That voice

This is a Really Real Mental Health post.

Today is the last day without my dad home. Here is what it was like in my head as I made lunch.

Grab the bag of salad out of the fridge. (I hear my dad’s voice, “Why did you put that on that shelf? I don’t put things there.”)

Grab a Tupperware container to mix the salad in (His voice again, “Why would you use a container that big, it’s not that much salad.”)

Pour the salad in the container. “You’re making a mess.”

Close the lid and shake the salad up. “It’s going to spill all over the place.”

Get a knife and fork to cut chicken off the bone. “Why are you using that knife? Get one of the sharp ones.”

Grabbing paper towels to put over the chicken so it doesn’t splatter. “You don’t need to use that many paper towels.”

Shut the microwave too hard. “Be careful! You don’t need to beat things up.”

Rinse the utensils in the sink “Don’t turn up the water so high, it’ll splash everywhere. And make sure you’re using hot water.”

You see, even when I’m home, I hear my dads voice with almost everything I do. It’s the sound of my critical voice, the voice that tells me I can’t do anything right.

But now I’m in his house, his space. The voice is so much louder here.
And with every sentence I heard him say, I was, in my head, offering up a rebuttal.

“Dad, it doesn’t really matter where things are on the shelves, it’s fine”

“Dad, I’m going to wash the container when I’m done with it, it’s fine.”

“Dad, I’ll clean up any mess I make, it’s fine.”

“Dad, that was an accident, it’s fine.””Dad, I can buy more paper towels, it’s fine.”

And finally. “Damnit, Dad. If I’m going to spend this much time here, I’m going to treat this like it’s my home too. Chill the fuck out or I won’t be able to do this.”And then I cringed, because I can’t imagine saying something like that to my dad. But also, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to say some version of that, within a day or two after I bring him home.

Years and years of being criticized loudly for everything I did, that voice is just there. And it doesn’t matter if he’s still that critical of me, it doesn’t matter if he says this stuff out loud.

That voice won’t stop, the one that makes me think that everyone is judging everything I do.

That voice, the one that used to ‘jokingly’ say “Dad is great, dad is good, lets thank dad for everything.”

Even after he dies, his voice will live on in my head.

I wonder how much of my mental health bullshit was caused by that voice?

I wonder why parents think its okay to raise children like that. Why they treat young people like they are somehow less than. That they aren’t worthy, that they need to be sternly micromanaged with everything they do.

I wonder why kids are held to a higher standard than most adults.

I hope, so very much, that I’m not this voice in my own sons head. I hope when he hears my voice, he hears love and approval.

I never heard that from my dad.

I just heard that voice.

Tacos

This is a Really Real Mental Health post.
And also a Really Real Aging Parents post.

The two are so intertwined right now, which makes sense, my mental health weaves its way in and out of all areas of my life.

I just cooked Tacos at my dads house.

I think it’s the first time I’ve ever cooked in his house, I even avoided it when I lived with him as a teen. I don’t particularly love the food he cooks for me when I visit (well done boiled steak anyone?) but I’ve never cooked for myself during any of those visits.

I don’t cook because Dad may see the taco seasoning that sprinkled on the stove top and yell because I’m making a mess. Or he might smell the tacos cooking and yell because it’s too spicy. Or he might see which pan I chose to use, and yell because it’s not the one he would have chosen.

Every step in his presence was made with extreme caution.

The littlest things would cause the loudest yell.

But he doesn’t yell anymore. He’s a shell of the man he once was. Old and withering away to nothing. His thoughts jumbled and speech difficult. Standing on weak legs that no longer hold his weight.

And I just cooked tacos.

I also touched the thermostat, I’m sure, even without yelling, he’ll have something to say about that, when he comes home in 2 days.

When we start caring for him around the clock, in 2 days.

When I scold him for trying to stand up unassisted, in 2 days.

When he falls on the floor because he tries to walk alone, in 2 days.

I drove his truck today, moved it around so that a neighbor could build a ramp up to his front door. I had the thought that he’ll never drive again. Did he realize, the last time he drove, that he’d never be behind the wheel again?

I went to Walmart today, picked up some things I needed for myself, as well as things I needed to care for him. Did he realize, the last time he walked into a store, that he’d never be in a store again?

I cooked tacos tonight. Did he realize, the last time he cooked, that he’d never cook for himself again?

Did he realize when he took his last shower, that he’d never shower alone again?

Did he realize that the last time he slept it in his bed, that he would never sleep in that bed again?

Do we ever realize when something will be done for the last time?

He wants to be home so so badly.

I heard him cry tonight, for the first time since his Mother died. When I told him that Friday was 2 days away, and not tomorrow, he cried, and begged me to get him out of that hell hole.

But this is just a trial run.

This is just an attempt.

An attempt that we aren’t convinced will be successful.

He’s very strong willed, very independent, and I can only pick him up off of the floor so many times.

And then what?

And then I will get to tell him that he will never be in his house again.

That he will live out the rest of his life in a facility.

These 2 days, in his house without him here, I’m building up my courage. I’m comforting 5 year old me, who comes out whenever I’m around him, and letting her know that he isn’t in charge anymore. I’m letting her know that it’s safe to let me handle this, as the adult.

I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to stand up to him.

I’m rehearsing the different things I’ll need to say to him. I’m rehearsing strong solid boundaries. I’m rehearsing firm but loving reminders about him following the rules.

I’m rehearsing for that pivotal moment, when I tell him he has to go back.

Because even if it isn’t this week or next, he will eventually have to go back, if he lives that long.

This week I’ve made calls to arrange a hospital bed, and wheelchairs, and home health, and, and, and.

I’m setting things up so that my son and I can take turns living with him. So that we can fly away from our lives, for 2 weeks at a time, and let him live out as much of his life as possible, at home.

And,

I just cooked tacos at my dad’s house.

I just cooked tacos at my part time home.

Well damn.

This is a Really Real Health post.

Well, it’s a Really Real Mental Health post, too.

And for that matter, it’s a Really Real COVID post.

And it’s a long one (really, a long one, but important).

I got a text from my sister earlier today.

“I just got the call that Dad tested positive.

He’s being moved to the COVID unit tonight.”

My response “Well damn.”

You see, I’ve been waiting for this. Almost holding my breath. Last week 7 employees tested positive in the physical rehab hospital where he’s staying. I knew it would make the rounds, even in an environment where everyone is being more than careful.

But this is COVID. It spreads like wildfire.

And my feelings on him being positive are so so mixed. So so hard to weed through. And there’s so much guilt and shame wrapped up in my thoughts.

But I’m not sure there should be guilt and shame.

Even before COVID, Dad was dying. A slow miserable death from a neurological disorder that I can never remember the name of. It’s been taking his speech and reasoning for the past year, taking his ability to walk safely and care for himself, all the while he was refusing any sort of help.

And through a lot of this, he’s still been in there, just unable to communicate clearly. Phone calls would be long and difficult, with 90% of it consisting of “umm” and “uhhh” as he tried to find the words to say what he called to say.

He’s been falling a lot, while still trying to live his normal life. A month ago, give or take, he went to mow his expansive lawn on his tractor. He ran out of gas. Trying to walk home he fell into a ditch,

where he spent the entire night.

When he was found the next morning, he still refused help, other than a ride back home.

He fell later that day and spent that second night on the floor, unable to get himself up or get to a phone.

That’s what led to his stay in the hospital. That’s what led to him being transferred to rehab.

That’s what led to him being transferred to the COVID unit.

He’s dying, a slow, miserable death. He’s living out his worst nightmare, trapped in a body that no longer serves him.

I remember a conversation awhile back, either with Dad or my sister, about how much Dad hated the idea of being restrained. The idea of being arrested and put in cuffs for drinking, was enough to make him quit cold turkey, after years of alcoholism.

He’s being restrained by his own body now.

And he’s being transferred to the COVID unit later tonight.

His response, when he finds the words, is to insist that he doesn’t have COVID, that the test was bullshit.

Of course that’s his response. That’s the hill he will die on.

And he will die.

If not from this, than from that. One just prolongs the suffering.

I hate seeing him suffer, even though my relationship with him has been strained for most of my life. I hate knowing that he’s in there, mostly aware, at least some of the time, and watching his body fall apart around him.

No one deserves to live that life, no matter how they’ve treated me and everyone around them.

But I feel guilty for wanting this to be quick, for hoping that this is the thing that helps him walk out of this world with at least some of his dignity left.

It feels shameful to hope your parent dies sooner rather than later.

But I have to wonder, is he even living anymore?

“I just got the call that Dad tested positive.

He’s being moved to the COVID unit tonight.”

Now we wait to see if he ever makes it out of there alive.

Wear your mask, wash your hands.

This is kind of personal now.

Better Than The Alternative

This is a Really Real Aging Parents Post.

My dad isn’t the same anymore.

He was . . .

the youngest 50 year old I’d ever met.

the youngest 60 year old I’d ever met.

the youngest . . .

Not any more.  He’s old now.  At 75, the years of taking his body for granted have finally caught up with him.

He walks with a limp, wobbling, almost drunk like. His head tilts slightly to one side. Nothing like the solid strong man I idolized when I was younger.

He grabs my bag from the car, insisting on carrying it into the house. The weight of it pulls him off his feet leaving him on the the ground. He crawls to the closest thing he can use to lift himself back to standing.  I protest as he takes the handle of the suitcase again.

He’s still stubborn as ever.

But age has caught up with his mind as well.

The line between reality and confusion has begun to blur. A hazy barrier that is no longer clearly defined. I wonder if he knows how often he’s weaving back and forth across that line. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which side of the line he’s on, even from the outside.

This visit has many goals.

First and foremost, I want to see my dad. We’ve spent too many years barely talking. An invisible moat between us, neither of us quite sure how to bridge the gap. None of that matters anymore. I’ve realized that time is running out. Time is running.

Second, I want to see what his life is like. What does he do all day? What is he eating? Is he still able to take care of the dogs? The house? Himself? I feel like I’m a world away.

Third, we need to figure out what’s next. What’s now? What does he want to do? Want us to do? How? How do my sister and I take care of him from states away? He still has and deserves an opinion and I need to hear it so we can do things his way.

He sleeps a lot during the day. Falling asleep sitting up at his desk and the kitchen table. Leaning sideways in seemingly impossible positions. He barely sleeps at night.

The house is so quiet.

Days without other human contact would be unbearable for me, but it is his reality. At least he has his dogs, dogs he sometimes has a hard time controlling. Conversations with them are one sided. He says he’s okay with his life, okay with getting older.

“I’ll live till I die.”

As I load up the car to leave he says to me “I’m fine, I’m a big boy. Stop worrying so much.”

But I will worry.

And I’ll also wonder.

When does living stop being better than the alternative?