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There is a wall up in his studio apartment, and it’s me.

I stood at the door stiff and all business as he puttered around the cluttered apartment looking for his glasses but not finding them, brushing his hair back for the 100th time, searching for a belt to hold up his jeans which kept slipping from his slight lower body, because he was so hunched over.

He hopped around gingerly, bent at his bulging waist, more in line with the floor than the walls, trying to get ready so that we could walk down to the lobby where my husband and three boys waited. Hopped really is the wrong word. It was more of a limp, with a slight, uncoordinated bounce. He was happy to see me.

It had been over two months since we last visited. Visiting wasn’t easy for either of us. We both had expectations. I expected him to be ready to go down and see the grandkids with almost a three hour heads-up on the visit, and he expected me to understand that he couldn’t be rushed.

I understood that, but I could never understand why he couldn’t have most of this stuff done before we arrived. Or, I just couldn’t accept it. He lost time. It was why some mornings when the home health aide came in she’d find him on the floor in the bathroom, or asleep on the chair with the oven on. Alone in his apartment, minutes staring became hours of day dream, or drifted into unconsciousness. I knew it, but similar to my experience with calculus, just because I knew the answer didn’t mean it made any sense to me.

He’s brushing his gums and talking to me simultaneously, moving from the sink, closer to where I stand in the center of the room, with my arms crossed, trying not to touch anything.

“Dad, can we talk after you finish up? After we go down?” It’s been over a half an hour. My husband has called three times, unnecessarily exasperated, threatening to leave me, take the boys to a park and come back after. It’s not helpful.

He looks immediately annoyed. “I’m going as fast as I can.”

“Well, maybe if we didn’t talk in between…”

Slowly, he stops brushing, takes out his toothbrush and points it at me. “This talk is the most important part of the visit. Maybe not to you… but to me.”

I nod in acceptance, but I am expressionless. I feel myself closing up. All I want him to do is finish brushing, take his medicine, find his glasses, put in his teeth, put on his shoes, pull up his pants and go. But, he’s right. The point of my visit is to give him a sense of family, to help him connect and feel less alone, yet, from the moment I walk in, I’m guarded. Pleasant but not warm. Interested but not caring.

I note the cigarette burns on his bed spread, the boxes cluttering the small space, the dozens of medications laid out on the table and I look away. I study the over filled book shelves instead.

I should hug him, but my arms are still crossed.

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About Ice Scream Mama

Mama to 3 boys, wife to Mr. Baseball and daughter of a sad man. I have a double scoop every day.

68 responses »

  1. My dad had symptoms of early onset dementia during his chemotherapy treatments. Reading this I reflexively pulled my hands to my shoulders, across my body, and remembered projecting my frustrations on the immediate when my real feelings were fear at losing him. Your writing is beautiful and conjured a physical and emotional response. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. This is so beautiful, almost elegiac and so real. The brutal honesty of having an aging parent who is a pain in the tuccus. I love when you write about this. Beautifully done.

    Reply
  3. I love when you write like this – so raw and honest.

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  4. This feels really honest, and powerful. Hope you don’t beat yourself up too much for the things you can’t do, we live in a sometimes unforgiving and inflexible world, after all.

    Loved this: “I knew it, but similar to my experience with calculus, just because I knew the answer didn’t mean it made any sense to me.”

    Reply
  5. Every time you write about this, I feel like I am right there, standing next to you in his apartment, watching you and feeling what you are feeling. It’s so honest and real without being dramatic, and that makes it all the more powerful.

    Reply
    • thank you. i guess it’s an open wound. good for me to write about.. .but not too much. i don’t think people want to get a dose of daily depression. ice cream is so much sweeter. 🙂

      Reply
  6. I have been exactly where you are, except that my mother is 93 and moved to an assisted living apartment this past April. Thank you for being brave enough to express the reality of the aging process. It’s sad, frustrating, anger-producing, and guilt-inducing. There have been few warm-fuzzies for anyone for a very long time. And at the end of the day, all we want is for them to be okay, be happy, be safe, and be content. Just this past week my brother and I have started to see Mom engage more with her new home/residents and it seems to be a tiny step in making a world of difference with everything. Now there’s hope…. maybe? Bless you.

    Reply
    • thank you! it’s so not easy. and the emotional aspect is so complicated and filled with so much negativity, frustration and disappointment… on both ends. i’m glad your mom is finally settled. it’s a huge difficult step forward for both of you. hugs.

      Reply
  7. Dealing with an aging parent is such a challenge. You illustrated the complicated range of emotions so honestly. Beautiful job.

    Reply
  8. Your writing is so powerful and honest. Thanks for giving me a little insight this week. I love that you write like this and pull at my heart strings and also write about ice cream and get me eating straight out of the container. Lovely job.

    Reply
  9. Great last line ‘I should hug him, but my arms are still crossed’.

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  10. All of the above comments are just so lovely and supportive and I want to be the same but I must confess that having read a few posts about your Dad this isn’t the first time Ive thought …
    “I wonder if we locked him and Mom up in a room who would come out alive?” We have a similar plight…I feel your pain….

    Reply
    • thank you, but i appreciate commiseration just as much. it’s not easy. being able to share with other people going through similar difficulties is helpful. i’m sorry for you and me. and them. boo sickness!

      Reply
  11. Very nice. I caught you on Yeah Write and thought I would stop by … very cool story between you two full of complex emotions. Definitely captured the parent child relationship.

    Reply
  12. So gritty….. I love that quality.

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  13. This is beautifully written. I love the raw honesty. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Alisa what a beautiful piece! I felt like I was in the apartment with you. Sending hugs! xo

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  15. What everyone else said–painfully honest and perfectly written. i’m visiting family right now and i get the frustration and the guilt.

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  16. Just got off the phone with my father.

    THIS got me:

    “I expected him to be ready to go down and see the grandkids with almost a three hour heads-up on the visit, and he expected me to understand that he couldn’t be rushed.”

    So many unmet expectations. *sigh*

    Reply
    • life is filled with them it seems and somehow know the right thing and doing it are totally different. i guess it could all be simple if it weren’t so complicated. 😉
      hope your conversation was a good one.

      Reply
  17. Ugh . . . this makes me want to turn back the hands of time. It makes me wish I had spent more time with my own father. With my “arms uncrossed.”
    Thanks for sharing what so many of us feel, but aren’t brave enough to bring it to life.

    Reply
    • sorry. i know. complicated relationships and emotions are really hard to unravel once they get tangled. we do our best. but some days we do better than others… okay, who wants ice cream? 😉

      Reply
  18. We went to visit my dad last month for a week and this was the first time I really noticed how old he’s gotten. Not where your dad is but quite a difference from our last visit. So I get that part your dad was saying, those moments are all they have left.

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  19. This so perfectly captures the challenge of aging. I love that you didn’t glorify or try to make it sound a certain way–this is how it IS. Love. Beautiful. And sad. And wonderful.

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  20. The understanding just doesn’t make the reality any easier to take, or the arms any easier to uncross. I understand that my grandmother can’t remember things, but am not satisfied with that most of the time. This was so gripping the way you wrote it and invited us in.

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  21. You’ve captured an essence here. Well done. I’ve been part of the sandwich generation for about fifteen years now, and it’s brutal. You’ve done a good job of putting someone in your shoes.

    Reply
  22. Ah yes. The expectations of our parents and our parents expectations of us. Somehow, they just never match. This was beautifully written. So raw and powerful.

    Reply
  23. The pieces you write about your dad are so poignant.. I like how you bring the reader to those excruciating moments with you. I also admire the fact that you share your feelings of irritation and frustration without making any excuses. It’s sincere, and very human.

    Reply
  24. It’s so hard to connect with somebody who won’t meet you halfway. Clearly, he’s wanting some ‘alone time’ with you, not the ‘family time’ he has scheduled. But if he could schedule the time with you, would he be willing to talk in a restaurant or even library? PRobably not. Sigh. No winning.

    Reply
  25. ugh. I feel you so hard on this one. my dad will be 80 this year and is living on his own in a retirement community. it’s independent living so it’s not like he’s got someone wiping his ass for him. but he hates it. he’s miserable. all he ever does is complain. and then he bitches that nobody calls, visits. it’s exhausting

    Reply
  26. So true, all of it. I have been taking of my mom for so many years, I’ve lost count… She is now in a nursing home, but does nothing was complain, etc.. the part about needing to hug him, but keeping your arms crossed, is my life with her daily. She wants to kiss me over and over and it makes my stomach turn. So, I keep my arms crossed.. It’s a very difficult situation that so many of us are placed in. We can only do what we can do without compromising our own emotional well being… so very sad…

    Reply
  27. This is so honest and beautifully written.

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  28. Dang, girl. Powerful piece that hit me hard. Patience with our ever-aging parents is such a struggle. Well done.

    Reply
  29. Pingback: yeah write #121 weekly writing challenge winners: jury prize, crowd favorite and top row five |yeah write

  30. Congratulations on your Crowd Favorite win and selection on the invitational grid. I admire both your willingness to share this relationship and the way you write about it.

    Reply
  31. Pingback: Missing Dad | Icescreammama

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