Sunday, September 11, 2011

Being there

It's been a hard week.

I've written before about my dad's Alzheimer's and about the beautiful relationship that he and Bud have. Both of these things have been weighing heavily on my mind this week.

My dad fell on Tuesday. He was alone in the yard when it happened, so we don't know the circumstances, don't know how hard the fall was, don't know how long he was down, don't know what he had to do to get up. An x-ray revealed that he had fractured a rib - a problem for which the only solution is time.

The first days after his fall were frightening, because, as often happens with Alzheimer's, the pain, or the pain medication, or both, transformed his dementia into delirium. When he slept, his sleep was fitful, his hands moving, his legs twitching, and his lips murmuring unintelligibly, but with purpose. When he woke up, he was bewildered and angry - he had things to do, he insisted, and we were keeping him from them.

His condition worsened, his pain so extreme that we were unable to move him. He ate very little. His speech was slow and muffled. His eyes were wild. I was afraid that we were - that Bud was - losing him completely.

The past 24 hours have been transformative, though. A visiting nurse and a home health aide have been in. My sister, my mom, and I have been joined by family friends with experience dealing with situations like this. My dad's pain is being managed. He is more mobile. His eyes are clearer. His dementia is less extreme, allowing him to spend longer stretches of time engaged with us and making his mental forays away briefer. It's clear, though, that we can't leave him unattended at all. Not right now. Maybe not ever again.

So, the big questions - the new realities - are still largely unknown and overwhelming, but for the first time in days, I find that I can exhale a little. I'm starting to reflect on the past week - a week during which I feel like I spent my time vacillating between two postures - flailing action and paralyzed inaction. I flailed my way through my life outside the house - tearing through my to-do lists without being able to prioritize in any meaningful way - applying quick-fix resolution to issues that really deserved more thoughtful consideration, and postponing action on mundane things that could have been more easily settled. And then, when I walked through the door to my house - saw my father in his bed, confronted his labored breathing, heard his muddled speech, looked into his wild eyes - my mind went blank. My to-do list vanished. I felt completely at a loss.

Things are better now, of course, but there is still so much that needs to be done, and I find myself struggling to fight paralysis without starting to flail. But it's hard to know what I should be doing. I feel like I should plan - but for what? for how long? with whom? Without knowing what we're really facing, it's hard to know where to put my energy.

My best cues, though - the most useful bits of wisdom I've gleaned in recent days - have come from the two sources I'd have thought most unlikely - the two people whose expertise I'd clearly underestimated most: Bud and my dad.

Because this week, while I stood looking at my father, trying to fight my paralysis, but feeling the panic rise within me, Bud brushed past me, ran to his grandfather's side, and greeted him joyfully, "Hey-a, Papa! How you doing?"

As I stood worrying about my father's hygiene, concerned about the time he'd laid still in bed, unkempt and unwashed, Bud clamored up beside his sleeping grandfather, nestled in, and said, "I love you soooooo much."

As my father slept and I walked aimlessly around the house wondering what I should be doing, Bud sat in the chair by his Papa's bed, matching Papa's labored breath with his own, slow breathing - his eyes closed, his ankles crossed, sharing the stillness.

As I made room for the professionals who came in to help my father sit, stand, walk, bathe, eat, and I found myself hovering on the periphery, unsure if I was staying on the sidelines for the sake of my father's privacy or because of my own discomfort, Bud settled himself in the center of the action, assuming the roles of both head coach and cheerleader. He sat across from Papa, his arms crossed, intently watching the nurses in action, and chiming in frequently with encouragement and support: "Papa, the nurse is going to give you a check-up and it WON'T. HURT. ONE. BIT," and "You're doing great, Papa!" and "I'm very proud of you."

As my father's color returned and his breathing normalized and he settled into an easy chair, I collapsed in on myself, focused on my own relief, but Bud sidled up to Papa, stroking his arms and patting his head.

And my father. My father. Even when things were at their worst - when his eyes were their wildest - when he seemed unsure of where he was, how he got there, and what in the world was happening to him - he consistently recognized Bud. When the rest of us could barely get a response from him, my father still brightened when Bud entered the room. The fog lifted temporarily and my father spoke more clearly than he had all day: "Hey, buddy. How was your day?"

Both my heart and my mind are still trying to process it all. But the messages, I think, are clear.

From Bud, the message is this: Be there for Papa. Stop focusing on who he was and on who you want him to be. See who he IS. Love who he is. Stop thinking and trying and pushing and planning and doing - and just BE with him. Be present to him. Just be there.

From my father, the message is this: Be there for Bud. Set aside your own confusion, forget your own fear, step outside your own pain, and be there for him. Stop trying to plan for, to warn about, to protect from, and just BE with him. Be present to him. Just be there.

And I'm trying. I'm trying to be there. I am. I have two extraordinary role models - two exceptional teachers.

I'm a slow learner.

But I'm trying.


*m* said...

This is beautiful -- and wise. Wishing you and your dad the best. And Bud, of course.

Stimey said...

People have the ability to surprise us at the most surprising times. I'm glad that Bud and your dad are able to connect. I am so, so sorry that your family has to go through this. I'm sending a lot of love your way.

Club 166 said...

Good for you, for seeing the wisdom displayed before your very eyes.

Better days are coming.


Karen Isaacson said...

tears are streaming over here. love you, my friend.

Natalie said...

I love your eyes which constantly see the heart of the matter. Love & prayers your way!

Alysia said...

I am in awe. And in tears. The relationship they have is beyond special. It's unique. A gift.
There is something so incredible about that love on such a cellular level. Just them. No pretenses. Just Bud and his grandpa.

These will be the moments you will remember forever. Let them take over and help ease your pain.

Unknown said...

James reminds me of my grandpa so much during this time in his life. When my grandpa was in the last and final nursing home he would always hug my oldest son Carter and say "buddy buddy buddy.." Your words make me thankful everyday!

david said...

Mary, What I love about these posts is that in them, you do what the best writers do. Though your situation is very specific, the sense you make of it applies to us all. On a more personal note, wish I'd known all this was happening. I would have been in your office in a flash.

Anonymous said...

What a hard thing for you, but what a beautiful connection your son and your father have.

Geoz said...

The best teachers are the best learners. You are both, and you honor the teachers of Bud and your dad, by listening and learning. Many could miss that opportunity, but you are extraordinary and the opportunity is not lost. You are not lost but, again, finding a new way.

Nan said...

Thank you for sharing this story. Having cared for both of my parents at the end of their lives, while at the same time adjusting to my son's autism diagnosis, I can really relate to what you have written.

Those quiet moments, entirely in the present, that I spend with my son can sometimes feel like the sanest, most restorative moments of my day.

Anonymous said...

This brought tears to my eyes this morning. Sending many good thoughts and prayers your way.

KAL said...

Just thinking of you. xo

jess said...

Tears, my sisterfriend. I will be back to read this again and again. My friend Carrie calls it 'holding space' - the simple act of being there for another human being that is the greatest gift we have.

Love you.

kristi said...

Hopefully things will get better for you. Hugs!

My word verifications is ironic!

Kim said...

A beautiful bond, I'm so glad you are recording it. Love to you.

mommy~dearest said...

A beautiful connection, beautifully expressed...

Christa said...

It sounds like the connection between Bud and your dad is quite a blessing and a gift - for everyone. I'm sorry about your dad's injury and I hope he heals quickly. Much love to you and your family during what must be a trying time.

Niksmom said...

I am verklempt. Sending you so much love, so many prayers for peace, for strength, for being present in the ways you want to be. Love you, my friend. xo

Cipher said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I'm sorry for your family's difficult time, and I hope things get better for you all soon. You might not feel like it right now, but your strength and spirit constantly shine through every word you write. I'm glad you have Bud and your dad to shine back at you. Even though I only know you and Bud through what I've read here, and you don't know me at all, I'm here rooting for you. You will get through this.

Darius said...

Yes, your wisdom shines through your writing. May all go well with you, your dad and Bud!

Anonymous said...

. Stop focusing on who he was and on who you want him to be. See who he IS. Love who he is. Stop thinking and trying and pushing and planning and doing - and just BE with him. Be present to him. Just be there.

Brillant. Thank you for this reminder, its so easy for me to worry about the future. Love who he is, I must remember.