"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

YOU ARE HERE

When I was five years old, my father lost me at the San Francisco Zoo in front of the elephant habitat. I keenly remember the feeling, the opposite of panic, as everything around me slipped in to slow motion. I did not want the strangers around me to notice what had happened, that my dad had screwed up, so I just stood there frozen. Five minutes passed in an hour as I watched one of the elephants eat some very moldy-looking hay, and I felt sorry for both of us. This was to be the basis of my understanding that adults were fallible. I willed myself to keep breathing and not move a muscle until Dad found me. I wondered if Mom would be mad at him should he arrive home from our outing with just my brothers, and I considered that to be a definite possibility.

Actually, growing up, my dad lost me at various other places - Andy's Pet Shop, Orchard Supply, Mel Cotton's Army Surplus, but the zoo incident was classic. I asked him once if he remembered that day and, with a sheepish grin, he told me about the serious look on my face when he and my brothers finally backtracked to those poor elephants and found me. Apparently, I did not cry until he picked me up.

As an adult, I still get lost a lot and I hate the feeling just as much. Whenever I am at Woodfield mall, O'Hare airport or Union station, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Art Institute, Navy Pier or the Museum of Science and Industry, I search for those huge framed maps and seek out the big red X or dismembered hand that points to where I am. Can't read a map worth a damn, but I love those three little words: YOU ARE HERE.

If I were brave, and thirty years younger, I would consider having those words tattooed on my body. I need them some place permanent as a constant reminder of their importance. Because, really, when I stay focused in the present, and let go of my attachment to the past and fixation with the future, I am happier. That is the lesson and this is what I know. When I visit my father, I can no longer bemoan the happy days of my childhood or six years ago or even the day before yesterday. I do not want to fret any more about the choices I made. I should not fear nor anticipate what will surely come. Presently, there is nothing more to be done but show up. I cannot panic even when time slows down and five minutes pass in an hour.

Yesterday, Charlie and I brought a picnic to Bickford and ate lunch with Dad in the courtyard. Afterward, there was a concert in the dining room and a one-man-band played tunes from decades past. Dad listened quietly and nodded off, but suddenly came-to-life when he heard THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA being played on the saxophone. An old Stan Getz song awakened something in my father's brain and he started to weep softly. He was in a different era, to be sure, and probably the one where he was a young soldier courting a beautiful Swedish girl with pinned-up pigtails, but there it was - the big red X, the pointing finger. He reached for my hand and kissed my palm. He confused me for my mother. That's okay, Dad. YOU ARE HERE.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

EAT, FRAY, LOVE

Last week my dad was released from Hospice. If he were of sound mind, that would be a good thing. He's gained seven pounds and looks healthier than he did in January. In fact, lose the wheelchair, rethink the wardrobe, he could still be the guy living on Wedgewood Drive reading the newspaper and planning trips to the Art Institute or Field Museum. I should not complain, but I still do.

For the past two and a half months, I didn't do anything stressful except visit Dad at Bickford and be his daughter. Celia, his caseworker and Hospice nurse, took care of everything else: provided a hospital bed and wheelchair that fit my father's six-foot frame, scheduled two showers a week and made sure he got them even when he was combative and verbally abusive, ordered all personal supplies, filled his prescriptions, paid a few bills, relieved a little guilt, and gave me hope. The hope being that my father was leaving this lifetime (soon) with a hint of grace and a shred of dignity. That's an awful thing to say, but I'm a little warped these days.

I'm currently back to micro-managing Dad's life. It's nothing I can't handle. I am lately on the phone during my lunch breaks hounding the idiots at Medicare to cover the cost of his wheelchair, gel pad, fall pads, recliner and bed alarms. I'm frequently online ordering wipes and dipes that are shockingly expensive from websites that are not user friendly, and I'm back to dealing with the VA for affordable medication to control Dad's ill-temper. The cold, ugly hospital bed is no longer necessary, so purchasing a new twin bed that was just right (not too high, not too low), with a comfortable mattress (not too soft, not too firm), that did not look like it belonged in a three-year old's bedroom, took some time.

Unfortunately, the old worries are creeping back into my thoughts. Realistically, Dad will continue to decline over the summer and his quality of life will, again, worsen. His nightmare continues and I will bear witness. This isn't over; I best not delete Hospice from my phone. I have been grieving for five and a half years and my nerve endings are starting to fray. My old friend insomnia visits nightly as I crunch numbers in my head. $6500 a month times 12 divided by meager social security minus long-term-care insurance plus a dwindling IRA to the power of Y.

Meanwhile, my poor father is akin to a potted plant perched in a windowsill - confined and dependent. One day, withering and dying in the sun, the next, springing back to life and staying rooted. He is moth eaten, but programmed to survive. Me, I'm floating. I am suspended in the rickety basket of a hot air balloon with no control over its direction. The view is huge, panoramic and terrifying. Should I enjoy the ride or worry about the landing? The answer is yes.