He is lying in his bed, alone, covered with a blue institutional thermal blanket.
I have just come from Dad's regular three-month review with the review team. His weight has dropped another two pounds. He is eating about 38% of his meals and at about 65% capacity in his ability to move from bed to wheelchair or from wheelchair to bathroom facility.
"I just don't know why I ended up in this place."
I tell Dad once again the story of his pneumonia and the collapse of his strength. I tell him that his strength has not come back, even with physical therapy. He is too weak to take care of himself, I tell him.
I take the chance to tell him the truth. Maybe if I can tell him--even as compassionately as possible--enough times, he will be able to remember and accept and adjust.
"Being old can be a misery," I tell him.
"Yes, it can," Dad says.
"Actually, being young can be a misery, too."
Dad laughs. "That's true."
"I guess you've just got to have the right attitude."
I go on to tell him we'd love to have him home, but we've got to keep everybody safe. It's nobody's fault. He's just old and weak.
"Yeah, ya get that way with time. Sneaks up on ya."
He thanks me for coming and is so sincere. I tell him I'm glad to help in any way I can, and I can hear the sincerity in my voice, too.
I acceptance in both our voices.
* * *
As I am writing this, Mom has woken and has come and sat beside me on the sofa. She sits to my right so I can speak into her left ear, the one that still retains 12.5% hearing capacity, boosted to about 25% by her hearing aid.
We are talking about Dad and she asks if he said he wants to come home. "We had an honest conversation," I say.
"This has been so hard on me," she says. "It's hard on my heart. Who knows how long any of us will last? They've changed my heart medicine."
I remember Mom quoting the doctor she worked with when she was young: "You're born, you live, you die."
All we can do is choose what seems the best path and dance our footsteps dusty as often as we possibly can.
* * *
It is evening at home. My brother and Mom are asleep, and I am watching a movie.
The phone rings and I answer it.
Dad says, "Come and get me."
"We can't bring you home, Dad. You're too weak."
"I'm not too weak, goddammit. Now come and get me." I hear the rage and hang up.
Mom has woken, coming into the kitchen where I am with the phone. "Who is it?"
I lie: "Someone trying to sell something." She wanders back to bed, satisfied.
Or maybe I'm not lying. Maybe it wasn't Dad cursing me but Somebody Else. It wasn't a good ending for Dad and lousy closure for me, but Mom was spared some hurt. One out of three ain't bad, even if we're not playing baseball.
* * *
I slip in to see Dad this morning and wake him from sleep. He asks me to come another day, too let him sleep. There is no indication in his voice of any remembrance of last night's tirade.
Maybe it was Somebody Else.
Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved