(When I left off earlier, Dad and I had walked down and around a few hallways to check on Mom. And it was almost time for supper:)
And again. And again. It is his way of communicating, emphasizing his concern. Pete and Repeat.
But traffic is backing up behind him; an assortment of wheelchairs, canes and walkers and their owners seek their own tables. I'm thankful for my Dad's hearing loss oblivion at this moment, as I try to acknowledge Tommy's concern while helping him to move on to his table. One of the staff explains to me, "He worried all night about him." Throughout the meal, Tommy raises his drooping head to look our way, and every time I meet his gaze, his face is transformed, radiant.
A lady in a motorized chair finesses her way to the table next to ours. One leg juts straight out, and getting situated isn't easy. She teases her tablemates about what would happen if she would hit the wrong lever and keep moving forward, toppling the table. "Poor Gladys, she'd be covered in water and peaches." The laughter is easy, the camaraderie obvious. Gladys' giggle makes me smile.
I hear two ladies at a nearby table talking about walking –
Lady Number One:"You mean you can't walk at all?"
Lady Number Two: "No I can't."
Lady Number One: "Not one step?"
Lady Number Two: "Not one step. They even use a wheel chair to move me from one chair to another."
They talk in loud, matter-of-fact voices. The tone, volume of Lady Number Two asks no pity. It is what it is. Next sentence, same tone, same volume- "And they have pork barbecue sandwiches for dinner tonight." Life goes on.
Meanwhile, Tommy likes the sandwiches too; he would like another one. "Please. They were just so good."
Staff: "So you want another pork barbeque sandwich?"
Tommy: "Yes, but don’t put it in a bun. Oh, it was so delicious." This amuses me because I know Tommy is Jewish, and I suspect he is making up for a lifetime of not eating pork barbeque with or without the bun when he "lived with Mother."
Charles walks by, cane in hand, and says goodnight as he does without fail, even though my dad never hears him and never answers. I comment on his snazzy cane – I've seen him mostly with a walker recently. "Oh, I use both," he tells me. "I use the walker when I'm going a long distance." He doesn't complain, and we don’t discuss it further, but I know "a long distance" is his daily walk down two hallways and around a few corners where he visits his wife in a memory loss unit.
Nosey Clarence annoys me, calling questions across the dining room in his abrasive, loud voice, trying to get my dad to explain what went on last evening. Even at a nursing home, "becoming unresponsive" in the dining room was apparently the event of the day. "I can't believe someone could do that and be alive," he comments doubtfully. ( I wonder if he doesn't believe my dad is alive, or if he thinks my dad was faking last evening. It's hard to tell with Clarence.)
His next question: "Hey, is that your wife?" Pause. Then, "Are you his wife?" I try to explain from four tables away that I'm the daughter, but he doesn't get it. Cheerful Waitress tries to intervene when Clarence grumbles loudly, "Why don't he answer?" She explains that my dad is very hard of hearing, which is obviously true of Clarence too, but it hasn't made him more understanding. His wife is wheeled to her spot across from him; she's visiting tonight from wherever she usually has dinner in another part of the campus. As she is settled into place, the nurse reminds Clarence, "Now we're only going to say kind things to her tonight, right?" Hmmm. I wouldn't count on it. But I can count on Cheerful Waitress to dish up joy unmeasured alongside every bowl of steaming soup (would you like the broccoli cheddar, chicken noodle, or butternut bisque tonight? ) Even Clarence will be served with that which he did not order. Kindness.
Usually Dad is anxious to leave the table and hurry back to his room at meal's end. He never lingers anymore. But tonight is different. He leans forward and informs me, "They have some good ice cream here." I know this is his way of saying he wants dessert. "Oh, what is that
kind," he ponders. When the waitress stops to take our order, she lists the flavors and reminds me that he likes Moose Tracks, so I request one for each of us. The mound in his dish dwindles as he savors every bite. He is nearly finished when it dawns on him - "Oh, this is the kind!" he declares. "This is it – Moose Steps."
I agree; it is delicious.
We return to his apartment and visit a bit longer; strangely, his memory is clearer, his words come more steadily than they have in weeks. We linger over a photo from "down home," the phrase he has always used to describe the farm where he spent his boyhood. I ask him questions about the house, and he seems to hear and understand almost every word. He tells me about changes that have been made to the house through the years. Just as I'm about to leave I notice his hearing aids resting on the dresser. All of this interaction, and his hearing aids are over there???
But not the same person.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings,
turn routine jobs into joy,
ordinary opportunities into blessings."
William Arthur Ward
but I will be giving thanks.
It's the least I can do.
Those little transforming moments waved at me all day long – it seems I was surrounded by grateful people, people singing smack dab in the middle of their own evenings. I remember Gladys's easy chuckle, Tommy's radiant smile, Charles' kindly greeting, Cheerful Waitress's joyful assistance, even for Clarence.
Oh, Clarence. His evening is songless, and,
Oh God, that is not how I want live out my evenings.
So, it's gratitude again. I give thanks for…
-the warm "welcome home" my dad receives.
(I can't say enough good things about a facility with a towel and basin for a logo and the motto "Serving One Another." It's clearly what they do here.)
-shoes beside the favorite chair, and Dad sitting in it.
-shared "moose steps."
-Dad's peaceful contentment in being "home."
-the opportunity to be present one more day. Hummin' B.
(As you may have guessed, all names have been changed to respect the privacy of both the grateful and ungrateful.)