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"I Want You Back"...Caring For Our Aging Parents - Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Shirley A. Roe is the author of two historical Fiction novels, Of Dreams and Nightmares and A Call to Faith and Freedom. Spending time between her home in Ontario, Canada and North West Florida, she is Managing Editor of Allbooks Reviews. Shirley has three children, five grandchildren and a wonderfully supportive husband.
Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
How animated and happy he seems this morning. His voice seems stronger somehow. I set his coffee beside him; he smiles a brilliant smile. Reflecting back over the past months, I know that any improvement is temporary. His breathing becomes more shallow as the days pass, his eyes are glazed over and now he is telling us this fantastic tale.
“I don’t know what it was, but I wasn’t dreaming. I could walk and breathe without difficulty. Everyone was friendly and happy- some old, some young and there were dogs everywhere. Big dogs, small dogs it was wonderful. I put out my hand and there was a dog to pat instantly.”
I look across to my husband Joe, whose concern is evident on his face. “Tell us more about this place Dad.”
“Well, like I said, I wasn’t dreaming. I went to this strange place and it was something else. You don’t have to take your lunch there because no one eats. A blond woman asked me if I like peaches and I said that they were my favorites. Next thing I know she brings a big bowl of them and I can taste them even though I am not eating them. They were delicious. No one talks there. They just think words and you can hear them. It is amazing. I don’t know how they did it.” He is animated in his speech and his gestures.
He laughs, a strong boisterous laugh. The sound that we have not heard in so long fills the room. I cannot help but smile. He is happy today. Wherever it is that he thinks he has been, it has brought joy to his face and laughter to his lips and I am thankful.
He sits back in his chair and falls asleep. Joe and I look at each other with tears in our eyes.
A few minutes later, Dad smiles and starts to laugh. He looks at us with eyes glazed over and smiles. He does not see us. Hours pass and once again he relates his experience with astounding clarity. “That was something else, I can’t get over it. What a wonderful place.” I ask him if Mom was there with him.
“ I saw Mom at first but then she wandered down a long tunnel. I called her back but she didn’t hear me.” Once again he laughs out loud at some unheard joke. I leave the room.
Upstairs alone, I pray for the strength to watch my Father die. He is hallucinating, he can barely breathe and I can do nothing to help him. We went to the doctor for a follow up blood test and x-ray, I could tell by the look on the doctor’s face that he too could do no more. I know that my Father is unwell at 86. His heart is enlarged and his blood pressure is barely detectible. I am not kidding myself but still the doctor’s words echoed in my head. “Good Luck, John,” he said to the old man shuffling down the hall.
Over the past few years I have developed the habit of looking into my parent’s bedroom each morning to check if they are breathing. Each night I fall asleep wondering if he will live to see another day. I roll over and my eyes open. I hear him talking in his room.
“Please, leave me alone. Get away from me.” He shouts at an apparition only he can see. He shouts a few more times over the next hour or two. I toss and turn for hours until exhaustion wins out.
It is 6 a.m and I stand outside of his room listening to him talking. “ Get away from me. Get out of my house.” Then he mumbles incoherently.
“See the little kid, that is my daughter, she will take care of everything,” he calls out. My heart pounds in my chest, I swallow back the cry that wants to escape from my throat.
My thoughts cry out. “I can’t take care of it, I can’t help you. Oh Daddy, I love you but I can’t do anything.” My heart is breaking. He calls out once again. I go to him. Gently I shake him, “What’s the matter Dad?”
“Are they gone? Did you get rid of them?” He is shaking.
Yes Dad, they’re gone.” I put my hand reassuringly on his shoulder.
“They stole my ring. They wouldn’t let me go.” He gasps for air. I lift the glass from the nightstand and gently guide it to his lips. He looks up like a frightened child and takes a sip.
“I need my ring. I need it.” He insists. I reach up on his dresser and hand him one of his rings.
“Here it is Dad, put it on.” He takes the ring; his wrinkled hands shake. Water drips from his chin. “Put your hand under the covers and your ring will be safe,” I reassure him. He closes his eyes and I leave him to his troubled sleep. I feel useless and unsettled. Struggle as I might, I am starting to come unglued.
Later I take him downstairs-his movements are slow and labored; his breath comes in gasps. He tells me to lock the door so “they” can’t get him. I settle him in his chair going into the kitchen so he won’t see my tears. My husband comforts me but I see the same look in his eyes. He is frightened, knowing the situation is becoming worse. “I am going to take a shower, I have to pull this together,” I tell him. I leave him seeing his wife, usually in control, beginning to crumble before his eyes. This situation is affecting all of us.
I take my Mother on a quick shopping trip to give her a break from the tension. Not good in crisis, she is completely stressed out and doing the best she can. We return to find Joe and Dad sipping tea and looking perplexed. “What is the matter?”
“I’m going crazy.” Dad shakes his head in disgust. My mother goes to the bathroom, making a quick exit, denial once again.
My husband, Joe accompanies me into the kitchen, relating the earlier events. He returned from some errands to find Dad on the front door step waving frantically.“They’re here, those bad guys. They’re upstairs locked in the bedroom. I pounded on the door and shouted but they won’t leave.” Dad is shaking- breathing in short pants; he is panicking.
Joe immediately tries to calm him and goes upstairs, more to satisfy the ravings of a confused mind than for any other reason. All of the doors are open and no one is there. He descends the stairs. “All right now, no one is there.”
“What do you mean, how did they get past me? How did they get out?” Confusion is evident on his sallow face. He sits back trying to make sense of it. A spotted wrinkled hand moves to his eyes as if trying to clear the confusion.
“Don’t worry about it, want a cup of tea Dad?” Joe goes to make the tea but is called back.
“I’m seeing things aren’t I? I’m going crazy.” Tears form in his glassy eyes. He sits back and shakes his head. Joe is overcome with sadness. It is difficult to watch a once vibrant man turn into the confused, sad person before him.
The story causes two emotions in me. One is guilt for having left him alone if only for a few minutes, the other is extreme sadness. Things are not getting better. I look with love upon my husband. For fourteen years he has lived with my parents; through it all he jokes and laughs with the old folks and never complains. I love him. I hope he knows this because I know I am preoccupied at present. I file the guilt away and unpack the groceries.
It is time to tell my siblings, I call my brother. “Don’t mean to alarm you and please don’t panic but Dad is hallucinating.” He is in denial; he asks when the doctor is going to do something. Can’t they just change his pills or something? I assure him that the doctor is doing all he can. I agree to keep him updated on the situation. I try to call my other brother but he is not home. The youngest, he keeps his distance from the situation and visits only when called. I do not judge him; I simply think he should make an appearance soon.
It is 6 a.m. and all is quiet. We have made it through the night without a sound. No shouting, no laughing-just the silence of a sleeping household. I stand outside the bedroom door and watch them both sleep. My Mother rolls over. My Father does not move. Tensing, I hold my breath.
Seconds later he coughs. I smile and close the door.
We walk together in the shadow for another day.