Monday, September 17, 2007

After the Fall

My dad fell Saturday. We received the call about 11:15 that morning, picked him up at his independent living facility and took him to an emergency room, where we spent the next four or five hours. My dad, who walks with a "walker," could not get up or stand unassisted after he fell, and we feared the worst-- which in his case would have been a broken hip. But x-rays were negative and, though a painful gash on the back of his head required five staples, we were relieved. He is with us until we can make some confusing but necessary decisions.

Falls are awful. My husband has been telling me for years that I go down harder than anyone he's seen. "You've never learned to fall," he concludes, then tries to tell me what to do when I feel myself falling. I know, I answer, I've read the instructions.

Honestly, I never thought much about falling until I began to work with the elderly. After several of my special people died as the result of them, I began to fear falls. Nursing homes are hazardous places. I've read studies that say 50 to 75 percent of nursing home residents over 65 years old fall at least once every year; "only" one in three people who live at home fall once a year. As a staff member, I fell several times each year, so I suspect the percentages are actually higher.

I've tried to think of another word or phrase to describe what happens to a person when he falls, other than "shaken up." He didn't break any bones, we say with relief, he's just a little shaken up. But people are shaken deeper than their fragile bones, down into the psyche.

I can't believe this happened to me.

I'm afraid to go anywhere again.

My dad is using his walker now and testing out his world after the fall. Yesterday he slept a lot. As he lay on the couch, eyes closed and breathing steadily, my son gazed at him and murmured, "Doesn't he look sweet?"

Yes, too sweet, too good to fall.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Happy Birthday to Us!

It's your birthday, Mother, and if you were here I'd say Happy us! That's what we used to say, you and I, once I was finally willing to acknowledge that it was your birthday, too! I used to be a self-centered little thing, didn't I? I'm glad you never held it against me.

I thought it would get easier to live without you and I guess, after nearly ten years, it is. But I still can't get through a day without thinking of you and, when I do, the tears surprise me all over again. No, I'm not really sad and certainly not depressed, but there's something about thinking about your mother. . . . I know you'd understand, because you were that way about your mother, too.

Sometimes it helps to list the things I'm thankful for. I'm glad you got to know Scott and Diane, because in knowing and loving them, you learned even more about me, and about Steve-- your own children. You thought Steve and I were both pretty lucky in our mates and marriages. I even jokingly accused you of liking Scott better than me, and though you denied it, I noticed you didn't protest too hard!

You spent time with all four of your grandchildren, making up in quality what you were denied in quantity. I feel a little guilty about that, because I enjoy such easy access to my own grandson. Speaking about yourself and my dad, you'd say, You just have no idea how much we love these kids! I used to think to myself, Of course. I know you love them a lot. But, as usual, you were right; I didn't know. Not until I held my own grandchild would I understand.

I wish you could have been at your grandchildren's weddings. I wish you could have met their spouses. You'd have been so pleased, and so reassured. You wanted nothing less than complete love and devotion for them and, from those wedding days forward, that's what they've had.

I wish you could see your three great-grandsons! I picture you holding them, laughing at their antics, looking at their photographs. I know you could find resemblances that have never occurred to the rest of us!

And I wish you were here for Daddy. He needs you still, as he always did. No one understands him as you did, though it's not from lack of effort on our parts! Whether it's making the bed, folding underwear, or loading the dishwasher, he unintentionally reminds me that your ways were best. You felt both relieved and a little guilty to leave first. You didn't want to say it, but I knew-- strong as you were-- you didn't want to live without him. For your sake, I'm grateful that you didn't have to.

I'm crying as I write and, though you didn't want me to mourn forever, you would have understood. You knew about grief, just as you understood love and family. . . . . and birthdays! They're all part of life, our lives, and denying any of them is impossible.

So, happy birthday. . . . to us!