In search of story


The match

“He looks good.”

As Dad’s caregiver, I became a tinderbox. Days and nights of heading him off at wrong turns, pulling him back from precipices, throwing him life preservers, and that is what I heard from people: “He looks good.” I wanted to yell in their faces “OF COURSE HE LOOKS GOOD! HE HAS A FULL-TIME DAUGHTER!” I was this close to combustion.

What does that mean, “he looks good”? Doesn’t it express some doubt that there is anything seriously wrong with him? Like you would know! You can’t SEE dementia! There is no rash, no swelling as outward sign. Dementia victims who are intelligent and socially skilled will hide it from you expertly. The caregiver sees it in behaviors behind walls, behind pretense, in deep daily ruts, in frightened eyes.

“He looks good.” Isn’t there an implication that I’ve been over-reacting? That I am flitting around him like some possessed moth and therefore the problem is in me and not in him? I noted that no one told me that I looked good. Were people implying that I was the sick one, and that Dad was fine?

Sparking flint, crackling tinder.

One day Dad and I were in a curtained alcove in the ER. He was angry about “the rude people at this party” and kept referring to me as “that young man.” A good, kind priest we knew happened by and spoke with me for a few minutes, looking over at Dad. “He looks good,” he said. Did I really want to strangle a good, kind priest? Yes, I did.

What is it with “he looks good”? Is there nothing else to say? Can no one hear the implications for the caregiver? Can no one smell the smoke?