“He fell again” she slid in between telling me she didn’t have my cousin’s email and something about work. The phone broke up a little, so all I heard was Dad at first, then she said, “He fell again.” This was happening a lot lately, and I just hung my head and audibly exhaled. His health was failing. A few weeks ago, he fell and broke his ribs and hit his head, followed by a hospital stay. He shuffles from room to room with his walker, as we follow behind ready to catch him, like an unsteady toddler. His breathing is labored probably from years of smoking, even though he gave it up decades ago. When he’s not sleeping, he’s watching TV, where he usually falls asleep. He doesn’t read anymore. Dad is almost 85 years old and is as weak as a newborn. He has shrunk to half the person he used to be, and his mind I am afraid won’t be far behind. If he can hear you, you might be able to have conversation. Screaming sometimes helps.
I never imagined Dad getting old. In my mind, he would always be forty. The guy who coached and umpired little league baseball, ice skated, took us out fishing, or just for ice cream. Even though he worked more than one job, he always made time for the six of us. He never brought in a lot of money, but we were fed. Boys reigned supreme in our house, but he made it to every dance recital. I’m sure it bored him to death. His humor was his strong suit and he loved to tell jokes. He would have the occasional beer and lie down at the end of the workday. He had tight knit friends, who were loyal and devoted to him. You could say by the way he lived that he was a real man’s man.
Our house was always in chaos with games, sports and fighting. A lot of fighting. You never wanted to get in trouble or Mom would say, “wait until your father comes home.” Dad had a quick and angry temper that there was no escaping. The boys bore the brunt of it. However, between jobs, I can remember him emptying diaper pails, and vacuuming. Anything to help my exhausted mother. I can still remember them kissing and laughing in the kitchen when he got home from work. He would often bring her fresh picked flowers from a field he was driving by. He treated her like a princess, modeling what a man, a father and a husband should be like. The first man I ever said “I love you” to.
My sister is caregiver, daughter and confidant now. Mom and Dad moved in with her 3 years ago to help her with work and the care of her special needs daughter. In turn, she would assist them with anything they needed as they grew older. It was a good situation at first. Dad was capable, and would feed the dogs, do some yard work and errands. He and Mom would go out around town or to the casino. He loved to play long cribbage games with the family after dinner, telling jokes while trying to beat Mom. Then he slowly started to do less yard work, less cards, and stopped driving after some confusion and minor accidents. Then the falling started.
I always greet Dad with a big hug, my arms around his bony body where he sits in his chair. I never know when the last time I’ll hug him will be. He is always happy to see me and tries to pep up like there’s nothing wrong. But everything is wrong. He is being stolen from us, like a kidnapping in the middle of the night. I can’t bare the thought of losing him. I can see how sad Mom is in quiet moments, when she’s not giving him his pills. She is a master at pretending that everything is ok. My sister, the nurse, has come to terms with his frail condition. She has a healthy outlook on life and death but understands that time is fleeting.
I pray when the time comes that he has a peaceful crossing. I will be by his side, like he has been for me for almost 60 years. Until then, life will go on, falls will happen, jokes will be made, baseball games will be watched, and cards will be played. There will be a lot of hugs, sadness will not rule me. We take care of each other and will be there to care for Dad. His humor and wit will never go away. We will carry his generous, loving, lingering soul with us for the rest of our days.