This past weekend, I went home to visit my parents, and I’ve been processing everything over the last couple of days and gathering my thoughts on how to write about the visit. My dad’s 73rd birthday is tomorrow, but I won’t be able to be there, so we decided to celebrate while I was visiting. He’s past the point of fully understanding what it means to have a birthday, I think, and he certainly couldn’t tell you what day it was or how old he was, but, seeing as how this is most likely his last birthday (just writing that, my throat catches), it was important to my mom and to me to acknowledge it and celebrate it. We picked up balloons and a crown and an ice cream sundae and brought it to him. He sang along with us for the Happy Birthday song, and mostly fed himself the ice cream. He’d open his mouth really wide waaaaaaay before the spoon got anywhere near it, then drip half of it down his beard, like a little kid (if little kids had beards, that is. That’d be creepy. So maybe not like a little kid. Maybe like a 3-toed sloth). It was quite cute.
I snuck in 3 visits over the 3 days I was home, and the first day was really lovely out, so we wheeled him outside in his brand new fancypants wheelchair (courtesy of Hospice) to look at the changing leaves and enjoy the breezes. We did a couple laps around the fenced-in courtyard (while getting passed several times by two residents who were all giggly and up to no good but who I adore because they’re so stinkin’ cute), then we parked him looking out at the woods and creek behind the courtyard. We sang a little, and gave him lots of kisses, and then, for a moment, as I was pulling back from giving him a kiss, he looked at me. Right. At. Me. He didn’t say anything, but I felt like he was present for just a second, and he saw me. The world kept spinning madly around us, but for just that second, we were still and together and that’s all there was.
It’s amazing how my view of what constitutes a good interaction has changed over the last few years. It used to be whether or not he could sit still long enough to look at pictures or participate in an activity. Then it was how much we talked and sang. Then it was if he got my name right. Then it became whether or not I could get a belly laugh out of him. Then it was how many hugs I got. And now a good visit comes down to him making eye contact for a second or two. And soon, it’ll be if he’s awake. And then there will be nothing.
It feels almost surreal that he’s the same person I grew up with, because who he seems to be now is worlds away from who he seemed to be then. And now I’m grateful for eye contact. I say that and it seems absurd, and ridiculous, and heartbreaking. But still, I’m grateful.
On Tuesday, I visited right before heading back to Raleigh. He was lined up with the other residents in his wheelchair with a blanket on him, watching West Side Story, so I pulled up a chair next to him and held his hand and sang along with the tunes. And then it came time for me to leave, and I went to give him a hug. And I realized, with him in the wheelchair full time now, I’m never going to get a giantdaddybearhug again. I can lean over the chair from the side, and kind of get my arms around his shoulders, and he can reach a hand up to touch my back, but he can never wrap me in his arms again. And then I realized I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the last time he gave me a real hug on my last visit up. And I should have been holding on and savoring and burning it into my memory, but it’s too late now. And I’m heartbroken. It makes the future where I don’t have his physical self at all seem way too near. It makes me ache. No amount of preparation will make it okay. So we just keep looking for the tiny things that we still have and try to etch them into our memories so that they’re not lost forever when he’s gone.