I knew it might be a rough day as I headed north on I-75 to my parents’ house in Dayton, gifts I’d bought for my dad to give my mother in a bag and wrapping paper in the back seat of the car.
My parents have a tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning, to each other and to Annie while she was still alive. Two years ago, when Dads Alzheimer’s had already started to greatly limit his abilities, I took him shopping for gifts for Mom. He drove a scooter around the store and we picked out some things from a list she had given me. I helped Dad wrap them when we got home.
Last year, Dad wasn’t able to get in and out of a car very easily, and we had pretty much stopped taking him places other than the doctor’s office. I talked to him about what he would like to get Mom and went out and purchased a bathrobe and a few other items. I labeled everything with the prices and had him “shop” from the kitchen table where I displayed them all. Then he added tape to the presents as I helped him wrap them.
This year, there wasn’t a conversation, but I went shopping and bought four small items for him to give her. I spoke to Mom in advance and and she thought if I got there by 11:00 am Dad would be awake long enough to help me wrap the gifts.
As I was driving yesterday, I felt a little weepy. It happens sometimes on the drive to Dayton.
I arrived at about 10:30, dried the tears from my eyes, opened the car door and put my feet on the driveway. I took a deep breath and thought, You can cry later.
Dad was nodding at the kitchen table while eating his breakfast cereal. Let’s just say bad went to worse. When he was finished with his cereal, I put his plate on the table in front of him with toast that his home health aide Paula had prepared for him and cut into small squares. He stabbed about three squares with his fork and dipped them up and down three times in his hot tea. The toast got soggy, and slipped off the fork into his tea. He spent some time fishing it back out. Mom said, “Why don’t I help you eat today, since you’re going to wrap presents.” She took his plate and started to feed him.
When he was finished eating, he was very drowsy and I was trying to keep him awake by rubbing on his hand saying, “Wake up, Dad, we’re going to wrap presents.”
Mom left the room. I placed the gifts on the table. Dad was falling asleep. I put my iPod on the speakers I’d brought and started playing Christmas music. I struggled through showing Dad the gifts and getting him to pay me cash from his wallet. He wasn’t very with it, so I started to wrap the first gift by myself, I needed to get this done today in case I couldn’t make it back next week. I was worried Dad might notice that he didn’t have any gifts for Mom on Christmas morning. She planned on having a few gifts for him.
My sister Carol, who has been visiting my parents since just before Thanksgiving, came into the room, looked at what was happening and said, “This isn’t going to work right now.”
She got Paula; Paula came and pushed Dad in his wheelchair into his bedroom so that he could take a nap. I felt like I was going to cry. “You can cry later,” I told myself, but I didn’t listen.
I was standing at the kitchen table, wrapping the first present, Breath of Heaven playing from my iPod, and tears streaming down my face, when Carol returned to the kitchen. “Let me help you,” she said.
We decided that she would save the presents and maybe help Dad wrap them later when he was more alert. Then she suggested we go get some lunch and go shopping for a couple of things Mom still wanted to get for Dad.
I was waiting for her in the car when a light bulb at the corner of my parents’ house caught my eye, and it made me cry. I don’t know why. Maybe I was wondering if Dad used to stand out there at night sometimes and need the light to work by.
“I’m afraid I’m on a real crying jag here,” I said to Carol when she got in the car.
“I was working with clay with him the other day,” she said, “and I got a metal meat tenderizer out of the drawer for him to use. I just watched him, how he held the tool, and I thought about all the other tools he had used as a model-maker, and how it is evident by just the way he handled the tenderizer that he was comfortable with a tool in his hand.”
“This isn’t helping me,” I said as I cried harder, and we both laughed.
When we were young, we lived in Piqua, Ohio and my dad worked at NCR in Dayton. Every Christmas, NCR had a big Christmas event for the employees and their families, and my dad would take the four of us. For some reason, I don’t remember if they ever brought Annie. My memory is that Mom always stayed home with Annie, but that could be wrong. I remember being in a big auditorium with a stage where there was a Christmas performance by a magician, or songs, or some kind of entertainment. And we all were given a large mesh stocking full of candy when we left. It was a very special event for us.
Afterwards, Dad would take the four of us shopping for gifts for Mom. You’d think I would remember more, but I don’t. I remember an escalator, in a store that may have been Sears, and potholders. I think I must have gotten Mom potholders that year. It must have been something for my dad to shepherd the four of us up and down escalators and through the store, buying Christmas gifts for my mother.