Pieces of Life

I am parked at my bedroom desk, allowing my computer to busy me in mindless activity.

This is my solace, my retreat.  I love this room, with its English rose-colored walls, and the white pom-pom curtains, the softness of an innocent time.

A combination of pictures conjoins two facets of life.  There I stand between two older brothers, my protectors, dressed in three-piece suits with their hands gently crossed in front of them.  My pigtails escape my Easter hat and I cling to a basket of dyed eggs.

Next, a photo of my third born, asleep on the couch, his limbs entwined with those of a stuffed Dalmatian.

Click and open.

Four e-mails received, all junk, promises of free prizes, fewer pounds and no debt.

I can hear my 12-year-old daughter in the kitchen nearby, instructing a younger brother on the art of cooking spaghetti, a task I have entrusted her with this evening.

Predictably, a proclamation of, "It's done!" as she flings a noodle onto the wall.

I progress to a game of Free Cell, click and place, line them up, and pretend that perfect order is a reality.

I seek this solace to reflect and to accept.  My father is 72 years old and frozen stiff with a neurological disease called Multiple System Atrophy.  Those in a hurry call it MSA.

The disease itself has been with us some four to five years, announcing itself as a tremor in the left hand, persisting gradually to claim the total body.  An optimist could argue a slow progression gives you time to adjust.

I suppose in some ways that is true.

I tend to categorize the memories of my father's decline, much as I mark the milestones of my children's development.

Eats with assistance.  Walks with occasional falls.  Wheelchair bound.

There are specific moments that play more vividly in my head.  Sometime in the third year, his leg control failing, his balance unpredictable, my father is no longer able to care for his dog, Annie.
I take her away to another family.  My father, still standing, watches up pull away and manages a smile.

I cry for 60 miles.

Soon after, a hospital bed replaces a four-poster Ethan Allen.  Again I load my van, this time with mattress and box spring, and drive away with yet another piece of his life.

The journey continues to today when I see my father, for the first time, as a nursing home resident.

The facility is new, with tasteful prints of everyday people donning navy blue walls.  The carpet is still free of stains.  It is a quiet bustle of activity, a smattering of white coats and medicine carts in motion.  An occasional wheelchair passes by.

The drivers, for the most part, carry vacant expressions, their legs seemingly on automatic, as they ramble connecting corridors.

I am directed to room 312 by an LPN whose belly button peeks out from her blouse.  I'm not sure what I'm dealing with here.  Either her shirt is too small, or perhaps midriff garb is the latest trend in nursing fashion.

My father sits alone and appears to sleep.  His wheelchair serves to cradle his sunken body and hold it in a semi-upright position.

His head hangs to the right and down towards his chest, as the neck quit cooperating a long time ago.

"Honey, your daughter is here."

His real name is John, a Hebrew word meaning "God is gracious."  In here, however, everyone goes by a term of endearment.

I am greeted with brown eyes that possess a terminal twinkle.  He is glad to see me.

Navel Nurse makes a shifty exit as I call out, "Thank you, Sweet Pie!"

She probably took it as a compliment.

We've entered new territory, but our visit follows a usual routine of dominoes and old westerns.  We talk if we feel like it, cry if we need to.

There are no unresolved conflicts between us, no urgency to sum it all up.  We take and cherish this time for what it is.

I leave him in this holding place, feeling I've added a treasure to a safety deposit box, and knowing I don't hold the key.

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