At this point in this journey with Daddy, things happened that I still, to this day, can’t explain. Things that, at the time, should have been impossible.
Things that I will be forever thankful for. ❤️
The last thing I wanted — including him getting diarrhea, diaper rash, or an upset stomach, as you can imagine — was for Daddy to end up with a cavity or a dental abscess. He’d forgotten how to brush and why to brush, but thankfully let me do it for him while he lay in comfort on his bed. I touched the brush to his lips and he always bared his teeth for me. Somewhere in his mind, it felt natural and he enjoyed the massage from the bristles, it seemed.
Because he no longer knew how to spit, and swallowing a lot of sodium fluoride should be avoided, I used mini on-the-go pre-pasted toothbrushes that didn’t need water or rinsing. Yes, the minty minis weren’t made for everyday use. But I needed a way to control the amount of paste that would stay in his mouth and keep Daddy from getting sick, without a lot of mess to clean up. The effects of vascular dementia on what had been his perfect pearly whites and the interior of his mouth and his breath weren’t pretty.
I didn’t have a choice. It was what it was.
One day, after brushing and then disposing of the mini and wipes in the bathroom trashcan, I forgot to re-lock the bathroom door from the outside, to keep Daddy out of there with all the cleaning chemicals, Bro’s razors and shaving implements, my diabetic sharps containers and toiletries, all the things that could do him harm.
We heard him splashing around in the toilet later, and realized he was in there.
By the time Bro and I ran in, Daddy was having a good ol’ time sloshing toilet water up and out of the bowl with both hands, like a little kid. Well, of course. He was indeed a child in an adult body now, remember.
Watching him made me smile against my will. In a way, I wanted to let him have his fun, bless his heart. But he could slip and fall in the water spilled across the floor, a bad thing. He could start drinking the doggone water, a not so good thing. And there was already enough of a mess to mop up, as it was. We needed to get him out of the bathroom, now, and there would probably be fight about it. Ugh.
“C’mon, Daddy.” I took his arm with gentle fingers. “Let’s go, okay?”
“Come with us, Dad,” Bro chimed in.
He shrugged me off with wet hands, stood his ground, and then turned back to the toilet.
“Oh, no you don’t.” We both took an arm and managed to coax him halfway to the bathroom door. He wasn’t having it, though. Daddy shrugged us off and went a step further — shoved me so that I almost fell. “Stop!” he yelled, a fist shaking. Well, he meant it as a yell, though it came out as a hoarse whisper.
Bro stepped between us, but my control had flown out the window. We were going to have to sit there in the bathroom for who knew how long while he destroyed it, and keep him from hurting himself in the process, and it was all my fault. Because I didn’t remember to LOCK. THE. DAMN. DOOR.
I brushed Bro aside and got right up in Daddy’s angry face. “No! You stop! YOU stop, you hear me— ”
He’d told us to stop. Words caught in my throat. I stared at him, my mind spinning.
He lowered his eyes, bit his bottom lip, and heaved a sigh. “I… I’m sorry.” That hoarse whisper again. He looked up at us. “I’m… sorry.” His barely-there voice, the words unmistakable.
He’d spoken again. Bro’s mouth fell open, as if on a hinge.
Daddy could have gone around that whole bathroom like a tornado, torn down every object in sight, and I wouldn’t have cared then. My astonished heart cracked open, its contents spilling out. I hugged him to me, arms around his waist, my head resting at his right shoulder. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry, too!” My voice shook. “Didn’t mean to yell at you. You’re all right. I’m so sorry.”
I was a stranger to him, so I hoped the Crazy Lady (me) wasn’t scaring him too badly, wailing and grabbing him that way. Even if I was, though, I couldn’t let him go.
His big hand came up and patted me on the shoulder, tried to comfort the Crazy Lady. Just like The Old Daddy before vascular dementia, who hated to see any woman cry.
I pressed my face deeper into his thinning shoulder.
Best day ever.
After that, Daddy spoke on two more occasions.
Things stayed the same, for the most part. He remained a child, in his own world and in another time somewhere, but instead of being a 3-year-old, he was more like seven or eight, not wandering as much, content to be in his room, on his bed or in his wheelchair, taking in whatever happened to be on his TV.
One of those times he surprised us again — and when The Old Daddy made himself known, haha — took place after meds, a meal, and a sponge bath, while Bro and I were tidying up around him. One moment, he sat there, quiet, staring off into nothing we could see, and then the next…
“Stephanie. Jimmy.” He caught our gazes with his own, and repeated himself in a weak, breathy tone. “Stephanie… Jimmy…” His finger pointed at his open bedroom door. His expression said he expected someone to come through it.
Bro grinned wider than I’d seen him grin in a long time. “Sis, he’s looking for us.” The inner corner of Bro’s left eye glistened.
I nodded, and grinned back. “He doesn’t recognize us, but he hasn’t forgotten us.” Euphoria flooded me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that. “Yes, Stephanie and Jimmy,” I acknowledged, my voice soft pastel. “Your kids. They love you and miss you, a lot.”
Daddy gave us a solemn nod before turning his attention back to a muscle car auction on the Motor Trend Channel.
He and I watched the auction together, sitting side by side, our legs hanging over the foot of his rented hospital bed, my head resting on his shoulder, while Bro finished tidying up around us. The Big Kid and the Crazy Lady, checking out restored Pontiac GTOs and Oldsmobile 442s from the 60s as they rolled across the television screen in all their amazing glory, until the show’s closing credits scrolled and my calves and feet had gone numb.
It was only when I slid off the bed to go clean up the kitchen, and deliberate fingers gave my butt a firm love pat, that I realized Daddy didn’t see me as the Crazy Lady. He thought I was my mom. His heart, his life that he’d been married to for 54 years, until multiple myeloma and breast cancer had taken her away from us 7 years ago. The Old Daddy had been trying to ask her, a little earlier, if she’d seen their children today. If Bro and I were coming over to the house.
His coffee-brown eye and his filmy cataract eye were back on the TV, yet he looked kind of pleased with himself.
I stifled my laugh and swatted his errant hand.
“Now, look here, sir. I understand you see Mama when you look at me, but we’ll have no more of those shenanigans. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in about fifty states.” 😅