Photo by M. Hrezza on Unsplash
I’m sitting in my father’s hospital room in a different country than Canada where we both live, albeit in different cities. The walls are a tropical slant on robin’s egg blue, and the fan above keeps the air cool. He is 95 years old, has severe dementia, and has just had surgery to repair two breaks in his hip after stumbling on the grass of this green and abundant island.
My brother and I brought him here to get some warmth into his bones — a respite from the solitariness of Canadian winter for the elderly. A signal reminder of why we remain in this lush and lovely place (not his hospital room, I assure you) is that the insurance company is trying to find a bed for him in a Montreal hospital. There are none thus far, as too many people fall at this slippery time of the year and suffer similar injuries. Ah, oh Canada!
Dad is sleeping, and his face is haggard under his tan, my always-powerful and mostly omniscient father. He looks frailer than I have ever seen him, so vulnerable and oddly childlike, this once vital Viking who cross-country skied and golfed until he was 91, when his first stroke hit him. Oxygen tubes and intravenous lines and all of the accoutrements of modern medicine envelope him.
The last two evenings have seen him tearing out his IV, and he spends much of his time trying to escape his hospital bed despite the pain it occasions him. There was no question about the surgery — either the possibility that the surgery might kill him or living with the pain of un-mended bones was thoroughly thought through — his strong heart, made stronger by his enviable athleticism, was always likely to pull him through.
There was, however, the enormous difficulty of sorting out what my prayers should be.
My mother had dementia as well for ten years or so. She had three hospital stays in that period for a variety of injuries and ailments incurred in the seniors' facility in which she lived, because her need to control the utterly bewildering circumstance she found herself in was ferocious and frantic. She pulled out those intravenous lines and tried to escape that prison of a hospital bed. I should add, she was an escape artist of some note. She and a companion she once dragged into her mischief made it to the roof of her nursing home. When they were found, my mother was belligerent but taking tender care of her somewhat puzzled companion.
For ten years, Mum lived with pain and anguish; her first question to me every time I visited her was, “when can I go home?” As her dementia demonstrated itself through a variety of highly anti-social actions, I understood my father’s desire to keep her safe elsewhere than home. He took her every weekend from the nursing home to their place in the country. Her care involved all of the most disagreeable aspects of elder ministration, which he managed uncomplainingly.
Some years later, my father and I determined, when putting together his mandatary wishes with the notary, that in the event he too became non-compos mentis, my brother and I would ensure that he would stay in his home as long as it was safe for him to do so. For four years, he has been surrounded by devoted, affectionate caregiving, buffered by an affluence that was the product of post-war frugality and hard work that was integral to his professional life. And here we are — back to my prayers.
I have watched two beloved parents suffer and live later lives that I am certain they would have chosen not to prolong. My belief in God dictates that there must be some plan to this, but the only thing that I can think of is that their difficulties are there to serve as an opportunity for me and my brother to repay their excellent parenting. Not sure that the scales are weighed appropriately, somehow.
I am sure that this has gone on long enough and that I have learned my lesson, whatever that might be. I didn’t pray for Dad to survive his surgery — I prayed for the best for him. If this is it, then there must be more to learn, but I wish it were not at his expense.
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For so many of us in so many ways. Would that we had a magic wand!
This was my 2022 and my heart is with you and your father. Thank you for placing such tenderness into words that resonate and, strangely, comfort. I wish for peace for you both.