My dad is dying and I don’t know what to do about it. His parkinsons has progressed about ten fold this week (he’s 87) and he just got back from five days in the hospital. I thought hospitals fixed people and maybe they do but I think he lost his mind in there. He came down with some sort of dementia and thought he was in prison and that the nurses were trying to kill him. He blames my mom and I for having him “locked up” and everything he says to us is sarcastic and cutting. He won’t eat or take his usual medication because he thinks everything is “spiked.” And his body is failing him. He’s in a lot of pain and he can’t walk or move much due to the rigidity from the parkinsons. It is the most difficult thing I’ve seen: his mental, emotional, and physical deterioration. Up until last week my dad was the most gentle, sweet and caring father to me. I called him the marshmallow growing up because he could never stay angry long. This new man looks me in the eye and tells me he’s so disappointed in me, swears, tells me I want the worst for him. I know it’s the disease talking, or the disorientation from the hospital stay, but it knocks the wind out of my heart. Not to mention that caring for him is a full time job and it’s that much more difficult when he’s making verbal attacks. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my temper. I’m afraid of how much harder it will get. I’m afraid of the pain and how numb I’ve felt otherwise. How do I be a good daughter without losing my mind in this house where we all share a bathroom?
Bad Daughter On Her Period
Dear Bad Daughter,
It is excruciating isn’t it, seeing the people we love in pain, and how they inflict that pain on us. Your father has been through hell and back, or perhaps he has not come back yet. If he is still burning and it sounds like he is, then keep offering him orange juice. Keep making him milkshakes that you end up dumping down the drain. Offer him a warm face cloth and a funny story from your childhood and a compassionate ear for his “prison stories.” When he says, “How could you do this to me,” say, “I’m sorry. I love you.” When you want to slap him, kiss him. When that doesn’t work, bite your tongue until it bleeds and quickly leave the room. Come back when you can look at him without being secretly glad that he is in pain (which does not make you the devil, only another person sustaining burns in a neighboring furnace).
At dinner your boyfriend will ask you if you think it’s possible to live too long. You will tell him yes, you have living proof seated in a wheel chair in your living room. But that answer will haunt you because you will know, even after one of the longest weeks of your life, that it isn’t true. There is a godliness in all of us that has nothing to do with the functionality of our bodies. It is not contingent upon what we say or what we do or what we think. When a person is, like your father is, knotted up with pain, no longer able to pee by himself, inevitably a voice asks What’s the point anymore? The voice is asking rhetorically but your challenge, Bad Daughter, is to respond somehow. You’ve already started to respond by asking what you can do to help— but when a disease is degenerative and hospice is coming on Monday and you can’t cure him with the tears of the unicorn you hunted for most of your childhood—listen to his snores. Hear how rhythmic and loud his breathing is when he finally receives the gift of sleep. Ask your mom if she needs anything, tell her you’re amazed at her grace then scurry from the room so she doesn’t have to deal with you crying “at the power of love,” on top of everything else. Get out of the house. Smell the lilacs and see the blue gradient of the ocean and pray for the ticks that they find a good dog and pray for the dogs that they survive their ticks—remember that life is a bigger puzzle than our judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, what should and should not be. My hunch is that most truths of living are too obscure for language, and so truth flits past us, glimpsed but not fully understood, and maybe you feel that when you touch your dad’s soft hands as they tremble in yours. Don’t get romantic about it, how’s that? Keep showing up. Say fuck you when you absolutely have to and thank you when you absolutely don’t.