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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30 Responses to “still here”

  1. Angie @ Bigbearswife — October 20, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

    Happy Late Birthday hun!

    Thinking of you, your dad and family!

  2. Kristina @ spabettie — October 20, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

    oh, I am sorry! sending healing thoughts to your dad, comfort to all of you!

  3. kamran siddiqi — October 20, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    Happy belated birthday, my friend! Sending you a huge hug and lots of positive energy and prayers!

  4. Wenderly — October 20, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    Sending you hugs, love & light to lift you and hold you tight.

  5. Melissa — October 20, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

    Just over a year ago I was in the same place you are now with my dad. Seeing your photo of an ICU room just made my entire chest tighten up. I’m sending you every positive thought I can muster up for your dad, you and your family.

  6. Georgie — October 20, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

    Sending you the sweetest wishes ever!

  7. Anneliesz — October 20, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

    Oh Merry. I’m sorry your dad is in the hospital but glad that you are able to spend the time with him. Sending you a big hug.

  8. Sam — October 20, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

    I’m seconding everyone on sending healing thoughts. And an extra big hug for you.

  9. DessertForTwo — October 20, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

    We are all thinking about ya, praying for ya, and sending lots of good wishes y’all’s way.

    Much love,

  10. SMITH BITES — October 20, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

    Am grateful you have a good support system MJ including a wonderful husband; sad that you’re going thru this but again grateful you also have time to spend w/your dad. (((hugs)))

  11. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — October 21, 2011 @ 6:55 am

    Merry Jennifer. YOU are pretty darned amazing too. Sending healing vibes to your dad and hugs and love to everyone else. Especially you.

  12. Jamie — October 21, 2011 @ 7:06 am

    I know how it hurts. Thinking of you. xo

  13. Judith Klinger — October 21, 2011 @ 8:03 am

    Hang in there. What choice do we have?
    Sending you a hug full of warmth and strength. If I had a magic wand I’d fix the fridge too.

  14. Chris @ The Peche — October 21, 2011 @ 8:40 am

    Thinking of you, friend. We’re not so far that we can’t drive to help if you need us.

  15. Kim Foster — October 21, 2011 @ 9:13 am

    Oh babe, this post is so full of love.

    Thinking of you, MJ. Sending your dad special prayers. xo

  16. Erin @ A Nesting Experience — October 21, 2011 @ 10:20 am

    Take care and happy birthday.

  17. Michelle Ledesma — October 21, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    During this time of distraction, from the bottom of my heart, I am sending up prayers for continued strength and grace for both you and your rock of a husband . I won’t worry about you, because that’s not what you you want. But I’m thinking of you, and your family. Sending hugs. Do take care.

  18. Colleen — October 21, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    I am so sorry about what you are going through. My heart goes out to you. I wish you strength.

  19. Di — October 21, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

    I am sorry to hear about your father; sadly there are things in life we can’t go around….we just have to go through them. You don’t know me, but I have become a big fan over the last few months and I feel like I know you. My god daughter recommended your site (she’s a dr. in Fl and a Gator). Her grandmother told me when my own parents were ill (25 years ago) … “This is your time, honey.” We all have a time in our lives when we face our parents fragility. This is your time, Jennifer. I am sure you are heart-broken. I wish you, your husband and your family strength and peace.

  20. LisaK — October 21, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

    Happy Late Birthday! I’m so sorry your dad is sick. Sending hugs and healing thoughts.

  21. themacaronqueen — October 21, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    I’m sorry about your loss :(. Be strong and hope everything will get better. I hope a macaron can put a smile back in your face.

  22. delia — October 21, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    Sorry to hear about what’s been going on. Thinking of you.

  23. Macaroni Mama — October 21, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

    The Merry Gourmet is a WONDERFUL daughter, mother, friend, and doctor. I appreciate all the love you send to her. P.S. I’m a terrible cook. I don’t even want to learn how.

  24. SweetSugarBelle — October 21, 2011 @ 11:30 pm

    I am so sorry you’re going through this, MJ. Wishing heath and healing to your dad, peace for you, and smooth sailing for your hubby and kids. Sending brighter skies and blue pastures your way.

  25. Cheryl Arkison — October 22, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    Oh, it was your birthday too? Happy Birthday, as much as you can find the happiness.

    This is a very tough road you are on right now, but we’re here for you.

    (And I took photos in the hospital too. I don’t know why and I have a hard time if I run across them now, but I was compelled to at the time.)

  26. Aggie — October 22, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    This makes me want to cry, MJ. I know how much you love your daddy and I am praying for a speedy recovery.

    hang in there. You can celebrate your bday big time when this nightmare is over and your daddy is home safe & sound.

  27. Brian @ A Thought For Food — October 23, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    You have been through so much darling! I am glad that you’re father is no longer being intubated. Sending you sweet thoughts, my dear!

  28. Lana — October 23, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

    Happy belated birthday! I am at a similar place in life, taking care of my ailing mother, while my husband is holding our family fort. You are a strong and loving person, and your dad is lucky to have you near him when he needs you. My thoughts are with you and your family. Hugs!

  29. Paula — October 25, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    I’m sorry that I’m late to reading this and hoping that by now your poor Dad is showing some improvement. What an awful thing to have happened to him. It certainly wasn’t the way I’m sure you had planned to spend your birthday but the important thing is your family is together to help your Dad heal.
    Keeping you all in my prayers MJ.

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