It helps to hold no expectations about Daddy. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know what to expect anyway. And after our visit is over, I don’t really know how it went or how I feel about it. Well, that’s not exactly true. There is always an element of sadness. But beyond sadness, what else can I say about these visits with Daddy?
Was today a good visit? Did we find Daddy well? I don’t know the answers to these questions. Daddy was there. We were there. And more than last week, I think we actually connected a few times. But the words ‘good’ and ‘well’ don’t quite fit in the same sentence with Daddy these days. At least, not without some kind of qualifier, like that word… expected.
If soneome other than my husband were to ask after Daddy, I would say something like, “Daddy is doing as well as can be expected or that our visit was as good as could be expected.” People would understand what this means, even though I don’t. For what are expectations, anyway. Yours, mine and even Daddy’s for crying out loud. Expectations are a moving target, expectations are as fuzzy as it gets. So, if I’m trying to keep it real, to meet Daddy wherever Daddy is, it’s best for me not to lug around expecations. When my husband asks me how Daddy was, I tell him the truth. I don’t know. And it’s so freeing to be able to speak these words of truth.
Today my brother Jon and I walked into Daddy’s dark nursing home room to find Daddy sound sleep. Jon reached down and gently touched Dad on the shoulder. “Hi Dad. We’re here.” Just like I was looking down on a baby sleeping in a crib, I peeped over Jon’s shoulder to smile at Dad as he tried to wake himself up. His eyes were huge–and though trite to say as big as saucers — they were at least as big and round as quarters. For a few seconds, maybe more, Dad wore a scary blank stare. But once Dad found his bearings, Dad’s eyes softened in recognition.
Daddy has always been a dreamer. But these days, I wonder if no one were there to wake Daddy up, if Dad might sleep straight through to find himself at the Pearly Gates. Even while we three watched one of Dad’s favorite old television reruns — an episode of Bonanza — Dad fought against sleep. As Daddy yawned and yawned, Jon asked, “Daddy, are you sleepy?” And Dad shook his head no. Then I asked, “Daddy, are you have any good dreams these days?” And again, Dad shook his head no.
But I sense all of Dad’s life is a dream right now. During our visits, Daddy holds a calendar in his lap, which has become his anchor to the world of time. The calendar is the sort that comes free in the mail from local businesses at the end of the year. Somewhere inside the front cover, it probably bears “Happy Holidays” greeting and some important telephone numbers customers like Dad should have handy. Dad likes to flip these calendar pages back and forth –and today he flipped between the months of August and September — and though Daddy use to ask me when he could come home, Daddy doesn’t ask anymore, though for a while today, I thought he wanted to. I fear my answer might be more reality that Daddy could bear. And perhaps sensing this, Daddy clinged to his dreams rather than allow me to shatter them.
Before we left, Jon helped Daddy get ready for bed while I got the bed ready for Daddy. Then as Jon helped Daddy get in bed and tucked the covers in around him, I tuned the television in to Channel 74, which lucky for Dad, was in the midst of showing back-to-back reruns of M*A*S*H. Putting the television remote near Dad’s hand and clipping his call button to his bed, Jon and I took turns kissing Daddy goodbye, and then whispering sweet nothings close to his ear.
As I reflect back on our visit, I see that when we walked into Dad’s nursing home world, we walked into a world as far away from dreams as truth is from lie. Because today my brother and I parented our parent. And none of that seemed real. To see Dad’s meeger life as it now is makes me think… This can’t be Daddy’s world. Daddy deserves better than this. But it is Daddy’s everyday world. It’s Daddy’s world and someday it will be mine and someday it will be all of ours. Maybe not the nursing home part if we’re lucky. But the dying part, yes, that’s reality. Dying is as real as it gets. It would be closer to truth to say that it is life that is a dream, the way we live it by pretending death is not part of the equation. Life is a dream and then we die.
And then, what. My faith steps in to say that then — in that world beyond death –there will be no more need for dreams. For in that place beyond time and flimsy cheap calendars, it will be there that Daddy will receive the better that he deserves. But until that day comes, may Daddy’s dreams be sweet.
Dream away Daddy. Dream while you still have breath in your body. Dream of better places and being loved as you’ve never been loved in your life. Dream of the love you deserve, dream for the love that waits. Dream until there is no more need for dreams.