I’ve entered an alternate reality. I’m supposed to be surrounded by children right now, warm sunlight on my face, as the smell of hamburgers wafts from the grill nearby. That’s what summertime is about.
Instead, I’m surrounded by old people, under the cold glow of florescent nursing home lights, with a mixture of chemical cleaners and bodily fluids assulting my senses.
It’s all wrong. And yet, it’s all right.
My dad had a stroke a month ago. When his health started to look a little shaky last week, my aunt and step-mom suggested I come home to see him.
I’ve been here five days and I’ll be here five more.
When I first arrived, my dad was only able to put one or two words together at a time. Each day, those short sentences lengthen themselves out, although he still often gets lost in his head before all the words make it out of his mouth.
Nouns are hard. People, places, things. Sometimes he’s spot on and sometimes he’ll point to his ear when you tell him to point to his eye.
Yesterday, he said my name for the first time… Nicole. It was the most beautiful word I had ever heard, aside from the first time “Momma” came out of my daughter’s mouth 11 years ago.
He said my name again this morning, but instead of “Nicole,” he said “Nicole Locy” which is my maiden name. I’ll take it.
We’ve had plenty of laughter to compete with the ever-present dinging of alarms. Today, after my dad said my name, the nurse asked who I was. He said, “Girlfriend.”
“You wish!” I sarcastically replied. He realized his mistake and started laughing. “Daughter. Yes, daughter.”
Most of the time he’s very calm and peaceful and patient with his body and the action happening around him, but there are times of pain when he sits in his wheelchair too long or frustration when deep thoughts get stuck on the back of his tongue.
As difficult as they are, those are the times I will look back and treasure. Those are the times I get to lean in close and whisper how much I love him, that I know he’s upset, that I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, but I’m grateful we get to be together. We get to sit here and look at each other and love each other and just… be. This time is a gift.
My dad will crookedly smile, because only half of his mouth follows orders. Then he’ll nod and say, “I agree.”