Altering the Course
Posted on January 17, 2012
It’s not usually the weather that alters the activity around the compound, but today… The tornado siren was wailing, Channel 5’s weatherman said to run for cover, and Murphy was extremely agitated. So Dave rounded up the old folks and we all headed for The Cellar just about 1:00 o’clock.
Actually, I was already here. At 12:45, I had popped a frozen shepherd’s pie into the oven for lunch expected to be at 1:30. We take our main meal at the middle of the day now. Mom and Dad just do not like to eat a big meal in the evening, and since I wanted to make sure of what, exactly, and how much, they are eating… Well, here they all came. Mom was first down the stairs, slow but steady. Dad followed, holding on to the banister with two hands. Dave brought up the rear, carrying Murphy. Murphy does not like storms.
“Well,” Dave said, after Mom and Dad had taken their seats on the couch, “I think I’ll have a glass of wine. Who wants to join me?”
All hands went up. Well, actually, Murphy only looked up. She thought Dave had mentioned “treat time.” Or maybe it was the word “wine.” Usually, when someone around the compound is having wine, they’re also having crackers—and crackers are her favorite treat.
Dad wanted red so I sprinted up the stairs to retrieve a bottle of Cabernet from the dining room. Mom said she wanted red, too. I asked her if she wanted me to add a packet of Splenda. She likes it very sweet.
Mom sat on one end of the couch and Dad on the other, holding hands across the empty middle until Murphy jumped up between them. They let go to pet Murphy.
“What if we have to stay here for a long time?” Mom asked.
“I guess we’ll just stay here and drink,” I answered. I started to sing Merle Haggard’s 1980 hit. “…You don’t care about the way I think. Think I’ll just stay here and drink.”
“Daddy,” Mom said, “You’re going to drop your wine glass.”
“Are you asleep?” I asked.
“No, just almost,” he said. “That wine made me sleepy.”
Dave took the glass to the sink.
We were about an hour later than we meant to be eating that shepherd’s pie. It was good.
Then, somehow, we got started on a discussion of what might happen if Mom died first—before Dad. Wait—I know how that happened.
When I cook and take the meal to the apartment, Dad usually manages the kitchen cleanup. When he clears the table and puts the dishes in the dishwasher, he would prefer that no one stacks the dishes. He reminds us frequently. Today, he said, “I have my own way of doing this, and I like to take one dish at a time to the sink and then rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. If y’all stack them all up, you just make a mess of my system.” (Mom immediately withdrew her reach toward my plate and silverware.)
“See,” he said, “This is one of the few things I get to do this the way I want to.”
“That’s because Mom does everything else for you,” I said.
“I know,” he said, “But it’s not my fault. It doesn’t matter what I start to do. Even if I am just going to make myself a piece of toast, she comes up behind me and says, ‘Oh, honey, let me take care of that for you.’”
“Here’s what I want to know,” Dave said. “What are you going to do if she dies first?”
“I’ll have to find me another little gal to take care of me,” Dad answered, and winked.
Mom was unfazed. “Doesn’t work that way at your age, Buddy,” she said.
Then Dad said to Dave, “Well, you could put my medicine out for me to take like she does, and…”
“Oh, no,” Dave said, “You’re bound for the ice floe. We’re not going to put up that nonsense.”
I said I thought we ought to just ask the crematorium’s driver to take Dad, too, when he comes to pick up Mom. “…just let you two go on together,” I said.
We all laughed. We joke often about a time that really will arrive one of these days.
Dad turned serious. “I think I feel more secure right now than I ever have,” he said. “I don’t worry about anything.”
Then we talked of retirement centers, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, doctors, and medicine. We discussed the financial ability of our children, the care given in institutions, and what we all might do at the time that the first of my two parents dies.
It was a practical discussion—not emotional, not sad.
There are doctor appointments this week, and next, and maybe the week after. Dad will see the ophthalmologist for his annual eye exam tomorrow and his urological surgeon for a follow-up on Friday morning. The next week Mom sees the endocrinologist and then the cardiologist. I’m not sure what comes next after that, but sometime this week, I have to re-investigate a lab bill that Medicare did not pay.
What was I going to do today? I was taking a new laptop to the computer store to have it loaded. Now I’ve decided there’s just been too much rain and too little time is left in the day. Mom said she had intended to quilt but after lunch she might just take a nap instead. Dave said he might work on his mother’s finances, even though there was not much time left in the day. Dad said he couldn’t remember what he was going to do. Later, when the rain stopped, I saw him walking around the courtyard with his cane; he seemed to be exploring.
Altered courses—we experience a lot of those. That’s okay. Whatever it was that I meant to do (I think it might have been organizing books), it will wait. I keep reflecting on what Dad said. “I feel more secure right now that I ever have.”
Where’s that wine? “My mind is nothin’ but a total blank—Think I’ll just stay here and drink.”
Except I said “drank.” Rhymes better.