I’m nine years old lying on a tiny patch of green grass, my face to the sun.
The ballgame playing in the street breaks apart as the enormous green Chevrolet Impala slows to the front of our house. From the car unfolds my father. Normally he’d stop to toss a ball with the neighborhood kids; today is unusual. He moves quickly through the yard and into the house where my mother sits crying.
What I remember most about the day; the many phone calls.
My mother’s parents are en-route to Florida when there’s an accident. Hospitalized in the small town of Florence, South Carolina and suffering a stroke, my grandfather is paralyzed. Trauma affects everything: his ability to walk, to speak and to care for himself.
Once back home in New York, my grandfather is admitted to a nursing home: one of those creepy old mansions converted to a care facility. Visits are difficult as patients sit in empty hallways sporting vacant stares or scream endlessly for help from their beds.
Opening the massive wooden door to the facility you’re met with a heavy, soiled sense of despair. The pungent scent proves difficult to wash off when you exit. I accompany my mother through eight years visiting her father. Driving home, she cries softly. Her sadness permeating the car, finding each crevice and corner of the vehicle. She talks about how hard it is to see him. Turning to me she says, “Please promise you won’t ever put me in a home?”
I want to ease my mother’s pain, I promise.
My father’s a wonderful provider and consummate strategist. His focus is ensuring that my mother will be properly cared for throughout her life. He was forced to retire from work due to a crippling disability in his early 50’s. Struggling with the physical challenges taking a toll on his health, he says, “You need to promise me that you’ll take care of your mother, Lisa.”
I wonder, is it a premonition of his passing or a fear she isn’t able on her own?
I want to ease my father’s pain, I promise.
My father begins to have difficulty. Dizzy spells, weakness, unusual mood swings. The diagnosis: brain tumor. Surgery leaves him a very damaged man: dementia.
It doesn’t take long for my father to move through the care system. He spent a lifetime caring for others and understands the endgame.
My father’s eyes are deep and dark; they’re portals to his soul. They can be warm, cold, demanding, expecting and forgiving. Each day of his decline our eyes meet, underscoring the importance of my promise to him: “Take care of your mother.”