Last October, we made the tough decision about putting my dad into a nursing home. He is a healthy, high functioning guy except for his brain. My dad is suffering from mid stage dementia and the day finally came where we feared for his safety and felt he could no longer live on his own. So we had to place him in a skilled nursing facility.
My dad’s real name is not Jack, but he hates his real name so he decided he would call himself Jack. We joke that he really changed his name because he is a spy with the CIA and he does not want his cover blown. My dad has always been a paranoid person and he would often call and give you a lecture on how so and so was going to steal your identity or what the government didn’t want you to know about lawn mowers. We dubbed those types of conversations as Jack Attacks. They are quite famous in our family.
As the dementia set in, his paranoias became more out there. His short term memory was also effected. He couldn’t remember that he just put his shoes on, but he could remember every classmate in his fourth grade class. So weird and so sad.
The home where my dad lives puts on a very nice dinner for the residents and their families during the holidays. I went to the pre-Thanksgiving dinner and it was very enjoyable so I decided to go to the pre-christmas dinner this past Sunday.
My father and I were seated in a back corner away from all the commotion which was very nice. Given that more then half the residents have hearing issues, the noise level can get pretty high as loved ones try to have a conversation with their almost deaf relatives. The man who we sat with on Thanksgiving was not feeling well so we ended up having the table to ourselves. This was a blessing and a curse. We did not have to make small talk with anyone, but now I had to keep up the conversation by myself.
Me: Hey, Dad. We lucked out. The guy and his daughter who are supposed to sit there aren’t coming. He doesn’t feel well.
Dad: Oh really? So we get the whole table to ourselves.
Me: Yep. I guess you are getting the VIP treatment today.
Dad: How’s the family?
Me: Good. John is home this week and the kids are really excited about Christmas as you can imagine.
Dad: See that guy over there? In the Santa hat? He doesn’t belong here. He is here all the time, but he doesn’t belong here. He shouldn’t be pushing that lady. Only nurses can push the wheelchairs. I know because I tried to help a lady once and I got yelled at.
Me: Well, I think he knows that lady. He must be a relative.
Dad: I wonder when the rest of the people sitting with us are coming down.
Me: They are not coming, Dad. The guy is sick so he is not coming to dinner.
Dad: Oh really? Well that works out for us. We have the table to ourselves.
Me: You must have some pull around here to get such a good table.
Dad: See that guy over there in the Santa hat? He doesn’t belong here. I don’t know why they let him down here. He is not supposed to be here.
Me: Maybe he is with the CIA and they are spying on you.
Dad: Haha. Very funny. So how’s the family?
This is basically how the rest of the dinner went. We also covered how his roommate is an asshole who talks in his sleep, and the time he tried to escape and the police brought him back (didn’t happen), and how he thwarted a nurse committing insurance fraud on him in which the state police hid in his room so they could arrest her (also false). I hear these stories every time I go to visit and every time I act like it’s the first time I am hearing them.
Believe me, it can be exhausting and frustrating at times, but I still go because even though my father was an asshole to us when we were kids, he is still my dad. And I see him as who he really is now, a old man who is scared and lonely and is stuck in a depressing place through no fault of his own.
So although I could just stop going and most people would say you owe him nothing – he would not do the same for you…I can’t. God did not make me that way. God would not turn his back on one of his children and I could not face God and say ‘sorry, but it was too hard. It made me uncomfortable. I don’t like seeing him like that.’ Whatever he did or didn’t do when I was young does not matter. In the end it’s about human decency.
We should all try for more human decency, not only during the the holidays, but all year round. It’ s hard. Believe me, I know. But just remember you’ve got one hell of a wingman backing you up along the way.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.