a crisis and a decision

I perched on the edge of my seat next to my father’s bed, ready to quickly move out of the way for the next nurse or patient care assistant that needed to get where I was. So far there had been three, and each time, I stood and moved to the other side of the bed, or generally just got out of the way. I felt out of place, in the way.

The first was a stern-faced woman, her hair pulled back in a tight bun and wearing turquoise scrubs. She brought my father a lunch tray – green beans, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and a cup of brown tea with no ice – and, later, she checked his blood pressure and noted his vitals on a scrap of paper. She didn’t smile. The second and third wore red scrubs. They worked as a team to help my father stand, wobbly and listing to the right. With their assistance, he pivoted with shuffling steps and plopped into the chair that was also a digital scale. After getting his weight, they changed his gown. The sweat-soaked one he was wearing was removed, and almost simultaneously, a clean, pale-blue gown was draped over him, then tied in the back.

He was charming with each of them, even the one who would not smile. He joked that his weight was due to his incredible muscle strength (it’s not). He asked one if she was married (she isn’t). He flirted, and they humored him or ignored him, whichever was most appropriate.

But now we were alone. I sat in the chair beside his bed, holding his right hand for some time, letting go when it got too damp, holding it again. He watched the activity outside his door — other residents rolling by in their wheelchairs, nursing home staff in their colored scrubs pushing medication carts or bins of linens. And we talked.

“Why am I here?” he asked.

I did my best to answer that question, and my chest tightened with each word I spoke. My heart hurt.

You’re here because Mom can’t take care of you alone anymore, because none of us can. You’re here because you get confused, and when you get confused, you often get angry or mean. It’s too much for any of us. You’re here because we need help, and because this is for the best. You’re here because you need full care, more than we can safely do without some support. You’re here because Mom needs a break, and if she doesn’t get a break, she’ll die.

My father has dementia, and until now, we’ve mostly kept it quiet.

My father has dementia, and even though it is breaking our hearts, we made the decision to put him in a nursing home this weekend. Everything came so suddenly, after an evening of crisis. None of us were ready for it. But then again, I’m not sure we ever would be ready. I hope this current placement is temporary, a bandage, until we can figure out a long-term solution. I fear that it will become permanent.

I came home and baked yesterday. I baked a key lime cheesecake, one of Sam’s favorites. I grated limes, measured juice, whisked lime curd, blended cream cheese and sugar. The routine of the process calmed my mind as the sweet aromas of cheesecake filled the house.

The baking helped for a time. It helped until today, when Dad told me he wanted to go home, told me he wanted to die if he couldn’t.


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23 Responses to “where i have been”

  1. Karen Rush — August 22, 2016 @ 12:14 am

    Your post spoke to me at every level of my being. The eloquence of your words taking down the veil was controlled, compelling, beautifully done.

    Although we have no schizophrenia in our family, we dealt with the rest and some more in our family over the years. My mother is now 93 years old and has dementia so doesn’t remember years of terrible unpleasantness let loose by drinking alcohol. She stopped drinking when my beloved father died coinciding with her vertical slip into mental shutdown. My only sibling, a fearful, difficult sister, died from cancer 12 weeks after diagnosis 18 months ago. She had no children, was unhappily married here in Australia for 37 years to a mono-syllabic Texan with chronic renal failure. He then died 4 weeks after her death thankfully.  To manage all this and stay sane, I called it how it was. Previously I chose to distance myself, to be an ‘other’. When I had my now-adult daughter, it was especially important to put distance between them and my babe, husband and me. 

    Quite some years ago I stumbled across your blog. I was drawn to the spare elegance of your words.  Then you went quiet. I thought you were just busy with your work. Medicine is a demanding profession. Selfishly, I am glad you are back and ‘out’. Welcome home. 

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

      Karen, thank you so much for sharing part of your story with me. And thank you so much for your words of encouragement. Your comment meant a great deal to me. Thank you for that.

  2. Maureen — August 22, 2016 @ 10:48 am

    Thank you for your honesty about life, real life….the one we all live outside of the glow of Instagram.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 6:59 pm

      It’s so true, right? We rarely see the ugly in those Instagram lives, but I’m certain we all have our own unpleasant stories to tell. Thank you for continuing to read what I write here in this space.

  3. cherie — August 22, 2016 @ 11:10 am

    I understand the retreating into self. I am so glad that you’re feeling open to BEING open. I have been a long time reader of your beautifully written blog, having found it in baking exploration, I too assumed life had gotten in the way after you lost your father, as your kids got older. I am sorry it has been for other reasons but I will be here holding space for you as you feel your way towards finding your voice. I have been working on that myself of late, in life in general. I’ve been finding great strength and freedom in kundalini meditation [new to me] in these past months – and the way each meditation ends is with the phrase ‘Sat nam’ which basically means ‘the truth in me sees the truth in you’ and many varieties of such thoughts – so I will close with that – Sat nam.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:00 pm

      Oh, Cherie. I love that. Sat nam. Thank you.

  4. Deb|EastofEdenCooking — August 22, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

    It is good to hear from you! We all need time to heal, space to dream, a place to call our own. I have similar family issues/challenges/ problems. And really, I imagine we all do. I dance around it all on my blog and thank you for the courage to speak up.

    We are all injured or broken in some way. I know we are all connected, linked together by our humanity, living during this time, being in the place we call earth. I have no magic answers for being with the families we were given. I’ve come to think that this is part of living, the lessons we must learn. To love with understanding and compassion, all the while setting boundaries. After all, we have a life to too!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

      Thank you so much, Deb. I believe as you do, that we’re all connected in some way by our humanity, our human experience with pain and love and joy and fear. I am so glad you’re still reading. Thank you for being here.

  5. BC Pitcher — August 22, 2016 @ 3:01 pm

    Thank you so very much for your brave honesty. The walk with you reading MerryGourmet.com was healing on a number of levels. And your story and mine mirror one another. 

    Just this weekend as I left a favorite bakery in Traverse I wondered where you were and how you are. Today is the first time a post has landed in my inbox since your father died. It is heartening to read you bravely share the truth of your family and I admire you and think you one of the bravest ladies I’ve ever met. 

    I’m not yet brave enough to share my lonely truths of the last seven years. But reading your blog, I am closer. Please keep writing. 


    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

      BC, thank you for writing this comment. It means so much to know that you’re out there reading. I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had struggles over these past several years, but know that you’re not alone. WE are not alone. Hugs to you, friend.

  6. Natalie — August 22, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

    I’ve missed your posts and was happy to see you writing again.  Thank you for being so open and honest, even at the risk of upsetting family members.  Mental illnesses are no joke, and should be taken seriously. I wish there wasn’t such a stigma regarding them so people would feel more comfortable talking about mental health issues.  That being said, as a mom, of course you’ll shield your kiddos from toxic relationships, even when they’re with family members. It must be difficult to deal with this on top of grief. I’m sorry you’re going through.  Please keep sharing if that’s what helps you heal and feel whole. Blessings to you.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:10 pm

      Thank you so much, Natalie. The stigma around mental illness is such a challenge and one that we’ve dealt with in our family for years. I hope that it changes over time. I plan to keep speaking out, for whatever that’s worth. Thank you for being here, Natalie.

  7. MJ, thank you. For being honest. For being you. Share what you need/ want to here. And remember we’re here to listen/ help, ok? XO

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:10 pm

      Oh, thank you so much, Mardi. I know you’re there. I really do. xo

  8. Angela — August 23, 2016 @ 11:01 pm

    Thank you for having the courage to write about your story.  By the way I love your blog, your stories and your food. You’ve in some way have become like a good friend – a real friend that I come to for feel good reading. I can identify in so many ways with your post today. I’m a daughter of an alcoholic father – I called him the Russian roulett drunk, I have struggled with addiction myself, I have lost some of my most precious loved ones to cancer, and many times my voice silenced by my past. Feelings from the past that often have me frozen in fear in the now. I have learned that feelings are not fact and at times they are amplified by association. How I move forward now is by remembering that feeling when I was in my 20s and having no care in the world, fearless, I was invincible and I could do anything no matter what. I think of that I grab hold of that feeling and hold on tight. That to me is real. That to me is how life should feel. I hope and wish the same for you. That you grab hold of that feeling that makes you the most happy and hold on tight, because you deserve it. 

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:11 pm

      Wow. Thank you so much, Angela. I’m so glad you’re here. xo

  9. I’m just one of those strangers who loves when your posts pop up in my reader, no matter how infrequent they may be. Your words have always resonated with me. I found your blog years ago via your roasted tomato soup recipe. I’ve stuck around, though, because your stories are always genuine and so beautifully written. Very few blogs compel me to click through and comment, but I know I’ve done it on several occasions here. Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, have a sibling with mental health issues. His aren’t as severe as the ones you face (but we are still young, so I know much of our journey is still to come), but I appreciate your openness to talk about something so stigmatized. I still make that tomato soup, by the way. It’s warm and comforting and reassuring, just like your words. Thank you, MJ.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 25th, 2016 @ 7:13 pm

      Thank YOU, Jessica. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write to me in a comment. Your words mean so much to me. xo

  10. Rachel Winter — August 25, 2016 @ 7:18 pm

    Love you MJ ♥️
    Glad you are back 🙂 

  11. Melissa — September 16, 2016 @ 11:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and welcome back.  

  12. Ryan Smith — November 2, 2016 @ 8:14 am

    Thinking of you, M-J. A tough post, but inspiring that you found a way forward.

  13. Matilde Bird — December 6, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

    MJ- I just logged in to check last year’s fruit cake cookies recipe and read about your withdrawal from your blog. You seem to be a wonderful person and you write beautiful, so I wish you the best.

  14. Sharon Carr — August 21, 2017 @ 12:01 pm

    Merrygourmet.com, I was so very glad to see your name pop up on my feed today. It’s been too long!!  That Alaska trip looks awesome and makes me want to do the research and put a trip together. Don’t stay away so long next time!!

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