It was 12 years ago when Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we are now honoring the end of his extraordinary life. He turned 94 in February, itself a remarkable achievement given his health issues. We witnessed dramatic changes since the start of the year. Pneumonia, spots on his lungs, bouts of anger, incontinence, more anger, physical pain, falls to the ground, returns to the hospital, prolonged episodes of sleep, more medications.
He’s not eating.
He won’t take a drink of water.
He can’t walk. He’s in a hospital bed in the living room.
We are living out a vigil now.
My childhood home is now hospice.
Every day that passes stands as a potent reminder of our collective mortality. I can still see with such clarity the Dad before Alzheimer’s. I can see him working so diligently on my Pinewood Derby racers for Cub Scouts. The memory triggers something in my nose, this pungent smell of burning wood being shaped into champion cars. I don’t ever want it to lose that space in my brain.
I remember the day after my big performance as Charlie Brown in the high school revue when I asked what he thought of the show and my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor.”
He’s right. I was just a still-gestating drama queen, not a drama student. But even he recognized my abilities as a writer and he’s encouraged me to keep writing ever since. (Even if Mom secretly wanted me to be a doctor.)
I haven’t been able to cry over seeing Dad look so helpless and small as he as has these last weeks. That streak ended on a cloudy Wednesday night in my boss’s office. The emotion was piling up on the shoals of my brain, finally overwhelming me amid a deadline.
Dad is shutting down on us.
I don’t blame him.
Dad’s done so much for so many people, family, friends, co-workers, St. Hilary Church, strangers, anyone whoever needed help. He merits a final rest. I see Mom’s struggle with her own hurricane of emotions, barely keeping in the surging waters threatening to break through a weakening levee. But she endures. She is spectacular to behold, but she is also human, and I worry more about her than Dad most days. Every day, to be honest.
The truth is I want to Dad to find the peace of mind to close his eyes and exhale that one, last perfect breath, the one that punctuates the end of an extraordinary life lived on one’s own terms.
We are not supposed to wish our parents to leave this earth. But I do, and I feel guilty about it. Aren’t we supposed to want to keep everyone we love close to us forever? But what about a person’s quality of life?
I smile at Dad, he smiles back. Every time. It is giving me life these days. I have so much I want to say to him. Thank you, mostly. That he was right about so much. That I forgive him his trespasses when I came out to him 18 years ago.
That I will never forget every loan, every lecture, every time we fought, every time one of stormed out the door, every life lesson shared and learned, every time he showed up to my school events, tennis matches, football games, school plays, everything, even though he had a factory to run.
The lunches at the factory from the lunch truck, that juicy peach he bought me one summer or sharing his favorite sandwich tip with me, pastrami con huevo, those visits to McDonald’s off Lorena St., when he said to the cashier, “Don’t we look like brothers?” The visit to Baskin-Robbins when he said I could have ice cream, but I ordered the pineapple shake, and as we walked to the car, he told me never ask for more than a person is able to give without asking. I realized he couldn’t have a cone, and he loves sweets something awful because he only had a certain amount of money on his person.
It’s all rushing through my mind in fast forward. I want to stop and relive those details, but they’re a blur to me now. I feel the macro of the emotions but can’t stop to make sure the micro of detail is also preserved.
I’ll never forget the King Tut ticket.La Brea TarpitsNHM with HelenSingin’ in the rain with the Pico CrewStar Wars – then and now.Losing him at Bloomingdale’s and Disneyland.ScaringhimonTower of Terror.Empty frame — you project the art you want to see.Or Mexico (Cuatla sulfur springs, the cousins, competitiveness)…ScoutsTheFactoryMexicoandappendicitisMexicoSummerof78onandonandon.
This is just one more thread in our life with Dad, but I know I am running out of materials. Sooner or later, I’ll have nothing else to add to the loom. Sooner or later, the cosmic machine giving him life with cease operations.
I just hope it’s a little later. Please?
**Dad passed away at home on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at 9:10am. I started this piece in early 2018. It was supposed to be his eulogy. He’d been suffering from pneumonia, and his health was deteriorating rapidly that January. We thought we were going to lose him. We didn’t. We had a little over than a year more with him. I can see now my wish was granted. Later happened after all, but an ending was destined to occur. After Dad died, I tried to retailor this piece to fit a different emotional and mental landscape. That’s why the time references are all off. Leaving well enough alone, I just walked away and waiting for real inspiration to strike. It did.