Squeezed into a three-sided box. Nowhere to walk except straight ahead, into the blaze.
I got up the morning after our social worker’s call, knowing I could not go on the unhealthy way I had been.
I stopped spinning my wheels in the sand pit where no help was to be had. I was no longer interested in speaking to anyone and raising my hopes over promising leads, only to see them dashed. I found that accepting what was coming instead lifted the raw edge of my depression just enough for some light — and determination — to seep in.
Take the bull by the horns. Take control. Do it my way.
My fear of Stone Face circled and clawed at me, relentless as a vulture smelling blood. But, at the end of the day, this was about Daddy. A heartless thief called Dementia had crept in and stolen 84 years from him. He needed his children now more than ever. I would somehow see to his protection and quality of life for as long as our Maker would let me, and so would Bro.
Life handed Daddy lemons (or limes, if you will). We would help him make lemonade (or margaritas) as best we could.
It was Go time, with less than a week to prepare for Daddy’s arrival home.
Fighting against his dementia was the wrong approach, for sure. Working around his behaviors and impulses and heading them off was the way to go, especially when it came to his nonstop wandering. Double bolt locks that could only be opened with a key, for the front and back doors, were our most crucial need. We had to keep him in the house. Also, a new locking door knob for the bathroom. There were too many chemicals and things for him to get into there.
All the knobs on our gas stove had to be removed and hidden from him. The refrigerator needed a lock. All knives, forks, and sharp utensils had to be taken from their drawers and secured in the storage room, along with anything made of glass. Disposable dinnerware and sundry would be the norm, now. Small appliances like blenders and toasters had to go. Glass had to be taken out of picture frames. We cleared rugs away throughout the house to prevent trips and falls, removed breakables and unnecessary items from his room and all rooms.
We got rid of his and Mama’s king-size bed to make way for a hospital bed (rental) and wheelchair provided by Medicare. We followed the rehab facility’s lead and included soft diet foods when buying groceries, so his swallowing capabilities wouldn’t be compromised.
I found a great incontinence supply company that delivered in two days and provided everything necessary for Dad’s hygiene and keeping the house sanitary.
The night before our father’s discharge from rehabilitation, my brother and I settled side by side on the living room sofa and reflected on our preparations. Wondered what the hell we were doing. Wondered if we’d done enough.
No doubt, we’d missed something. But this was the best we could do. We’d have to learn everything else on the fly, by trial and error.
The strange, comfortable silence surrounding us felt like the proverbial calm before the flood. We didn’t want to leave it.
I stared out the windshield as I drove through cold, February rain towards the place I’d been avoiding for weeks. My upset stomach wouldn’t settle.
What would Daddy do when he saw me?
My physical bruises had healed months ago, though my emotional ones stung anew. I ignored them and continued steering through evening gloom.
Bro and I (in my car) and Auntie and Cousin (in Auntie’s car) arrived at the rehab facility at the same time, and went to Daddy’s room together. His nurses had him dressed and ready to go. While the others fussed over him, I found a chair to relieve my weakened knees. Once sitting, I clung to the tote bag in my lap and tried to make myself as small and unnoticeable as possible.
Please, God. Don’t let me trigger him.
Then, he noticed me.
I held my breath as the hairs froze and stood on the back of my neck.
Daddy’s serious poker face gave no hints as to what he was thinking. Our eyes locked as he walked towards me. My brain was in serious fight-or-flight, but I didn’t move. There would be no running away anymore. This moment would tell it all.
Everyone in the room got quiet. Watched us.
He stopped right in front of me, gazed down at me, his one bad eye like a hazy marble of powder blue. He grabbed at me— no, not at me. At the vibrant tote painted with tropical leaves and bright butterflies in my lap. The colors drew him. He liked it and wanted to make it his.
I could have let go of it, let him have it. But my head said no. Not only was that a bad idea with my phone and valuables in it, even in this situation, there had to be boundaries. I decided right then if anything set off my Spidey-sense where Dad was concerned, I wouldn’t ignore my instincts and possibly end up regretting the consequences.
My purse was a no.
Daddy hadn’t lost any strength or stubbornness. I didn’t engage in a tug-of-war with him, though. I just dug my fingers into the leather and wouldn’t let go until he realized it wasn’t happening and let go first. Which he did.
Only after he’d walked away from me did I realize I hadn’t triggered Stone Face. A tiny curl of triumph tickled my heart.
As we waited for Daddy’s discharge papers, he began wandering all over the place, shuffling up and down the corridors and trying to get in other patients’ rooms, shadowed by Bro and Auntie. No amount of coaxing could get him back in his room. Which begged the question… Would we be able to get him out of the building and into the car?
He no longer knew us. Once we were outside, what if he refused to come and dug his heels in?
What in the world would we do then?
I had no idea.