February. It has nothing to do with groundhogs or valentines or Lent or the aching drab of late winter. It’s about assisted living. It’s the anniversary of separating Dad from his own home. A Caesarean without anaesthetic. An amputation without tourniquet.
When the memory came back to me a little while ago, I could feel my hands go clammy. I looked: my palms were sweaty. So quickly does memory turn to flashback.
Home is much more than worn highways in the carpet; it is independence, control, identity. All that is lost in assisted living. And, for Dad, by my hand. Rocks in my chest. I feel them now.
Dad’s dementia was non-Alzheimer’s, a cruel state of awareness and unknowing. Dad might seem fine during the day (he wasn’t), but at night he wandered, goaded by that unknown, a danger to himself and me. We were both sleepless but he didn’t know it. So he, uncomprehending, had to go into a secure place. He had a lovely apartment with his own furniture — and a locked door at the end of the hall. Incarceration became cardiac stress and in five days he was in the hospital.
Simultaneously, Dad’s sister Jean was dying of leukemia, his sister Edna showing signs of her own dementia. I was saturated with aging and dying. My face twitched so badly that I seemed to be winking.
No part of caregiving occurs in a vacuum. Always other things are going on. When I see this sweat on my palms today, fifteen years later, I also see my empty-eyed father, my deadly white Aunt Jean, my muddled Aunt Edna, and I long for sleep.