It had been a couple months since I last saw my mom and dad. Driving the two hundred miles each way had begun to wear on me and it was a great excuse not to visit so often. My heart couldn’t handle it. Now I had to mentally prepare myself to visit the two people I loved most.
Pushing the front door open I called out, “Dad! Mom! Hello, anybody home?”
A familiar fragrance - à la urine about knocked me over. Soiled bed sheets and stained night clothes screamed from the laundry room.
Appearing through the bedroom doorway, Dad hurried over and wrapped his arms around me. “Thanks for coming Sweetheart, I’ve missed you…”
As he brought me to arms length I examined the lines on his face and the sadness in his eyes. I had never seen him cry…but unexpected tears dropped down his cheeks. I sensed the hopelessness that had engulfed my hero, leaving him fearful and lonely.
Like a mouse investigating its surroundings, Mom peeked around the corner and whispered, “Who is it, Bud? Who’s here?”
I approached her with arms outstretched, “Mom, it’s me…Elizabeth.”
Her eyes met mine but she gave no indication that she recognized me…her only child. She escaped my grasp and safely disappeared into her sixteen by twenty foot world.
My father, once-vibrant, once handsome, now feeble and weary, moved to the couch. I sat next to him and reached for his hand. Silence saturated the air as we held each other and wept.
Between sobs he spoke, “She doesn’t know me anymore, Punkin’.”
Dad hadn’t called me his punkin’ in years, but the name seemed to comfort him as much as it did me.
“She started calling me Bud a few weeks ago. If I correct her, she ignores me. She thinks I’m her helper…that her husband Harry has deserted her.”
“Oh Daddy, you can’t keep doing this alone.”
For the past two years my dad, Professor Harold Johnson, III, balked at any suggestion of getting assistance. Margaret was his wife until death do they part and he would hold up his end of the bargain if it killed him.
“Dad, you have got to get some rest. Tomorrow I’m going to call Hospice and see about getting some help. You can’t keep on like this.”
When my hero didn’t object, I knew I had waited too long to insist on some support. Softly I pleaded, “Daddy, go to bed, I’ll sit with Mom until she falls asleep.”
Several minutes later I could hear my dad snoring like a logger. I’m sure it was the first decent sleep he’d had since I came home at Christmas.
The next morning, I awoke early after a fitful night on the couch. Shame engulfed me as I recalled my thoughts. God, please, just take her. Let her die in peace. She has lived a good life, she wouldn’t want to continue on this way. Please don’t make Daddy have to keep taking care of her like this. I yearned for death.
We knew that Alzheimers was fatal, but doctors said she would probably die of heart failure before summer. If Mom were in her right mind, she would be mortified to think her life might have taken this awful turn.
On Good Friday I got the call. Relief in his voice, Daddy replied to my greeting, “Sweetheart, she’s gone.”
Silence followed. I was so mixed – grieving at the reality of my mother’s life ended, yet relieved for the release from a cruel disease that had stripped this precious woman of any and all dignity.
“I’m so sorry Dad.” It was all I could offer. There were no words to express the emotions I felt.
His voice cracking, my hero spoke. “I was sitting at her bedside about 4:00 this morning. She’d been so upset the night before, I couldn’t get her to settle down. Finally, she fell asleep. As I dozed next to her, she suddenly sat up straight and shouted, “do you see them, Harry? Can you hear the angels singing?”
With face beaming, her arms went up like a little child reaching out to her father. She called Jesus’ name, then lay back down. She was gone, Punkin’…just like that, she was gone.”
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