Last month, I moved my dad into a new room at Bickford. I knew it was going to be hard on him, but I could not face a whole summer of visits in his old one. When he was first admitted to the memory care unit, I did not take time to carefully choose where he would be living because, frankly, I did not think he would be living much longer. I had not noticed how small and boxy it was or that he could not look out the window. The head of his bed was actually jammed up next to the bathroom door which was starting to disgust me. The guy next door was nearly deaf, constantly raised his voice, and blasted his television set. All these things of little consequence were grating on my nerves.
His new room is bigger with a little hallway where the bathroom is. You can sit in a chair or on the bed and not view the toilet. The warmth of the sun pours over my dad, and he can roll his wheelchair up to the window and look out at a tree. A corner hugs his bed where there is actually room for a matching nightstand and a new little lamp. He's at the end of the corridor, so no more drone of the neighbor's TV.
I worried about the switch for two weeks and still question my motives. Nothing about the old room bothered HIM, but everything about it bugged ME. I pretty much knew he would not, could not, handle the move without suffering greatly. His brain is a raisin and his one solace, knowing his way around the tiny community where he exists, was about to be extinguished. Like an amateur magician yanking the tablecloth set with china and crystal, I attempted a feat fraught with disaster. I thought of the old Helen Keller riddle. Question: How did Helen Keller's parents punish her? Answer: They rearranged the furniture.
My father now turns right instead of left when he wheels out of his room and left not right when using the loo. The dining room is on the other side of his world and his diplomas and war medals hang on different walls. He does not recognize his belongings in their new light, so, in an attempt to gain his own sense of control over the space, he has taken to bizarre methods of rearranging his dresser drawers and closet. His DVDs and books get turned upside down and scrambled every which way, puzzles are mixed in with socks and slippers, pictures of my mother lay all akimbo, cloth napkins are snatched from the dinner table and squirrelled between empty eyeglass cases and shaving creme. On occasion, he wheels his way down to the old room and scolds the poor gentle woman who now occupies it.
For my penitence, for being selfish and controlling and seeking perfection in an imperfect world - for stealing home - I spent five days in a row, twelve hours a day, with my dad at Bickford. I was his constant, the quintessential Welcome Wagon when he awoke, his human GPS at every turn, the hovering helicopter, the Stepford daughter, the freak. I kept asking this beloved and bothered old man, who could not figure out why he was not where he was supposed to be, the same stupid questions: Isn't this better, Dad? Do you want to look out the window? Don't you love your new room? Translation: Aren't you glad I got you what I needed?
Caring for my dad is like constantly visiting someone in the hospital. It's awkward and uncomfortable; everything feels closed-in and out of sync. Conversation is forced and you're grateful if there's a window you can look out and see a tree. Mostly, you just want to get back in your car and leave. When I wasn't there - by his side during the transition - the CNAs told me my father would sit in his lovely new room and cry. This only lasted a few days, but it wasn't happy news, and I figured it would happen. Stealing home is a gutsy move.