Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recess: My Dad



In 1596, William Shakespeare's eleven-year-old son, Hamnet, died. No one knows for sure how it happened. There is speculation that he drowned and some think he may have been a victim of the plague.

Shakespeare returned to Stratford-Upon-Avon from London to attend his child's funeral and, presumably, to grieve. It was after this tragedy that he wrote his masterpiece, "Hamlet."

I recently read an illuminating memoir, "Life's That Way," written by the actor/writer Jim Beaver. When Jim's wife, Cecily, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, he sent an e-mail out to friends and family. As her illness progressed, Jim continued to send e-mails describing the experience. The audience for these letters grew to 4,000 as they were forwarded from one computer to another. When Cecily died after a five-month battle, Jim was left both mourning and caring for their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. And he continued to write their story into a book.

Four weeks ago, my eighty-one-year-old father was discovered naked on the floor of his apartment bathroom, where he had been lying for two days. My brother found him and we knew it had been two days because of the newspapers that had accumulated outside the front door.

My dad has the stubbornness of King Lear without the flair for language. He insisted on living in his own apartment — on the fifteenth floor of his building — despite a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. He marched out of the assisted-living facility the family had arranged because he didn't like "being around old people."

And now. The doctors don't know what happened to my dad. He arrived at the hospital with a blood infection and was given antibiotics.

Medical researchers have recently announced that even a tiny infection, a mere cold, in an Alzheimer's patient can quickly escalate into irretrievable memory loss.

My dad now sits in a wheelchair, in front of a city hospital window, awed by how his boyhood town in the prairies has changed so very much. He's traveled far away. He sees what he sees. He knows what he knows.


My dad is a kind man. A blue-collar worker. A practitioner of yoga and vegetarianism. And yet, admittedly, a weak man. Indecisive, afraid to make a mistake, and so sure that "shysters" were out to rip him off that he missed opportunities....But a kind man nonetheless.

My dad lived to travel, played a mean game of chess, and laughed. When in the company of his older brother, Dad could often be found doubled over in laughter. He would swipe at the tears squirting horizontally out of his eyes and he couldn't speak for the laughter busting his ribcage. This was his talent. Finding the funny.

So now. In a hospital in British Columbia, my dad stares out a window, lost in a faraway place. In weeks to come he'll be transferred to a "care home." He won't see his apartment on the fifteenth floor again.

My dad is no Hamlet and I'm no Shakespeare but, when life's events show up and powerlessness takes over, there is sometimes naught to do but write it down.


photo 4 by Kim Hunter

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing about your dad.

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  2. Thanks for reading about him...I always appreciate your time so much.

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your Dad. I know how difficult it is to be far away when these things are happening. Hang in there.

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  4. Oh, Mel. So sweetly put. The reality so presumably stark and barren infused with still -- hope. Having a mother-in -law afflicted with Alzheimers for the past nine years, I salute your Dad's courage into the unknown. And yours. With love and light, Linda B.

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  5. So sweetly put yourself...thank you.

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  6. We don't know of course, but I hope for your dad his talent of finding the funny stays with him the longest. That he relives the hilarious and somehow always knows that he imparted that gift to you. Thank you for sharing your writing about your dad. Hopefully you will write more about him. Love, KC

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