Friday, October 7, 2016

Losing A Parent, One Step At A Time

A friend vented this afternoon.  She called her mom for a recipe - her Every Sunday Apple Crisp - and got chaos in return.

Everyone was upset.  Mom couldn't remember anything, and was concerned and then even more confused.  My friend was mortified to have reminded her mom of the sorry state of her mind, was distraught that her mother couldn't remember something which had always been readily accessible, was sad and lonely and hurting.

At the end of the phone call she typed to me, knowing that I'd been there and done that and come out, smiling, on the other end.  It's not easy, watching a parent slip away.  G'ma was comfortable with her inability to remember - Will it help if I get aggravated?  And who wants to be around a cranky old lady, anyhow?  

I thought about how I had a harder time with it than she did.  Especially in the beginning, when denial was easier to fall into.  I thought about the beginning, and how I didn't want to admit that my mommy was getting old.  Her planning skills were failing,  she had trouble with menus, she was no longer asking for books from the library, but I refused to accept that something was amiss.  She looked good.  She seemed safe enough.  She wasn't that old.

And then I thought of Daddooooo, whose mind was intact to the end, although his body failed him over time.  I can tell you exactly when I knew that he was getting old:

Remember when AT&T was the only phone company?  Remember when you rented your equipment?  Remember that the phone was connected to a wall outlet, and that only the phone company was authorized to install a new outlet - an extension?  Well, Daddooooo, who could fix anything that wasn't plastic, took to installing a new outlet in our house whenever life was treating him poorly.

Miss the train?  Screw the phone company and put an outlet in the bathroom.  Argue at work?  Show Them!  Wife, you now have an outlet over the washing machine in the basement.  The phone company was in no way connected to his wedding dress business, but it was the only Other at close hand.  And so, I grew up in a house where even the master closet had an outlet.

This was a job he could do blindfolded, with one hand tied behind his back.

Fast forward a decade or two, to one of our first houses in Marin.  There was a phone jack in the garage, but it was inside the storage closet instead of outside in the bays.  The ringtone was impossible to hear unless the door was propped open.  Though I could have done it myself, I asked my dad to drill through and move the gizmo to the correct side of the wall.

Hours later, a dejected parental unit trudged up the several flights of stairs to the kitchen.  I'm just not going to be able to finish that, Suz.

That's the moment.


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