37: Saturdays with Dad

37: Saturdays with Dad

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Saturdays with Dad

It is astonishing how little one feels alone when one loves.

~John Bulwer

“Hello, Twinkle Toes.”

“Hello, Dad.” I smile as he engulfs me in a huge bear hug. “What’s the plan of the day?” he asks as we walk into the kitchen.

After my mother died, the family had some hard decisions to make. Dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and Mom had been his sole caregiver. We decided to honor his pleas to stay at home rather than live in an Alzheimer’s care facility.

My cousin moved in and, with my sister, cares for Dad during the week. I am the part-time caregiver. I work full-time and stop by most days after work.

On Saturdays, I visit Dad and take him shopping. Luckily, my children are grown, and I am blessed with a husband who understands the importance of family, why dinner is always late, and why I disappear on Saturdays.

My life feels as if it’s turned upside down; sometimes I feel I have no life. I dream about going on a long vacation or sleeping late.

Yet when I pull into the driveway, and he greets me with a hug and calls me by my childhood name, my heart melts. My resentment fades.

Before answering Dad’s question, I glance at the calendar kept on the front of the refrigerator. All of his doctor’s appointments, expected visitors, places he has to go, and calls that have to be made are marked on the calendar. His medicine schedule is also posted there. You could say the refrigerator is our command center, and it dominates his life and mine.

We sit down, have a cup of coffee, and he hands me the list. The list is very important. As a military family, money was tight. Dad only got paid once a month. When we wanted something, he would tell us to put it on the list. On payday, we would sit around the kitchen table and talk about what things were needed most. Shoes always won over a new skateboard.

In the beginning of his disease, he would make out the list himself. Now that he has lost the ability to handle written words, we write it for him.

“I need to buy a new pair of eyeglasses. It’s on the list,” he assures me.

We have this conversation every week. Dad always wants to buy eyeglasses. We had his eyes checked, but the prescription was correct. Yet he feels that if he only had the right glasses, then words would make sense again.

While I barely have time to balance my own checkbook, I handle all his finances. It took me months to get everything straightened out. I had to call people, cancel magazines, return unwanted merchandise, and convince my dad that you do not have to pay for address stickers that are sent in the mail. I finally had to take him to the post office and let them verify that I was right.

“Verify” is his favorite word and one I’ve come to loathe. Nothing is accepted until it is presented over and over. If you say a storm is coming, he has to watch all the weather channels to verify that he can’t stay outdoors. If a doctor’s appointment is changed, we have to call and let the nurse verify the new time. The constant verifying can be mind-numbing. I try to be patient and not let my frustration show.

I pray for patience every night. For some reason, if I tell Dad he has to do something, he will listen. Maybe it’s because I am the oldest child. Once my sister was taking him to the dentist, and he wouldn’t get in the car until she assured him that I said he had to. Of course, they had to call me at work so I could verify it.

After checking the list, Dad and I go to Dollar Tree. We had to stop shopping at the major department stores. He wanted to buy everything he saw. I was taking things out of the shopping cart and putting them back on the shelves. He would constantly complain it was his money and tell everyone within earshot that he needed that $200 electronic nail clipper. I got angry looks from other customers and ended up feeling like a villain.

My life became much easier when I realized he could buy anything he wants at Dollar Tree. I still cringe when he puts another pair of reading glasses in the cart. I have to bite my tongue not to remind him that he has more than a dozen pairs at home.

Flashlights are another item that captures his attention. At one time, I counted 23 flashlights around the house. He will explain that it’s best to be prepared to anyone who comments, then offer them a flashlight.

I found the simpler I make things, the less stress we have to endure. A stress-free day is a good day for both of us. After shopping, it’s on to lunch.

Lunch is the highlight of Dad’s week. I skip the sit-down restaurants with their written menus and instead go to a small neighborhood Chinese buffet. Here he can walk up and down and look at the food.

The staff knows him. The head waitress calls him Papa and gives him a hug when we enter and when we leave. He flirts with her, and she smiles back. She tells me I am a good daughter and that it is a good thing to honor our fathers.

After lunch we return, unpack the car, and put the items away. Now it’s time to sit and visit.

He’s happiest telling tales about his childhood and life in the Navy, and I’m content to listen. I learn about the boy he was and what made him the man he became before Alzheimer’s stole him away.

I often make a peach cobbler like Momma used to bake before she died. We pour cream over it and talk about her. For a few minutes, I can pretend everything is normal. Then he asks where Momma is and when she’s coming home. Reality sets in. I tell him she’s gone shopping and will be back soon.

He never wants me to leave and can’t understand why I don’t stay. I explain I have my own family to care for now, but I’ll be back. We mark it on the calendar in bright red letters so it can be verified.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you girls.” Even when he’s having a bad day and names are beyond his grasp, he always thanks me for coming by.

I don’t know what I’d do without my dad.

~Jeri McBryde

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