Reflections after Thanksgiving

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I read The Corrections when it first came out, about six years ago. There are different stories going on throughout the book, but the main plot is about a son who sees his father diminishing.

Jonathan Franzen’s one of my favorites authors, because he captured the relationship so well. He detailed that point when dependence shifted from son to father. There is just something that happens then, it’s a deep and painful relocation. A child, who spends his life longing for his father’s approval, is suddenly left with long stares and sentences that are made up randomly from his father’s confused vocabulary soup.

I thought of the book this Thanksgiving. My father’s barely able to get around now. He is less communicative, and remembers less and less. It’s been a long process. His neurological disorder has been decreasing his mobility for decades, but he always fought it off.

I was very angry about his fighting. I thought it was misplaced. He was fighting to stay out of a wheelchair, but he wouldn’t exercise. And there just seemed to be a huge dose of denial in the process. He used a wheelchair about fifteen years after I thought he should be in one. I kept thinking about how much more freedom he would have if he didn’t try to walk everywhere. How many more places he could go. It has always frustrated me to see him bound in his own legs. A close friend of mine had MS, and she had an extremely productive life, wheeling around in her motorized chair.

I think it’s exasperated all of his children, we’re all athletic (although I’m much less in shape than my older siblings). My brother surfs, my sister runs, and I hike and kayak. The disease is hereditary, so it’s as if we are simultaneously relieved and fighting off the possibility. Either way, I see my mobility as an extremely valuable gift.

Everyone told me that my father’s struggle to walk was good for him; that it was keeping him stronger and giving him something to live for. And, of course, it was none of my business. I moved away from my parents fifteen years ago, and distance automatically lessens the amount of power that a child has in these things. But it doesn’t diminish the worry. Especially when my parents visit and I see how the neuropathy is grasping on tighter to his movement. He can no longer dress himself.

The worry’s not the only emotion, there’s a vast array of other things as well. It is no wonder that Franzen’s book is 576 pages long. There are just so many levels to it. This is a man that I feared as much as I loved. So, what replaces the fear now? I think there’s just a strange numbness living there now.

The wheelchair struggle is over, but he’s going to need to move into a nursing home soon. Dad’s at zero miles and hour, and mom can’t drive sixty-five. Now that his dependence has increased dramatically and their lives are just moving in two different directions, and there needs to be someone who will sit with him. Someone who can bathe him and dress him. But he doesn’t see it. Like all of us, he wants to be home–in his home.

I’m not sure what the next move will be. Is it my business now? Where is the point when a child can or should step in? I know I may be the one who needs to do the insisting. I may be the one who needs to bear the blame and the hatred for the decision. But I’m not quite sure. All I know is that this shift…it’s an extremely painful thing.

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