Thursday, July 23, 2015

2005 - 2015: A Gratifying Day For Dad

Ten years ago, I was introduced to my Dad - not my Dad, the man, but my Dad, the boy.  I wrote about it 10 years ago, and it's important to me to remember that day.

Deal, PA
On Saturday, July 23, 2005, Dad, Mom, my sister, Kim and I spent the day in Mom and Dad's minivan, driving to the place my father was born in 1939, and locating the cemetery where his grandfather was buried with two of his daughters: aunts Dad didn't know he had.

This memory is significant for me because it's one of the last few experiences I had with my Dad while he was 100% lucid (two others being the two times he and Mom visited me in Chicago).  What's more significant for me is that at the end of that day, my Dad recalled that it was one of the most gratifying of his life.  I never asked him to explain what he meant by that.  Gratifying because he was able to see these places again?  Gratifying because he got to share these things about himself with his wife and children?  Gratifying because, simply, it was a beautiful day with his family, recalling memories he'd probably long forgotten or possibly suppressed?  Perhaps it's all three of those, or perhaps none of those.  I should have asked him then.

The important thing here is that I was part of that day, that experience he had that resulted in him recounting it as such a memorable day for him.

I saw Dad a few weeks ago.  I returned home to help my mother through cataract surgery and since she couldn't do her usual evening visit to Dad in the nursing home, I went to visit him on my own.  Since Dad has been in the nursing facility, I've not had the chance to be with him alone - just him and me.  At first, it was awkward with him.  I didn't really know what to say.  We mostly believe that Dad hears everything but just can't find the motor skills to join the conversation.  So I decided to just talk to Dad as I always had.

I said, "Hey, did Mom tell you we bought a house?"
"You did?" he asked me, suddenly appearing alert and engaged.
"Yeah, well, Kevin and I bought one.  It's cute Dad, it's a little 2-bed, 2-bath house with a garage."
"Where?" he asked.
"In Chicago."
He leaned toward me.  "Where?" he asked again.  I took this to mean that he wanted to know where in Chicago the house was.  Dad had some familiarity with the city from his two visits, so it struck me that he wanted to know where in Chicago I was now living.
"Lincoln Square neighborhood.  Remember when you came out and we had dinner at that German restaurant where the band played?" I asked excitedly.
And just like that, he faded away.  No response.  But I kept on talking anyway.  I told him about how we had cleaned up the back yard, replanted flowers, painted the front porch, bought some furniture, fixed the garage doors.  I even told him about the plumbing problem we had fixed and all that went into that.  I talked for about 15 minutes straight.  And through it all, Dad sat silent, but never took his eyes off of me.

I've always believed that Dad thinks of me more than the others.  Not that he loves me more, but that he thinks of me more because he's used to not seeing me as often.  I think he wonders about me a lot, as any parent wonders about a child who no longer lives nearby.  I think he's used to thinking about me.  At least this is what I like to believe - that I am clear in his brain and in his memory because he's used to me being there.

The Troutmans in 2005
I hope he can still recall the days in his life that meant something to him:  the day he met mom, the day they married, the days each of his children wore born, the day his first grandchild was born, the day his first great-grandchild was born.  And I hope he can remember those days when nothing all that special happened, like the day he, his wife, and 2 of  his 4 kids drove around southwest Pennsylvania in a minivan looking at open fields and cemeteries.

Days like that will stay with me forever, too.