Caring for a dying parent.
|Daddy - It’s me
Word Count 1497
He forgot my name today. Yesterday he called my name and told me that he needed to see someone by my name. “Daddy - It’s me.” “No”, he replied vehemently. “I want to see my daughter right now! I want to tell her the lullaby I used to sing to her when she was a baby.” Daddy refused to believe that I was his daughter, yesterday. Today, he forgot my name. He held my hand and sang my lullaby. A soft and relaxing tune in which a parent asks a child to kiss him and promises that he wont live without her...
I cried with him saying, “Daddy, its me, your daughter.” He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. The remnant of his disagreement sliding down the corner of his eye, into his ear. I wiped the tear off with my napkin, making sure his ear was dry too. I felt love in my bosom, just like I did for my son when he was a baby. Only the man on the bed was an 80 year old amnesia patient. My father. My Daddy, who would kill me each day by forgetting me. “The moment you feel you cannot do it, pound your fist on a table. Listen to its thunder and say aloud “I CAN DO IT!” He would say these words whenever life got ahead of me. I said those very words, while pounding my fist on my lap. My ceaseless tears, a succession of lost memories, a tortuous farewell to my best man.
He was handsome when he was young. He would pick me up after school. He wore the kind of spectacles that would darken in sunlight. So when he arrived, to me, he would look very cool in his “shades”. I remember the flutter in my heart and the spring in my step. I would put my arms around his belly and we would embrace like bear and cub. I would inhale his cologne. He would always have a treat for me in the car.
The hugs reduced to a peck on the cheek as soon as I entered my formative years. I liked to pretend that I was a big girl. But I could see that my slightest display of affection would make him grin like a boy! He always managed to break the adolescence ice between us by cracking his out dated and gross jokes from racism to human waste in any form! Our laughter would warm us up and make way to serious notes on how to deal with life. Without realizing it, my dad raised me like a boy. Tough and rough. He taught me the value of hard work and that no work was too big or too small. He also told me to keep a positive attitude, no matter what. That life deals a rough hand but never tests you beyond your limits.
I remember tossing his lectures out the window as soon as he would leave the room. Little did I know that his words would fill up my wisdom reservoir for future use. Soon I would find that his words were to live by. He knew exactly how to prod and tinker with my rebellious personality.
He coughs in his sleep now. I wince at every sound he makes. Helpless and lost,wishing why I had not chosen to be a doctor - like he always wanted me to be. Being a doctor would have saved me the agony of the unknown. I would have been able to nurse him better.
Of the thousands of books he had gifted me, one was especially precious - “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember his reading the book and our crying together at the heart breaking parts. In 1986, when the movie version of the book was out, we camped outside the theater to catch the first day, first show. It was my first movie in the theater, and I had enjoyed it thoroughly by predicting the story accurately in my fathers ear. No amount of raise eye brows or icy stares could put me off!
Today, I resolved to read the book to him, every morning when he was well rested and more alert. Tucking him in his bed covers, I left his night light on. Checking his water tumbler, I switched off the light. Mom would be proud of me. She took care of Dad all these years, especially when my brother and I had left to make families of our own. Mom had spoilt Dad and I was frantically trying to fill her shoes. Mom could not bear his forgetfulness. When the disease took over and she began to whither away from his life, her health failed in mysterious ways. The ways of a heart broken person. She died last year. Leaving him alone, a stranger in his own house.
The doctor had ordered to remove all the family photographs to prevent any mental distress. The doctor even introduced me as his nurse, when he failed to recognize me. I hope I would not die heart broken, like my Mom.
That was last year. Last year, my sons left for college. My husband started his consulting business he had always meant to, when the boys were little. He had invited me to join his business, but I was obligated to the tug in my heart. How could Dad be alone when I was alive?My brother was still in Japan, with his young family. Without a second thought, I informed my husband and our sons that I would move in with my Dad in his home for an indefinite period. I do not mind being his nurse, but what hurt the most was that he called me one.
As the disease progressed, his state deteriorated, but parts of his dormant memory trickled back, every once in a while. The day he recognized me and my name, gave me hope. Every day was different. Some days he would call for Mom and become violent. Some days he was talk animatedly about a new idea in politics. Some days he would sulk like a child. I felt he needed my attention the most on those days.
He looks much better today. Serious as someone planning their next project. My Daddy. I hated to watch his life robbing him of his treasures. Our family memories. I was determined to help him recall the vital phases of our lives. I read him “A Little Princess” daily. Some days he would listen to me blankly, as if the story was alien to him. The other days his eyes would light up and he would interject some pieces impatiently. Those were the days perfect for him to leave me forever. I did not want him to die in the hands of a nurse. I wanted him to die in the arms of his daughter. Feeling safe and assured. Encouraging him that “he can do it”.
The next morning, when I opened the frail copy of “A Little Princess”, my Dad looked at me suspiciously. I shrugged, hands in the air and mouthed the words exaggerating, “What”? His eyes reduced to slits while he grinned mischievously at me, as if he knew my secret. This was his game. Coaxing people and guiding them without their realizing it. Just like he guided me out of my pointless relationships with bizarre boyfriends or misguided girlfriends. Or the time when he caught me and my brother smoking and gently helped us drop the habit before it developed. I had never realized what had hit me them. So seamless and transparent were his methods. To me, I was an all knowing, all wise, cool 17 year old. His help was always subtle and cautious so as not to prick my fragile teenage ego.
Now I was the master of his game. The moment he would feign disbelief, I would pretend that either he was joking or it was me trying to pull his leg. At this critical stage of life, he trusted no one. I held his hand and made him believe in me. Our renewed bond would often defeat his illness. He would either try hard to recall my stories, or he would pretend knowing them. Gradually, I gained his trust like an iron band, unbreakable and unyielding.
It was perhaps the calmness and encouragement derived from our trust that he began to recall the story of “A Little Princess”. I knew he was not faking it, because he would tell me some of the lines. Every morning, we would thoroughly enjoy the book for an hour. He would sleep later, exhausted by the jog down the memory lane.
It took us exactly one month to finish the book. That day, Daddy died in my arms. He assured me that I was the best daughter anyone could ever have and that he had a treat in store for me.