"Whoever goes first, the other comes to live with me," I said to my mom and dad well over 20 years ago.
At the time, I expected my parents to take comfort in knowing that my brother and I already discussed living arrangements for the "surviving parent." Then my mother, not my dad, died suddenly only days ago. I assumed that Dad would take comfort in knowing that he would not live alone. In looking back at my promise, I now see that my parents' facial expressions were not that of reassurance, but rather of panic.
My brother, friends and other family members -- as well as Dad -- all urged me to "keep him in his same environment." But what about the times when, but for the presence of Mom, Dad might not be here?
"Remember," I told my brother Kirk, "when Dad had his blackouts, and Mom took him to the hospital? And remember how Mom always reminded Dad of what medicine to take, and how often?"
So my dad spent last weekend with me at my house -- according to Dad, on a trial basis. I thought we had a great time. We talked about everything -- from Mom, to President Bush and the war in Iraq, to illegal aliens. Dad occasionally forgets places and names, but he quickly finishes his thoughts, while apologizing for his failing memory.
I sure enjoyed having him around. I made breakfast for him -- not exactly as elaborate as Mom's. The bacon and eggs (easy on the salt) were certainly serviceable, and more than edible.
To ease my dad's aching feet, I suggested he dangle them in the pool. We sat for nearly an hour, side-by-side, crying, talking, laughing. We took a walk. After every few yards, I said, "Dad, are you ready to rest?" No. "Dad, you ready to rest?" No. "Dad, can we rest?" No. "Not for you," I said, wiping my sweaty forehead. "How about a break for me?"
Then, suddenly, a few hours into our pleasant "weekend stay," Dad made an announcement. "I want to go home."
You see, the next-door neighbor expects help with her lawn. And another neighbor calls or drops by at least once a day, and Dad feared that she might think him injured or hurt, or that she might worry about his whereabouts. Then, Dad said, the couple across the street always calls or drops by at least once a day, as do several other neighbors down the street. What would they think of his absence? Besides, the trash needs to be placed at the curb -- otherwise, "it will be a whole 'nother week before I can put the trash out."