As I walked into my house after a lovely vacation in the Tahoe Mountains, I was hit with the putrid smell of old age. It was a heavy, rancid odor a musty basement emits when full of decaying remnants of a life long gone by. This mixed with the wafting stench of wet, dirty diapers made me want to vomit, turn around, and run away.
Since my 95-year-old father moved in with me, my life and home have been completely turned upside down. Freedom to come and go as I please is a distant memory as the walls and floors of my well-kept house are covered with black marks and deep scratches from his wheelchair. (His only vestige of mobility has difficulty making its way from room-to-room without destroying everything in its path). Furniture has been pushed out of their once perfectly scripted places so the caregiver can manipulate his crippled body. The abundance of food kept on hand often goes bad because he sleeps through nearly every meal. Chaos and destruction have replaced my typical order and calm. This is my new reality, my new hell.
Preparing for another evening of nothing, I took a deep breath as I released my father’s caregiver from her duties. Sucking up my negative emotions, I went to check on the mound of slumber quietly resting in his hospital-issued bed.
Since he arrived months ago, my goal has been to make him feel welcome. I know he worries about being a burden, therefore, I can never admit how difficult and invasive it has become. I feel trapped and alone. There’s no distinction from one day to the next. My life has become a dull blur and painfully boring.
But these are the final days to the life that asked for nothing. All my father has ever known is hard work from the time he was a child. He gave everything so his four children would have more than he did. Despite my negative emotions, I want his limited time pleasant and peaceful.
Leaning over his useless body, I saw that he wasn’t not asleep, but lost deep in his thoughts. With his eyes closed, right forefinger gently tapping his lip, eyelids fluttering, I wonder if should I disturb this peaceful moment or barge in breaking his concentration? I decide on the latter.
“Dad,” I announced softly, as I touch his arm. “I’m home.”
Slowly he opens his crusted-over eyes, focused, and began to smile. “Oh, honey. I’ve missed you so much.”
In that instant, the annoying smells, scratches, disturbed furniture and decaying food dissolved into a thin mist. His unconditional love wraps me in warm comfort and I’m blessed in abundance.
“Hi dad,” I say, smiling. “I’ve missed you too.”
My days with my father are slipping through my fingers. Things are becoming harder for him and he sleeps nearly 20 hours of the day. Our visits are rarer because he’s putting his life in order in his mind before he allows himself to be called home to heaven.
I know that when he’s gone, my house will once again smell fresh and clean. The furniture will stay where I put it and all the marks will be wiped away. I’ll have my freedom back. My life with my father will only be a beautiful memory. No physical trace will be left behind and I know I’ll feel lost in a giant hole without him.
So, to hell with the dirty diapers! Just open more windows and light sweet smelling candles. Move anything in the house that makes it more comfortable for him, buy food and let it rot. All I want right now is my daily hello, a kiss or two, and to watch the man whose loved me like no other man ever has, or will again, sleep contently. For this is the beautiful gift they call Karma being blessed on my life.
Caring for our parents, whether in our homes, their’s, or a facility is never an easy task. We don’t know how long we have and it’s easy to become angry over the loss of our freedom, especially if we’ve just discovered it after raising children. I’d love to hear how others faced this dilemma of being stuck in between.