18: Touch

18: Touch

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Touch

We all yearn to return to those days when we were completely taken care of—unconditional love, unconditional attention.

~Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

It was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning. Even the thick drapes in my bedroom couldn’t completely shut out those beautiful golden rays. I lay in bed, reminiscing as I did on most occasions when I had the luxury of a lie-in. On this lazy morning, my mind drifted randomly to a night more than two decades ago.

There were always certain memories from my childhood that resurfaced more often than others. That night in particular would replay itself in my mind quite often. I remember pulling the soft white pillow over my ears and sobbing hysterically as I lay in my bed, wishing that the shouting would stop. It was like that most nights. They would be downstairs in the living room. He would be yelling at her, and she would be crying silently as he did. I couldn’t understand why he was so horrid to my mother. She was such a gentle soul.

I remember my bedroom door suddenly being swept open, and my brother barging in. He flipped on the light switch and stormed over to my bed, looking enraged. I had stopped sobbing and was trembling in fear. At 17 years, my brother was just as scary to me as my father was at that point. “Get out of bed,” he said in a gruff voice. He grabbed my hand, roughly pulling me out of bed. I started to sob again as he dragged me unwillingly down the stairs and toward the shouting. I remember my father whirling around in mid-sentence as he heard my whimpering sounds coming from behind him. My brother then shoved me in front of my father and yelled, “Look at what you’re doing to your daughter!”

I guess as I grew older, I forgot what happened after that. Maybe things got better. Maybe worse. I couldn’t remember feeling hatred for my father. Perhaps I stopped hating him after a while. Or perhaps I never did quite hate him. He was, after all, my father. In the past eight years, he suffered two debilitating strokes and was reduced from the alpha male he once was to a meek man with an almost childlike disposition. The roles between us switched. I was now the caregiver. The breadwinner of the family. My father had been emasculated.

I yawned and stretched my arms as I sat up in my bed. I reached over and pulled a book that I had been reading the night before off the nightstand. It was a book by Mitch Albom called Tuesdays with Morrie and had been highly recommended by many friends. I opened the book to where my bookmark lay and began to read. A couple of pages later, I stopped and went back a page to re-read what I had just read.

Mitch, the author, was talking to Morrie about how he managed to stay positive in spite of having lost his independence and needing a nurse to bathe him, lift him and wipe his behind. Morrie’s response was that, strangely enough, he had begun to enjoy his dependency. He said it was like going back to being a child again. I read that section over and over again as the tears welled up in my eyes.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had hugged my father. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy being too close to him. He always smelt like medicine and something that reminded me of a nursing home for the elderly. It made me uncomfortable.

I got out of bed and made my way to the bathroom. As I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I thought about this some more. My father and I had never been that affectionate in the past either. He had been revered and feared before his present condition. What was I to do? Completely shock him with an embrace out of the blue? What would he think? How weird would it feel for me? Did I really even care enough to try it?

I could hear my mother bustling about in the kitchen as I walked toward the living room, where I knew my father would be watching TV. Sure enough, there he was—in his comfy single-seater couch with the clicker in his hand, staring blankly at the moving images on the screen before him. He barely looked up at me as I walked into the room and mumbled good morning. I settled onto the loveseat at the far end of the living room, watching my father’s lack of response to the comedic actions of the characters in the sitcom.

Suddenly, I felt a surge of emotion run through my body as I stood up and walked slowly over to my father. He continued to look straight ahead at the TV screen, seemingly oblivious to my movement. I knelt down beside his couch, with my arms resting on the cushioned right arm of the sofa, and softly rested my head on his shoulder, my hair nestled in his neck. What was probably seconds felt like an eternity, but then I lifted my arm and placed it over his other shoulder and held him as tightly as I could. If I had had any doubt in my mind about whether I loved my father, they were obliterated in that moment—when I felt his body trembling under my head as he began to sob uncontrollably.

~N.R.

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