losing my father

I had a free hour on Tuesday, around lunchtime, so I decided to visit my father in his nursing home. My father’s facility is within walking distance of the hospital that I work in. The proximity of the nursing home to my work, to me, is both a blessing and a curse. Some days I can’t decide which it is.

I stopped by my hospital’s gift shop on my way to visit Dad. I planned to bring him a gift, maybe some candy or a muffin. In years past, I might have selected a paperback, a newspaper, or a book of crossword puzzles and brainteasers. He still has his vision – with the help of bifocals – but he can no longer process the words that he reads. The man who once devoured several books a week – especially anything written by Ken Follett, John Jakes, or Louis L’Amour — can’t comprehend a restaurant menu, much less a newspaper or magazine. After searching the shelves in the small gift shop filled with flowers and balloons and knickknacks, I selected a stuffed animal – a cuddly spotted leopard — and a bag of salted peanuts.

dad's gift

When I entered his darkened room on the second floor of the nursing home, he was lying flat in his bed, wearing a hospital gown. His eyes were closed, and he wore a pained expression. He either sensed my presence or heard me pull up a chair, and he opened his eyes. He looked startled and panicked.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” he said. There was urgency in his voice and he reached a hand out to grab mine. I raised the head of his bed some, so he could be closer to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “What do you think has happened?”

“I was in an accident, a head on collision with someone,” he said. “But I don’t know what’s wrong. They won’t tell me. Something is wrong here.” He touched the right side of his forehead with his hand.

I reassured him that he was okay, that he had not been in an accident. That he must have been dreaming about an accident from the past or something he’d seen on television. He looked at me, then beyond me, and finally he shook his head as if to shake off the cobwebs coating his memories.

“Here, Dad, I’ve brought you a gift,” I showed him the stuffed animal and the peanuts. He took the leopard from me and hugged it, his eyes bright. I placed the peanuts on his tray table, but within his reach.

He petted the soft toy, running his fingers over the pink nose and glass eyes. He hugged it again, then set it next to the bag of peanuts. He turned to look at me.

“How long have I been here?” he asked.

“Almost three months, Dad.” But it seems like forever. It seems like it will be forever.

“Why? What’s wrong with me?” he asked, his voice filled with equal parts despair and confusion. “I just wish I knew what was wrong with me.”

“It’s your brain, Dad,” I explained gently. “It’s like Alzheimer’s. You have something like Alzheimer’s, like your mom had. Do you remember that she used to wander? And that’s why she was in a nursing home? It’s something like that, just like what she had.”

He looked at me in disbelief. He didn’t say anything right away. He turned away from me, and then turned back, his greenish-hazel eyes locking with mine.

“I hate that,” he said.

My eyes filled with tears. “Me too, Dad. I hate it too. We all hate it.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes. I stared at the television that sits on his dresser. The television is eternally tuned to the same channel since his remote control went missing a few weeks ago. I can’t tell you how many old reruns of Friends I have watched since May. That day it was on a cartoon – maybe King of the Hill or Family Guy? It was obnoxious and not something he ever would have watched.

“How old am I?” he asked.

This was the first he’d ever asked me that. Normally his memory for the past is very strong, even now. I told him that he was seventy-seven. That he will be seventy-eight in December.

“I’m not done yet,” he said, his voice cracking, full of emotion. He broke down in tears.

“I know, Dad,” I said. “I know you’re not.”

We held hands for a while. I watched the scenes from Family Guy – or maybe King of the Hill – scroll across the television screen. He didn’t say anything for a while, just stared at the television and at the open door to his room. I don’t think he was seeing either. He was in his head, remembering…or maybe forgetting.

He gave my hand a squeeze and then let go. He took the stuffed leopard in his hands and hugged it to his chest, stroking the animal’s back. He reached for the bag of peanuts.

“Let’s have a snack,” he said, a smile lighting up his face. “Want some?”

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20 Responses to “the box on the dining room table”

  1. Renee - Kudos Kitchen — June 8, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    Such a sweet story about your father. My heart goes out to you.
    This ice cream? Divine!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

      Oh, thank you, Renee.

  2. MJ, this is a beautiful post. I can see how there’s comfort in having your dad “around’. I am sure he is smiling down at you all and I know that he will love Yellowstone XO

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

      I think this Yellowstone trip will be great for all of us. It just feels right to take Dad with us. And thank you, Mardi.

  3. Gail — June 8, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

    You outdo yourself, every single time.
    And I go through more kleenex, every single time.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      I should post a warning label, right? (Thank you, Gail!)

  4. Kathryn — June 9, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    Such a beautiful and touching post.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      Thank you so much, Kathryn.

  5. Colleen — June 9, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    Such a beautiful post!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

      Thank you, Colleen.

  6. jacquie — June 9, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    beautiful post. after i have lost a significant being in my life, for some reason i always feel more settled when a piece of them come back home to me. I’m so glad your dad is going to Yellowstone with all of you. I’m sure he will let you know where he wants to rest. take care.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

      I believe you’re right, Jacquie. I think I’ll know the place when I’m there. It will feel right.

  7. Jennifer Annan House — June 9, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    Another wonderful post I think your posts about your dad help all of us who are grieving for someone. And, love the picture, and news of your upcoming Yellowstone trip. It will be a wonderful time for all of your family.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

      Thank you so much, Jennifer.

  8. Christine — June 12, 2014 @ 10:16 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I am excited for your family to have the opportunity to travel to our country’s oldest and greatest national park later this month. Be sure to visit the tourist sites such as Old Faithful and Morning Glory as well as some less-trammeled backcountry nooks. While working there with the Youth Conservation Corps for four summers, I felt continually astounded by the pristine solitude of the backcountry, despite the flooded overdevelopment of places in the front-country. Have fun!

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  10. Paula — June 17, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    This one final road trip *with* your Dad will be fun, poignant and truly memorable…for all of you. Safe travels. Beautifully written post and I hope you write about your time, experiences at Yellowstone.

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  12. Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul — July 14, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    I kinda stumbled on this post while browsing your blog. So my comment is coming in a little late. I can relate to the box that is there but that you can’t open, but that is such a comfort.

    I need to start by saying that my recent loss was totally not on the magnitude of losing a parent, not by any means. Still, I have the box containing what may be an urn of my cat’s ashes in it. I’ve had it on my nightstand next to my bed since March. I haven’t opened it. It’s just there. I can’t face the box, but I can’t let it go either. So, there it sits. I guess I was more dependent on that tiny little life than I realized. And because it’s been just me and her for the last 8 years (no boyfriend or anybody along the way), going through this was so very hard. It’s amazing how much a plain old cardboard box can contain.

    I am so sorry for your loss and from reading backwards through your posts to this one, I see that you took that trip with your Dad. There are no words that can make the loss of a loved one “better” but I do hope that you will find some comfort along the way.

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