Shouting

Laurel said the other day, “We should all learn another language. As a family, you know?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, then if we’re someplace all together and we want to say to something to someone in the family but we don’t really want everyone else to know, we can just say it in that other language,” she said.

I think she was thinking along the lines of a let’s-get-out-of-here signal.

“Like Swedish,” she said. “We could all learn Swedish and nobody would know what we’re saying.”

“Ummm… you’d be surprised,” I told her. “I’m pretty sure Amy knows Swedish.”

Amy — former pastor, dear friend.

“Oh, well…” Laurel said. “You know what I mean.”

Personally, I think we should all learn sign language. Not as a secret language — because there are a lot of people in the world who know sign — but as a quieter way of communicating.

I can always tell when my father’s hearing aids aren’t working.

“What?” he’ll ask.

Frequently.

“I’m having trouble hearing you,” he’ll say.

I’ll check to see if his hearing aids are in, and, if they are, if he has turned them on. Often these days he forgets the latter.

The other day Mary had a dentist appointment. As she and I headed out the door, I stopped to check my father’s hearing aids — and turned them both on. He was on his way to sit in the living room with the Daily Jumble.

An hour later when we got home, he was standing at the kitchen table.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“I need to put this in my…” and his voice trailed off as he searched for the word. He was holding a hearing battery in his hand.

“You need to put a new battery in your hearing aid?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and he pointed to his right ear — where there was no hearing aid.

“Okay, I can help with that,”I said. “Where’s the hearing aid?”

“That’s the problem,” he said.

“Did you set it on the table here?” I asked, and began moving papers and looking.

“I don’t know,” he replied — and that became his reply to every question.

“Where were you when you took it out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you sitting in your chair in the living room?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you go in your bedroom?”

“I don’t know.”

I began looking everywhere — the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the sun porch. I crawled around on the floor, looking under furniture, putting my cheek to the floor because that made it easier to see the incongruity of the hearing aid.

“Is it in your pocket?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, but he dutifully emptied his pockets for me.

All this conversation was taking place at a high volume — because of the missing hearing aid. That, alone, is exhausting.

Twenty minutes into the search and I was ready to give it a rest. My neck hurt from sleeping in a bad position the night before and this cheek-to-the-floor business wasn’t helping. I sat down.

“We’ve got to find it!” my father said when he saw me sitting. He was looking through some papers that hadn’t been moved in a year. The hearing aid would surely not be among them.

“Criminy,” I muttered under my breath. My neck ache was quickly becoming a headache.

“Keep looking,” he said urgently. “We can’t stop looking!”

I got back to my feet and went back over the same places I had been looking. Finally, in his bedroom, I spotted it poking out from the back edge of a chair cushion.

I could see the relief on his face when I brought it to him.

“Where did you find it?” he asked.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the new battery in.

“Where?” he asked again.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the hearing aid in his ear.

“That’s better,” he said, once it was in place. “Where did you find it?”

Something in me snapped. “ON THE CHAIR IN YOUR ROOM,” I shouted — not in a nice way.

I left in search of Advil.

Frederick Buechner, in his new book The Remarkable Ordinary, talks about his mother’s hearing loss and the difficulty of shouting conversations.

from “The Remarkable Ordinary” by Frederick Buechner

I thought about my deaf friends who read lips so well — and appreciated that I don’t have to shout at all with them.

When Laurel said she wanted to learn Swedish, all I could think is that I’d rather learn sign language.

That way maybe I could communicate better with my friends who use it.

And when I’m old and hard-of-hearing, my family can converse with me without shouting.

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Patience

“Quite frankly, God,” I said, “I’m getting a little tired of working on this patience thing. Could we move on to something else?”

Yesterday morning, I had been awakened by my father’s whistling. It’s happy whistling — “O Danny Boy” — evidence of his penchant for Irish music, that tells me he’s up and getting ready for the day.

Most days I listen for it. “Time to get to work,” I say to my girls as I get off the couch and head for the kitchen to fix his breakfast.

But yesterday, I heard it on the monitor in my room. It woke me up.

“O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…”

Sometimes he sings it. His singing reminds me of Lee Marvin in “Paint Your Wagon.”

I rolled over and looked at the time. 2:45 AM. Ugh.

When I went down to his room, he was laying out his clothes.

“What are you doing, Dad?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, turning to look at me.

“It’s not even 3 o’clock in the morning,” I told him.

“I know that,” he said — but I don’t think he did.

“Don’t you think you should be sleeping?” I asked.

“That sounds like a good idea,” he replied.

After helping him get back to bed, I went upstairs to my own. Laying there, looking at the ceiling, listening to the monitor, I could hear him rustling around for a few minutes, then quiet, then the heavy breathing of sleep.

I wished I could do that, but sleep never returned for me.

Some time after 4, I came downstairs again and made my coffee. My ever-growing pile of books that I’m working through beckoned me. In addition to daily Bible reading and time with Lancelot Andrewes,  my current morning reading consists of

  • Charles Williams’ The New Christian Year — a devotion a day.
  • Pascal’s Pensées — a pensée or two a day
  • Documents of the Christian Church (selected and edited by Henry Bettenson) — a document a day
  • Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance — a section a day
  • St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life — a chapter a day

St. Francis irked me yesterday. He said,

Among the virtues we should prefer that which is most conformable to our duty, and not that which is most conformable to our inclination…

My inclination is not towards patience. Mercy, maybe, but not patience. I’d like to swoop in, do some little nice thing for someone who’s hurting, and leave.

This long haul of caregiving is the opposite.

And my patience is in short supply these days.

“Lord, can we move on?” I prayed — but I knew the answer.

I began a good work in you. I’m going to complete it, He replied.

So, when I heard “O Danny Boy” for the second time that morning, I made his breakfast, took his blood pressure, gave him his meds, found the puzzles in the newspaper for him, and tackled another day.

Rain

I’m beginning to anticipate
What his response might be —
My mother blamed “the others”
For things we didn’t see,
But my father’s not a blamer
So, when he can’t explain
“It fell down from the sky,” he says,
Like some mysterious rain.

I crawled around the other day
With flashlight in my hand.
Half his hearing aid was missing
And I tried to understand
How these darn things fall apart so much
Half in one room, half another
I would have blamed “the others”
Had I been my mother.

Then Laurel called me from the kitchen
“Wha-T?” I said, but I
Emphasized the “T” too much —
And I can tell you why —
I was getting irritated
At the time that it had cost
Looking for a hearing aid
Half of which was lost.

“Grampa wants you,” she said timidly
And so I went to see
What it was he wanted now
From irritated me
“I found it!” he was saying.
I was surprised at what I saw
The missing piece of hearing aid
Resting in his paw.

“Where’d you find it?” I demanded.
I knew I should happy
But, you know, I wanted answers
And he’d better make them snappy.
“Can you fix it?” he was asking —
Not answering my question
It’s a skill he has in conversation –
Changing the direction

But I was dogged — “Where’d you find it?”
“It fell out of the sky,”
He said, as if that answer
Would satisfy my cry.
He told me again yesterday
When I asked about a pin
He had fastened to his sweatshirt
And I asked where it had been —

Apparently the sky inside
Varies precipitation.
Outside I see it raining rain
Inside, to my frustration,
It yields an odd assortment
Of hearing aids and stuff
That I couldn’t have imagined.
I should be thankful; it’s enough —

The lost hearing aid was found
I’m not still crawling on the ground

Rain


For Peter:

Perhaps another explanation is that a wolverine
Creeps into the house at night, stealthily, unseen
And hides my father’s hearing aids
Tapes them to the ceiling
Whence they fall on Dad, while I am searching, kneeling.

At the Corner

At the corner of Grove and Spring Streets, I paused. Maggie dropped her fish and panted while I stepped back to survey the building from a different angle.

It’s a lovely setting surrounded by trees. Porches and patios invite the residents to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Quiet and serene, the building stands removed just far enough from the hubbub of busy our tourist town. Expanses of lawn buffer it even more.

When I’m inside, I’m all yes.

When I leave, I wonder.

Maggie picked up her fish and we continued walking past the building.

I looked at the porch with its flower box. To the left was the dining room. I had eaten there a couple of weeks ago with my father.  We were just visiting, but I was impressed. Tables for six or eight, set with white linen table cloths and real china. Real food, not institutional. Servers who were both pleasant and competent. A little jazz played in the background.

“They take turns choosing what kind of music to play,” the administrator told me. “Also, people sit at the same table for about two months, but then we rearrange the seating plan so cliques don’t form and they all get to know each other.”

Every resident’s room is unique in configuration. Some have window seats. All have walk-in closets, high ceilings, and private bathrooms that include showers with seats and grab-bars. The rooms are spacious and cheerful.

I just never wanted to see my father leave his home.

But this isn’t an institution. It’s almost more like a sanctuary.

“We have lots of activities for the residents,” the administrator said. “We get tickets to the Hall of Fame Classic baseball game and sit in the grandstand so they are shaded from the sun.”

Dad would really enjoy that.

“Next week we’re going on a boat ride on the lake and maybe having a picnic on one of the beaches.”

I would like that.

I reached the end of the block with Maggie and looked back at the building.

From this corner, it still looked lovely.

I guess it’s time to finish the application for him.

Barefoot Girl

“Oh, I see you’re a barefoot girl this morning,” my father said, looking at my feet.

I was indeed barefoot, as is often the case when I’m still in my pajamas.

“A barefoot girl with shoes on,” he continued, smiling as he said it.

My daughters are often barefoot in the summer — and he says the same thing to them.

A barefoot girl

“What’s he talking about?” one of them asked once.

“It’s a poem he memorized,” I told them.

I asked him about it — and he dutifully recited two verses:

‘Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight,
The sun was shining brightly
For it had rained all night.

‘Twas a summer’s day in winter
The rain was snowing fast,
As a barefoot girl with shoes on,
Stood sitting on the grass.

More verses are available on the internet, all unattributed, but those are the two he remembers.

Poetry and music get stored in a different part of the brain, I think — one that survives longer unscathed by dementia. It’s fascinating to think about.

Yesterday, he said something about Laurel going to the skating rink when I was taking her to the pool. He pulls up the wrong word often.

I also had a tough time convincing him that R2D2 wasn’t a radar unit. He was working on a crossword puzzle. R2D2 was the clue and he needed a 5-letter word beginning with R.

“R2D2 is a robot, Dad,” I told him.

“Why doesn’t radar work?” he asked, in all seriousness.

“Because it’s a robot. Robot will work there,” I said.

He made his if-you-say-so face and went back to the crossword.

Maybe if I made up a poem about it and had him memorize it, he would remember.

Sights and Sounds

Yesterday my father told me that he was have vision problems.

“Everything is blurry,” he said, “and I feel like I’m seeing double.”

My heart sank. A stroke — the word ran through my mind, a leering devil of a word that filled me with fear.

He looked fine. He was standing, leaning gently on his walker. His speech was fine. He had walked from the porch to the kitchen with his walker and stood in the doorway talking to me.

“Let me wash your glasses for you,” I said, gently lifting them off his face. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

I carried them to the sink and ran water over the lenses, carefully washing first one lens and then the… oh my goodness — a lens was missing.

“You’re missing a lens, Dad,” I told him, and  showed him by poking my finger through the frame. We both laughed because this was a much better explanation for the double vision than some of the alternatives.

I began searching and quickly found it where it had fallen on the floor. It’s not hard to pop back in. I’ve done it many times. Within a few minutes, everything looked normal again.

This morning, when he came out, he said, “I’m having a devil of a time.”

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“WHAT?! I can’t hear you! I can’t find this hearing aid,” he said, pointing to his right ear.

“I’ll find it for you,” I told him, and went to his bedroom where I usually could locate things like missing hearing aids in pretty short order.

I looked.

And looked.

And looked.

I knew he was waiting for breakfast so I left the looking and went back to the kitchen.

“I can’t find it, Dad, but I’m sure we will,” I told him.

“What did you say?” he asked.

Later, when the home health aide came, we searched and searched. We stripped the bed, looked under every piece of furniture in his room, the garbage, pockets of clothes in the laundry, everywhere.

“My mother used to say, ‘It’s always the last place you look,'” I told the home health aide.

She laughed. My kids just get annoyed when I say that these days.

Finally, we gave up. “I guess I’ll have to call audiology,” I told her.

“Don’t call yet. It’s got to be here somewhere,” she said.

“I’ll wait until next week,” I said, hoping it would appear magically over the weekend.

We shouted the not-good news to my father while he sat reading the paper with his solitary hearing aid. Then I left to pick up Laurel at the pool.

No sooner was Laurel in the car than my phone rang. I handed it to her, asking to answer and put it on speaker phone.

“Sally?” crackled the voice of the home health aide. “Sally? You’re not going to believe this, but I found it. It was on the floor of the side deck right by that purple chair he sits in. It got rained on, but it still works.”

Hallelujah!

The real mystery is how it got there.

I had walked my father into his bedroom at 10:00 the night before, and I’m 95% sure he had it in his ear then. Some time during the night, it mysteriously made its way outside.

I don’t want to think about it.

Lost in the Hospital

Today I lost my father.

No — it’s not what you think. I misplaced him, or he misplaced himself.

It felt a little odd to tell people, “Umm… I can’t find my father.”

He had a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I dropped him at the hospital door and went to park the car.

Every single other time that I have done this it has worked. He slowly makes his way to the registration, answers the questions about black lung benefits and whether he has traveled outside the country in the past three weeks — and somewhere in the midst of this I catch up with him and shepherd him to the appropriate clinic.

This morning, however, I had trouble finding a parking spot. By the time I got inside, he was nowhere to be seen.

I ran up the stairs to the second floor where the Prime Care clinic was. He wasn’t in the waiting room.

I ran back down the stairs to registration. “I lost my father,” I told the woman at an open registration desk. “Can you verify for me whether he checked in or not?”

After answering a few questions, she confirmed that he had registered for an appointment in Prime Care.

Up the stairs again — but he still wasn’t in the waiting room. I went to the reception desk there. “I lost my father,” I told the woman who helped me. “Can you call back and see if he has already gone back into an exam room?”

“Oh,” she said, “did you want to go back with him?”

“I need to be back with him,” I told her. “He’s 87 and has some dementia.”

She called the nurses’ desk immediately and then said to me, “No, he’s not back there.”

I ran to the third floor. He goes there for cardiology appointments. Maybe he was confused about what clinic to go to. But nope.

I ran to the first floor. Maybe he went to surgical clinic. We’ve gone there a few times recently. No sign of him, though.

I ran back up to the second floor. I was getting my stair workout in early. There was still no sign of my father.

My last idea was for them to page him over the loudspeaker in the hospital, but, to be totally honest, I wondered if he would even hear it. And where would I ask him to be directed to? I was running out of ideas. But I approached the reception desk anyway.

“I still can’t find my father,” I said.

She looked at me sympathetically. “Do you want me to try to put an announcement on the PA?”

I sighed, and looked around hopelessly.

Just then, who should come shuffling along with his walker? My father.

“I went up and down on that elevator,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to not know where you are.”

Yes, I thought, it was a terrible to not know where you were.