started writing this column three different times on topics that make me smile – grandkids, mowing and food that isn't on my diet. With the newspaper already full of depressing information, I'm hesitant to write about my pity party when I know everyone else has one of their own.
The last time I wrote about Dad he had actually talked to me that day, even though it didn't make any sense, it was the first time in over a year he put words together I could understand. This time I'm having a hard time shaking his appearance from my mind. He looked as sad and forlorn as I've seen him in a very long time.
Sitting in his wheelchair, right in front of the door to go outside, he had his head propped up with his hand. I wheeled him over to the chair I was sitting in so we could be eye to eye. I had to lean over and look up at him because he wasn't going to budge, no matter what I did or said. Either his eyes were watering or he was fighting tears.
He wasn't sleeping, just staring at the floor, looking incredibly sad and lonely.
For awhile I talked to him, from an upside down position, but there was absolutely no response. The staff said he'd been like that all day. I sat with him through two episodes of “Bewitched,” occasionally wiping the dripping slobber from his chin, until I just couldn't take it anymore. I felt so guilty for leaving him. It felt like something was really wrong but he just couldn't remember how to verbalize it.
Throughout the years of taking care of Dad I could sense when something wasn't right. Early on in the dementia progress, he lost his ability to recognize symptoms or pain and on more than one occasion I'd have to go through a list of different scenarios with him to figure out what the problem was. When I did guess correctly it would trigger something in his brain and then he'd describe what he was feeling so we could fix it. From toothaches to being constipated, by the time he went to the nursing home, I had become an expert at figuring out what he couldn't say.
This summer marks his fourth year in the nursing home and I have become so out of touch. The first year I went to see him at least two to three times a week. The second year once a week and now it's maybe once a month. I'm ashamed of myself for being so selfish with my time, as it's easier not to go, so I won't be sad, than it is to suck it up, deal with it and give him my support.
I can't stand the thought he might be miserable or in pain and I'm not around him enough to know what he needs. I justify not sitting with him more often because he doesn't recognize me or his surroundings. Then I think – but what if he does?
It will take me another month to get up the courage to go again. I wish I could be as strong as he is.
Sandy Turner lives in Independence. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org