better with each telling.

One of the best stories concerns SOB’s birth.  Aunt Gertie, who had three sons, waited until you opened your eyes to storm into your hospital room and screeched at Uncle Leon [Dad’s brother], “See, Natie could give Elsie a girl!!”  Mom, you always said that was the most painful part of childbirth.

Have I mentioned recently how much you would have loved and adored HOSOB?  Such a pity you never met.  And I know you would be so happy that Cousin Gentle rounds out the crew.  I know, I know, why can’t Dallas be closer to New York?  You tell me, Mom.  You are as close as they get to the Big Guy.  Ask Him to work on plate tectonics or something.   See what you can do.

Mom, you are the missing person at every gathering, every simcha and every sad time.  And I miss your warm hand always reaching out to hold SOB’s or BOB’s or mine.  Even at the end, you always reached for us.

And we still reach back, hoping you feel us across the great divide.

I love you forever, Mom.

~ Blogger

Life in Triage

I have news for you, Forrest Gump and your mama, life is only a box of chocolates for so long, and then it becomes a mine field.

A mine field.  And, still, you never know what you are going to get.

Which is scarier than when the box was really filled with chocolates.

With age, comes crazy issues.  Some older people have an aversion to the sensation of water on their bodies.  They must be reminded to shower.  Others, who were meticulously responsible accumulators of wealth fall prey to scams promising easy money.  And, sometimes, even choices on a menu are too daunting.

There is an art — which I have not learned — to coaxing an older person to the right decisions.  And there are right decisions — yes to shower, no to scams.

There is also a way to guide the choice for lunch while still letting them be in control.  SOB is great at it.  I am — um — impatient.

“So, you will have the turkey club for a change of pace.  And fries, because they taste good.”

“Are you sure about the fries?”

“Absolutely, Dad.  Besides, look around at the rest us hungry people.  We will be happy to snarf your fries.  You brought antacids, right?”

BOB, SOB and I often discussed various ways of dealing with these issues without making Dad feel that he isn’t as “independent” or in charge as we try make him feel.

It is a tough brew.  The main ingredient is love, cut by family meshugas, simmered to sheer impatience, then mixed with wanting-to-fix-everything, followed by a dash of why-can’t-things-be-the-same-as-20-years-ago, drizzled with a fine reduction of resolution and understanding.  Served at room temperature.

A complicated stew, indeed.  When served, it looks way better than I cut a brisket.

But careful of the exploding ordnances along the way.

Big Game

Yesterday was game day.  The big one.  The game that unites more Americans in a single activity at the same time than any other event at any other time:

THE SUPER BOWL.

SOS was very excited.  I found this odd because SOS is not so much a player as he is a (more-than-slightly reserved) spectator.  Let’s be honest, his favorite sport is rigorous reading of incredibly sophisticated tomes.

On Saturday, I asked SOS why he was so interested in the Super Bowl.

“I am interested in all cultural phenomena, [Blogger]!”

Well, all right, then.  While I loved to play sports, I am a pop-culture moron.  He will be far better equipped for the real world.

As late as Saturday, we were non-committal as to which team to support.  The Sea Hawks are from Seattle and we have family in the Northwest Territories.  But, Peyton Manning is Eli’s brother and Eli is our home town-ish QB.

Two things tipped the balance in favor of the Sea Hawks: our Washington and Oregon family were in town and we saw the first play of the game which was a disaster.

By 6:35pm on Sunday, we were firmly in the Sea Hawks’ camp.

SOS brought out a football to hold during the game.  And, I thought, there are things that all boys do.  It is on the Y chromosome, along with smelly feet and spank magazines.

We started to throw the ball around the living room and we “ran the ball in” and tackled each other during some commercials and some play time.  All the time, I was scared that his brains will spill out of his head in a bad fall.  Nothing more than a few scratches and bruises — on me.

(That boy can tackle.  OUCH.)

I had to throw a red penalty schmatah [Yiddish for rag] on our field.  And I stood up and declared:

“TOTALLY offensive and painful jab to a mother’s breast.  10 yard penalty.  3rd down.  Time-out, [Blogger].”

Then we giggled.

“[Blogger], you are the dad I will never had. But you are also my mom which is a bonus.”

I got misty-eyed and proud.  And that is probably politically incorrect, but I don’t really give a damn.

In a split-second, as if to remind me that we are not the family in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, he announced:

“The Sea Hawks are winning by so much that it is boring.  I am going to catch some Downton Abbey until bed.  Tell me if anything exciting happens.”

He scurried off into another room to watch a drawing room soap opera already in progress.

But he left the football with me.  Thanks, bud.

Just what the doctor ordered

Today is a very snowy day in New York, as it is elsewhere across the country.

After helping my share of elderly up and down the subway stairs —

Sidebar:  REALLY?  Old or infirm navigating the subway stairs that are treacherous for me, an able-bodied (although middle-aged) person?  I thought that’s why we have buses — for the very young and the very old.  I will have to email Mayor DiBlasio.

— I was relieved that Dad was home and safe without any need to go out in this horrible weather.   And, if he needed something, like medicine, his aide would call SOB or me.

I figured today was a slow day for Dad, being cooped up and all, so I called him earlier than my usual 5pm-cocktail hour time slot.

“Hi, Dad, it is [Blogger]”

“[Blogger] sweetheart!! How are you?”

“I am great, Dad.  Some snow, huh?”

Sidebar:  Sometimes, after I have seen Dad for two out of three days’ running, I have to dig deep for conversation.  And, I say things that I never thought I would ever utter: “cold enough for you?” or other, similarly insipid statements-turned-questions.  But, since Dad is not a sportsman, I have never uttered, “how about those Mets?”  G-d bless you, Daddy, for saving my soul and my sanity.

“Oh, yes.  It is crazy out there.  We went out early today.  [Pause. A little background commotion follows.]  Wait, darling, [health aide] wants to talk to you.”

“Hi, [health aide].  Everything ok?”

“We went out before the snow accumulated.  It was safe.  Here is your father.”

Sidebar: Not even a hello?

“So, Dad, where did you go?”

“Well, we were checking our provisions, and it was determined that I was running low on scotch.  And we needed to get more.  So we went up to [a store that is 1.5 miles away] because I like the prices.”

Sidebar:  Since my father now buys wine in a drug store, I am a little afraid of the low-cost scotch that might be going into his system.  But what impressed me was that, clearly, a panel of experts exists in his house to make these medical determinations.  No wonder his health aide felt the need to make sure that I knew there was no ice or snow accumulation because they trekked out in treacherous weather for scotch.

“Dad, would you put [health aide] back on the phone?”

“Yes?” she answered with some trepidation.

“We trust you implicitly so we know Dad is safe.  And, you had to get his medicine.  Because medicine is medicine, no matter who prescribes it.  Would you put Dad back on?”

Dad comes back on.

“Okay, Daddy, enjoy the rest of the day.  I love you and, remember, drink the scotch only as prescribed.”

 

 

Daddy’s Angels (but our devils)

Once an elder needs care, it is not so easy as having loving people come into the house and care for him or her.

No, you have given birth to a family unit, with individuals perhaps older than you.  Your elder has new kids.  No, this is not science fiction. This, THIS, is the new normal.

Dad has four aides — two share the 12-hour day shift and two share the night shift.  Everything revolves around his care.  Dad is a lovely man and three out of the four aides have become attached to him, and he to them.  The fourth one does her job.  And that is all we ask.

But in the fight over who is the favorite and who takes the best care of Dad, there is palace intrigue.  They check up on each other and rat out each other.  As if Dad is some power broker, rather than a jovial, yet clueless man.

So, these last 14 months, I have had to intervene, referee and speak with any number of supervisors in order to keep Dad’s routine the same.  Because we, as a family, do not believe that a night aide who is competent, but not warm and fuzzy, should lose her job because she and Dad don’t “connect”.  But there have been “cleanliness” issues and Dad is decidedly uncomfortable with her.  Reasons enough to make changes but we resisted, out of respect for a person’s right to earn a living.

Now, there is a battle royale between the aide of whom Dad is most fond and the one of whom he is least fond.  For those of you who are old enough to remember, think Linda Evans and Joan Collins in Dynasty.

You can imagine how little patience one can have for this when it is playing out in my life.  Sometimes I wonder if I am on Jerry Springer, i.e., Shit Time in the Day Time.  (Is he still around?)

In the end, we set out clearly both our priorities and must-haves with the agency.  And what will make us go to another care provider.

I want everyone to keep their jobs.  But Dad needs to be happy.  And so I was forced to prioritize jobs and positions.  In life, my parents have erred on the side of preserving peoples’ jobs, even if it meant less for our family.  I followed suit in the Great Recession (some called me a schmuck, but I can look in the mirror and only worry about wrinkles).

The problems started almost at the beginning, and I needed to make a decision.  If the internecine battles cannot be resolved, then I voted one off the island.  (Or whatever, the reality TV lingo is; now you know the cerebral punishment that is worst than death.)

I am good with my decision.  But I am sad about having to make it.  But I will stand by it, especially face-to-face with the reassigned aide.  Because I owe the aid that respect.

Maintaining Dad’s world is too important.  But not without unintended consequences arising out of new situations and relationships.

Nothing in this life is easy.  But the saving grace is that Dad doesn’t even have to know.

He can walk blithely on, happy and kibbitzing with his attendants during the day and sleep as well as possible in the night.  And, at long last, after all Mom and he did for us, this is the least we can do for him.

But I didn’t know making this type of decisions in this economy was in the bargain.

Dad is fine; my soul is diminished in the process. This is the reality of caring for the elderly and the infirm. The new world that needs the brave (and the compassionate and the guilty).

Silver Alert (for Dad and Us)

SOB and I had lunch with Dad and his aide on Saturday (and then on Sunday, with SOS).

As is our Saturday custom, we went through the mounds of scam solicitations targeting older people and settled upon two legitimate charities to which Dad could give.  We love that about Dad:  He always wants to share his good fortune with others.

And he feels so fortunate. Dad was still a little foggy from a nasty fall he took earlier in the week getting out of bed. But to him, he makes sense.  So he is happy.  The rest?  It is our problem.

SIDEBAR:  A few days ago, he had gone to bed for the night but needed to use the bathroom and he got dizzy and fell and hit his head against his night table.  An ER visit and seven stitches (right between the eyes) later, we prevailed upon Dad FINALLY to let us move that damned night table, which had been in the same position for 50 years, so that something like this won’t happen again.  Thank G-d for the night attendant.  He was impaled on the the nightstand and helpless.  She helped him, cleaned his wound and called us.  Yes, yes, yes, yes.  I still have nightmares.  And I don’t doubt our decision to spend the money for 24 hour care.

We ambled over to lunch.  Shredding scams gives me an enormous appetite.

SIDEBAR:  Some serious intrigue was unfolding in the COSUD (COffee Shop of the UnDead).  We went over to Sam to say hello and asked after Norma.  Sam was with a couple whom Dad knows from the synagogue, but Dad cannot remember their names and neither can SOB or I.  Sam seemed so consumed with worry that it was heart-breaking.  We offered our help and gave our numbers as we have done any number of times before.

The woman of the couple whose name we can’t remember came over to us and started talking to me.  “I may be out of line here. . . .”  Oh no.  What is she going to say?  “But Sam is carrying an unbelievable burden and I think he can’t handle it.”  Apparently, Norma wants Sam and only Sam to care for her.  And he is older than Dad.

“Thank you for telling me.  If you think of something we can do, please let us know.”  What do I say?  Sam won’t tell us that.  Maybe he doesn’t see it.  We want to help.  Our families have known each other for 50 years.

Sometimes, there are no answer for these intractable issues.  And then you give thanks for having parents who understood when they needed help and accepted help and guidance from each other and their children.

We sat down and Vassily came to take our orders.  “I am saving you for last,” he said to me, “because you are so difficult!”  At least he said it with a smile. COSUD is really growing on me.

Today, we wanted to have an activity more than just lunch.  Dad is less inclined to schlep to museums these days.  Dad needed to keep moving and not give into the weariness and fogginess that resulted from his fall.  So, SOB decided on TJ Maxx which is two blocks away. We were going shopping and Dad loves a good bargain.  SOB wanted Dad to have warmer pajamas for the winter.

Dad was a little confused about why he was there.  Luckily, he was kibbitzing (light-heartedly arguing) with his aide.  Like the Odd Couple.

Dad said, “I need boxers.  I only have one pair.”

“You have a month’s worth in your drawers!” said his aide.

“But I only wear one pair at a time, so I need more.”

Well, all right then.  He has a logic all his own.  They were choosing among the clingy, perfect-gay-man body elastic boxers.  And arguing whether they would be a good fit.  OBVIOUSLY, I couldn’t listen to it, but they were having a good ol’ time. So I went to find SOB.

I found SOB.  And then I looked back at where Dad and his aide were standing.  All of a sudden, Dad and his aide VANISHED.

SOB and I were getting frantic.  “Is it a white alert?  A gray alert? An aged amber alert?” I asked SOB, barely containing my concern.  “Silver Alert,” SOB said in a calm voice that belied her feelings.

“Wait! I will call [the aide’s] cell!” I dialed.

Voice mail.  Turned out we were calling each other at the same time.  They were sitting below sight line.

Phew.  I bought pajamas and 20-something boxer shorts for the perfect body for my 93 year-old father.  Doesn’t matter.  It costs what it costs.  Sand on a beach, as they say.  He is happy and maybe will think he is Adonis.  Ewwww Ewwwwww.  Stop.

SOB and I crawled into a cab after seeing Dad and his aide safely across streets to his block.  Because SOB and I have creepy twin speak, I don’t remember who said what:

“Remember when Mom used to hand the phone to us and say, ‘give your grandparents a thrill’ and we were so resentful of the two minutes out of day it took to call them?”

“I know.  Kids don’t know what it means, our generation finally understands, and the grandparents live for it.  Knowledge and appreciation come with age.  This is the way it is with the young, the middle-aged and the aged.  It will never change.”

The insightful comments must be my sister’s.

Why is the voice of a grandchild better than any medicine?  Because when, as it happened today (Sunday) at lunch, the young and old enjoy each other’s company, it transcends time.

And brings joy to every generation at the table.