Monday, August 16, 2010


For a while, my father was in an amiable stage. He seemed to enjoy our visits. We walked with him outside. We read Curious George and National Geographic magazines together. We took rides in the car. It was a good stage.

But it's over.

I arrived early and peered through the glass panel in the security door. I saw him immediately, walking the length of the ward. At each half door, he stopped and tried the handle, shaking, twisting, trying to wrench the door open. After a time, he moved on, walking jerkily like a zombie from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I stepped inside and pulled the door closed behind me. He looked right at me but didn't see me. I was about to approach him when Reggie, one of the day aides, touched my arm. "Don't maybe interrupt him." His voice was gentle. "He is uneasy all the time. Better to let him fuss for now." Fuss. That was a good description of my father's behavior.

I moved to the key panel, feeling the panic rise as always. What was the code? I punched the numbers, stifling a sob: I didn't get to kiss him! I didn't even get to say my favorite words of all - "Hi Dad."

The unlock tone sounded and I saw my father move with sudden focus. He crouched, lowered his right shoulder, tucked his chin, and sent out a singular jab with his right fist. Like a boxer, I thought, staring. Reggie moved quickly, but could not escape the fist completely. It caught him on the back, just under his ribs. I slipped out, securing the door.

This stage is going to be hard. This stage demands that he be left alone, cut off from us, inside that ward, with only the sounds of dementia to keep him company.

Sometimes I think I will not survive the sadness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not Yet.

My father is having trouble with his gait. He doesn't shuffle; rather the toe of his sneaker catches on the floor with each step causing him to lurch. The aide walks next to him, holding on to the wide canvas belt knotted around his waist.

"He's a fall risk," the nurse reported to me this morning. "He should not be walking around without a helmet."

A helmet? I don't know if I could handle seeing my father in a helmet. I watched him stumble.

"Dad!" I shouted at him. He froze in space - I'd scared him. "Dad." I said, softer now and patting the chair next to me. "Dad. Come and sit next to me." The aide maneuvered him to the seat, sliding him close to the table. "I brought a surprise for you." I tore open the small bag of peanut M&Ms and leaned in close. "Don't tell anyone," I said. "It's a secret." I put an M&M in the palm on my hand and held it out.

He stared at it.

"It's candy," I said. "You like it. Try one."

He pressed the M&M with his thumb, mashing it into my skin. "No Dad, it's food. Look. You eat it." I held out another M&M, only this time, I held it to his lips. He sucked it in, chewing with great concentration. "Good?" He nodded. One by one, I handed him a candy and watched him pop it into his mouth.

Behind my father, Mr. Lentin was strapped into a wheelchair, held erect by a thick harness that encircled his torso like a straight jacket. He shook the table that barricaded him in to a corner. He pushed at the table, sliding it this way and that. With every shove, he grunted. His head was encased in an oversized grey helmet that snapped under his chin. He looked like one of those bobbleheads on a taxicab's dashboard.

I'd been distracted by Mr. Lentin's attempt to escape his enclosure. When I looked at my father, I saw he was eating the tab I'd torn away from the bag of candy. I pulled it from his lips. I laughed, and then he laughed, and I saw his silver hair shimmer in the harsh florescent lighting. Even now, he has such beautiful hair.

No. My father does not need a helmet.