Conversations With My Father

by Alice Marie Beard

My father is 87 and lives in a nursing home about a mile from where I grew up. We won't have many more conversations on this side of God's realm, and I want to remember the ones that we have. As usual, I write for myself. Anyone who wants to peer into my journal ramblings is welcome, but I'm writing for me -- and for one brother on the other side of this world.

Dad has been in a nursing home since January 3, 2005. He had been in the local community hospital for a recurrent urinary tract infection. When it was time for discharge, the discharge committee decided that my father would be safer at a nursing home rather than going back to the house where he'd lived for 55 years. He survived a major stroke in March 1999; the major stroke came after several little strokes. The massive stroke has left him with left-side brain damage, aphasia, and right-side physical paralysis. After the major stroke and while still living at home, he'd survived many health problems and accidents. The hospital discharge committee made a wise decision.

We talk once a week or so by phone, but those conversations are usually limited. Depending on the day and the time, it can take Dad more than the time of a phone call to get oriented to a conversation. When I phoned in early June, talking was hard for Dad, but he didn't want the conversation to end, and he sounded so sad. I asked him to give the phone to a nurse, and he told a nearby nurse, "She wants to talk to you."

The nurse asked who it was, and he mustered the strength to say firmly, "It's ALICE." The nurse told me that he was fine, but that he wanted to know WHEN I was going to come to visit him. I explained that I live 600 miles away. The nurse laughed and asked Dad, "Do you know that Alice lives far away?"

I could hear the exasperation in his tired old voice when he told her, "Yes! But I want her to come to see me."

It was an unplanned trip, but when your 87-year-old father says he wants to see you, you get there. I told the nurse to tell my father that I'd be there the following weekend unless I was dead, and my daughter and I arranged for a "cannonball run" across western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and northern Indiana. The trip is usually good for one speeding ticket from the Ohio State troopers, and this trip was no exception.


June 11, 2005, Saturday:

About 9 am, my 21-year-old daughter and I arrived. Dad was in the dining room where he'd just had breakfast. We took him to his room to show him something that I hoped would make him feel "at home" in his new home. It was so familiar to him that, when he saw it, he said that it had been there all along; I just smiled. I wasn't hunting for "credit," I was hunting for a way to help him feel at home.

What I'd brought was a 29-year-old Christmas cactus. When I'd moved from the Midwest to Maryland in 1976, my dad had broken pieces off his own large Christmas cactus and given the pieces to me. He told me to root the shoots and start my own plant. His plant was like his grandmother's decades-old Christmas cactus. His brothers and most of his paternal cousins had plants like what had been at the old family farm house in Owasco. Dad had his grandma for almost 34 years, and every memory of her is positive and loving.

We visited only briefly before I told Dad that I'd have to leave to pick up an aunt whom I'd promised to bring to see my dad. Dad got quiet and sad, as if he'd been betrayed, and said, "Well, if you're going to go, I can't stop you." I promised him that I'd be back with my aunt; he asked when, and I told him we'd be back before he had lunch. ... I asked if he'd like me to bring him some ice cream for dessert; his face lit up and he asked, "And pie?!" When I asked what kind, his answer was immediate: "Apple pie!"

...

My aunt and I returned as Dad was sitting down to lunch. For meals, he joins the other residents of his wing of the nursing home. They sit at square tables that could seat four people, and they have large bibs to guard against spills. Dad was always right handed; the stroke took away use of his right hand, so now he feeds himself with his left hand. My aunt and I sat with him and another gentleman at their table while they ate. I whispered to Dad that we had the apple pie and ice cream. He drank juice and milk and ate cornbread and vegetables. The entree was a scoop of a rice and beef mixture; he pushed at it with his fork and muttered, "This isn't chicken!" ... I thought, "No sh*t, Sherlock!" Dad has only a few teeth left, and apparently the nursing staff has not realized that Dad can eat things that many tooth-challenged folks can't eat.

I asked, "Want to go back to your room for ice cream and pie?" Anyone who ever knew my dad would know what his answer was. :-)

...

We enjoyed dessert in his room, and he managed the ice cream and pie with a spoon in his left hand. The ice cream melted faster than he could spoon, so I helped with some spoonfuls.

When visiting with his sister-in-law, he positioned his wheelchair so that the three of us were sitting in a triangle, and sometimes he added comments.  Sometimes, however, his comment sort of got "lost in space," and he would drop his head to his chest.  His sister-in-law told him that she is now 78 and asked, "How old are you, Miles?"  He said almost boastful, "Oh, they don't know how old I am." ... I laughed and said, "You're 87, Daddy. I've seen your birth certificate."   An aide entered the room to shave him.  Dad said that he didn't want to be shaved then; after all, a man is not supposed to be shaved in front of a woman guest, and he'd probably never shaved in front of his brother's wife. ... I told the aide that I'd shave my father later, and dad told the aide that would be fine. ...   He seemed most comfortable visiting with his sister-in-law. She has been his sister-in-law since 1949, and she's the "Auntie Em" of the family. 

Sometimes my dad knew who I was; sometimes he did not.  Some of the confusion may be from the fact that I am named after his favorite aunt, with whom he lived while he was a student at University of Chicago.  Some of the confusion probably is from his remembering his young daughter Alice, and now his daughter Alice is 54, wears tri-focals, has blondish rather than brown hair, and is currently in one of her "fat periods." At all times he knew that his daughter was Alice, but sometimes he was not sure that I was that Alice.

...

When a cousin and I returned in the evening, we came with her dog, a beautiful English Setter. The dog looks like one that Dad's dad used to have.  Dad's eyes lit up, and his whole face smiled!  The smile was for the dog, and he reached out with his good hand to stroke the dog. The nursing home encourages visitors to bring well-behaved dogs, and the residents love them.

It was time for Dad's shave. The nurse had left a new razor, but no shaving cream. I had a big jar of Pond's Cold Cream which worked fine. I slathered his face with cold cream and shaved gently in the direction that the hair grew. ... The last I'd shaved him had been in summer of 2003 when he'd been impressed with how gently I shaved him. That summer, he had not been shaved in a few weeks, and his beard was almost an inch long. He said that one of my brothers had been the last person to shave him that summer, and my brother had nicked Dad several times. ... As I shaved Dad at the nursing home, I took care with his tissue-paper thin old skin. He had a nick under his nose from someone who'd shaved a little too closely or too quickly. I asked, "Dad, wouldn't you rather be shaved with an electric razor? I could get you one." ... Dad said, "No. A razor shave is better if it's done right." Apparently he has decided to accept the occasional nick; he had no interest in an electric razor.

Dad cooperated as I shaved him, moving his head as needed, and moving his jaw and chin when needed to make the shaving easier.  I clipped his ear hairs, and nose hairs, and trimmed his bushy eyebrows, but when I began clipping at what little hair he has on his head, he said, "No. It looks better uncut." It leaves him with a little white fringe coming out from the back of his baseball cap. ... After the shave, he posed for some photos, including this one when I said, "Stick your tongue out, Daddy." Dad laughed, closed his eyes, and stuck out his tongue:

An aide directed us to a large living room next door to Dad's room. The room is beautifully furnished and looks out over a fancy fountain -- thus the name of the nursing home: Fountainview.

As the aide pushed Dad's chair into the living room, Dad was reminded of something from his childhood, and he said with sadness, "They always made me go with that aunt." ... I asked, "Do you mean Linnie?" ... He looked surprised and asked, "How do you know Aunt Linnie?" ... I said, "Because I'm Alice." .... The response might have confused him because "Alice" is also his Aunt Alice, sister to Dad's mom and to Dad's Aunt Linnie. ... I put my hand on Dad's arm and said, "I'm sorry that she treated you like that.  That was wrong." ... When Dad was a young boy, there were times he had to spend with his mom's sister Linnie, and the woman was mean to the little boy. Here was an 87-year-old man still hurting from beatings that he endured as a child.

Dad, his niece, and I sat in the living room, and I asked him about his feet -- which had been swollen a few weeks before. "Are your shoes comfortable, Dad?" ... He said, "Oh, yes!  These are the first pair of comfortable shoes I've had!" ... I asked, "Who got them for you?" ... He said, "Alice." ... His response surprised me because I'd thought he knew I was Alice. ... I asked when Alice got him the shoes.  He said, "Oh, about four years ago." ....   In fact, I had given him a pair of shoes in the summer of 2001.  ... Whether the shoes he was wearing were those shoes, I didn't know, but apparently Dad has a positive memory of Alice getting him some shoes.  

As my cousin sat listening, Dad continued talking about Alice, not realizing right then that I was Alice. He said that Alice was going to be arrested, that she had done some bad things, that court papers were being filed against her. I said, "No, Daddy. I haven't done anything wrong, and no one is filing court papers against me." My cousin said, "Someone is lying to you, Uncle Miles. Alice hasn't done anything wrong."

I asked, "How do you know about these court papers?"

Dad said, "I listen. They think I don't hear them and can't understand them, and I listen."

My cousin and I looked at each other and both thought of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Clearly, my father was listening and understanding some things that some people didn't realize he was hearing and understanding. With brain damage, the brain is in the worst state soon after the brain damage. Dad had suffered massive brain damage in early 1999. The brain never heals, but over time it is able to find new paths, and new ways of dealing with things. By summer of 2005, Dad's brain had had six years to find new paths, and he was finally in a situation where he was safe, getting good nutrition, being treated well, and not being overly medicated.

I asked about his son #1, and Dad said that he has begun doing some work other than/in addition to lawyering.  I asked about his son #3, and Dad said that he has begun a job with a new company, but he couldn't recall the name of the company.  Then I asked about son #2; Dad said with sadness, "It's been years since he called." 

I told Dad that it would be a couple of months before I could come back to see him because I just graduated from law school and I'm preparing for the Bar exam.  I said that I hope to pass the exam on the first try, but if I don't, I'll just take it again. ... My dad smiled and said, "And if you don't pass it then, you just take it again.  And if you don't pass it then, you just take it again!  And if you don't pass it then, you just take it AGAIN!" His voice grew more enthusiastic with each "take it again!" He named a family member and said, "It took him seven times to pass the Bar, but he finally passed!" .... I told Dad that I hoped it wouldn't take me seven times. At 54, there's something called "the shortness of human life" that I must consider. :-)

...

When my cousin and I were leaving at about 8:30 pm, Dad again said something that let me know he didn't know at that moment that I was Alice his daughter: "I didn't even know that Alice had a second child."  It was as if he were talking to himself, and his voice conveyed shock at his own forgetfulness; he spoke about Alice as if she weren't there, and he was still wondering about her. 

I said, "Daddy!  I'm Alice!  Do you remember that I used to sit on your shoulders and hold onto your ears as you'd walk around the block?  Do you remember that I used to go fishing with you, but only if you bought me six candy bars?  Do you remember the time when I was four and had to have a lot of dental work done, and I was afraid of the dentist, so you took me to a dentist where they put me to sleep, and afterwards you took me to a drug store and let me choose a blue ring because you said I'd been so brave?  I'm Alice, Daddy!"

My father looked directly into my face, eyes wide open, and asked like a student trying to figure out a puzzle, "But are you THAT Alice?"

I said, "Yes, Daddy!  There's only ONE Alice, and it's me!" ... I looked at him and said, "I love you, Daddy."

My father's response surprised me.  He looked directly at me and said, "I love you too." ... In that moment, at least, he knew who I was, and he was believing me that there is only ONE Alice, and I'm it. I gave him a hug, and he hugged back with his good arm. 

June 12, 2005, Sunday:

A little after lunch time I arrived with my childhood friend, Dad's next-door-neighbor of many, many years. Already visiting Dad was another of my cousins. We three women who had once been little girls together sat in Dad's room and gossiped as he napped. The other two women are grandmothers, and they talked about their grandchildren.

My girlfriend began telling about some recent car troubles. She'd paid someone to fix her car, but the car still was not working right. The car would run and then stall, repeatedly. She said the mechanic had told her that the alternator was broken. Suddenly Dad said, "If the alternator's broken, the car won't start." Apparently my girlfriend's mechanic wasn't being quite honest with her, and my dad caught the error, even as we thought he was napping.

...

My cousin left, and I drove my girlfriend the mile back to her house before going back to Dad's, with some fried chicken wings and legs from his favorite fast-food place. He was just getting up from his nap. As soon as the aide had him in his wheelchair, he was happy to take the box of fried chicken and he dug in.

I apologized for forgetting a biscuit.  He said that was all right, and that the best biscuits were made with lard, and that his grandmother's biscuits were the best of all. ... I said, "They don't make biscuits like that any more, Daddy."  ... He said, "They don't make grandmas like that any more either." His grandmother is known among family as a saintly woman. ... Then he joked that it didn't have to be hog lard, that it could be chicken lard, and "you could get the chicken fat right at the chicken's *ss."

I told him that I'd gotten a speeding ticket in Ohio as I drove to Indiana.  He asked how fast I'd been driving.  When I told him, he told me that I was driving too fast. ... It was only 87 miles an hour, so I asked, "Well, Dad, how fast did you ever drive?"

He smiled and said, "115 miles an hour, in my old Buick Century, on the streets in LaPorte.  The cops were laying for me, but they didn't get me!"

Then he explained that the car was named "Buick Century" as a way of telegraphing to potential buyers that the car could go 100 mph. He added that they couldn't advertise that the car could go so fast, so they found a way to communicate it in the name: "Buick Century."

...

I explained that I had to leave because I would have to drive all night so that I could be back in Maryland by Monday noon. I helped him out to the "gathering spot" near the nurses' station, gave him a hug, sang him a little song before I left, and told him that I'd sing him the song again when I phoned next.



Beyond conversations:

What's below is beyond conversations with my father. Before getting a law degree and before 20 years as "just a mom," I was trained as a journalist. In my heart and soul, I am a simple reporter.

In September 2005, I spent a week in Mishawaka, Indiana, and was at Fountainview Nursing Home every day. I was there because it's my dad's home. It's home for about 120 others, and it's the place of work for a host of folks. I stayed late a few nights, working on one thing or another, and saw Fountainview at night. One night I fell asleep on the guest chair in Dad's room, slept until about 3:30 am, then went to the lounge/living room and slept on a sofa. I spent an afternoon in the activity room/kitchen baking cookies with seven women residents. I would sit in the hall late at night and read poetry to two little old ladies who seem unable to get to sleep until after 2 am. At meal times, I'd help feed Dad and one of the other three men who sit at his table. I learned how often residents are showered (twice weekly, unless they're diabetic), saw the laundry room, met the laundress, learned how she sorts clothes for the residents, learned where the staff smoke, took a resident for walks outside, and sat with another resident as she got her nicotine fix. ... I met a little dog named "Daisy" who spends most days in my dad's wing at Fountainview. Daisy belongs to an RN who brings her to work. During his shifts, Daisy stays in the room of a woman resident. Daisy sits in a wheelchair as her "Fountainview mama" walks her around, sometimes visiting with other residents. Picture that: a dog sitting in a wheelchair, and a woman pushing the wheelchair! ... I learned about the cats that live at Fountainview: They eat from plates outside the staff entrance, where there's shelter from rain, snow, winds, and extreme cold. I saw the geese that wander the grounds, and Dad told about watching rabbits from his window. ... Then there's my father who sits in the middle of the hall after supper, drinks beer from a can, and tells beer stories.

Dad's home does not fit with my notion of a "nursing home." Yes, it is a group home where residents require various levels of assistance and where there's a long list of servants of various kinds, but it doesn't seem like what I've always thought of as a "nursing home."

September 18, 2005, Sunday:

I arrived in Mishawaka about 3 pm and went directly to Dad. He was napping. I spoke quietly; he opened his eyes. I asked how he was; he said in a grumpy voice, "How do you think?" ... In other words, he was fine, and he wanted to continue napping. ... There was a flutist playing classical music in the large dining room; residents and visitors were gathered around. The man played beautifully. Between pieces, he would announce his next piece by composer and title. As with my father, Fountainview is home for the flutist... I wandered the halls passing out some of the ten dozen homemade cookies I'd brought from my kitchen in Maryland. There was a dog being wheeled around in a wheelchair, and I gave the dog a cookie. I met the parents of a girl from my high-school graduating class; her uncle is a resident at Fountainview, in the same wing as Dad. ... The atmosphere reminded me of a neighborhood block party.

I made a quick trip to the local "mega-mart" to replace the dead flowers in Dad's room. When Dad awoke, he saw the new flowers and asked, "Did you get all those flowers?" I held the flowers where he could smell them and told him I'd be back with my aunt after he had supper.

By the time Auntie and I returned, Dad was in bed for the night. I fed Dad cookies, and he kept asking for more. Dad ate about ten cookies, saying the cookies were good, but he said that the BEST way to make cookies was with lard, as his grandma had made cookies. ... I told him I'd made the cookies from his grandmother's recipe, and he said that his grandmother had gotten the recipe from Helen. ... Helen was the adopted daughter of Dad's mom's sister Anna. Decades ago Dad had told me that Helen was adopted on his mother's side, but that she truly was related by blood on his father's side. My years of genealogy research and collecting family stories have me suspecting that Helen's accurate place on the family tree would be as a child of one of the children of one of the sisters of George Hooker -- Dad's great-grandfather. ... I suspect that Dad is beyond following my reasoning for that hunch, but he liked the cookies.

September 19, 2005, Monday:

I got to Dad's at 2 pm. He was sleeping in his wheelchair, at the end of a hall. Dad does a lot of "walking" while seated in his wheelchair; he gets all over Fountainview and sleeps whenever he wants to. It looked as if he'd gone to sleep while looking outside where geese gather. I took him back to his room so he could lie down for the rest of his nap. After an aide helped him into bed, I realized he hadn't been wearing his eyeglasses and asked him why. He said his glasses didn't help much any more, but that if he got a new job where he had to see better, he'd have to get new glasses. I told him that I'd look into him seeing an eye doctor.

I stayed through supper, sitting with him, helping him. Dad eats in what Fountainview folks call one of the two "little dining rooms." The "big dining room" is for residents who need no help eating. Dad sometimes needs help. Dad's little dining room has six square tables that seat four, and one half-circle table that seats four. There's a large TV mounted on the wall; sometimes the TV is on during the meal, and sometimes not. There's an old wing-back chair in one corner, with an end table next to it, and there's a big old cactus next to the chair. The cactus is the 29-year-old cactus that I took for Dad in June. Dad's dining room is the perfect place for it: Dad sees the family cactus several times a day, and it helps his home look homier for everyone. ... In the opposite corner are shelves with books. Ceiling-to-floor windows are on one side of the room, with drapes that can block out the sun -- sometimes. The view is of a grassy area where geese wander.

Dad sits at the same table for every meal, with the same three men. Their table is in the far corner, next to the window. Two of the men have wives who are there most nights for supper. The wives feed their husbands, lovingly and with absolute kindness. One of the men cannot feed himself because the gout in his hands is so bad that he can't use his hands. Aides feed the gentleman his breakfast and lunch; his wife arrives nightly, with a smile, and feeds her husband of many years. Her husband doesn't always like the food; she said her goal is to get him to eat all of the protein.

As residents assembled and waited for their meals to be delivered on trays, one of the wives pointed to a cart with pitchers and glasses. "You might want to get your dad a drink. It gives them something to do while they wait." The pitchers had water and punch. I chose punch. Dad weighs between 135 and 140 pounds now; he needs every calorie he can get.

At the end of each meal, a nurse records how much of the meal each resident has eaten, and all of the aides know that the nurse wants to know that the residents ALL scored well. Dad usually scores 100%. The man even empties the sauces and condiments from little paper cups!

The food looked and smelled good: rice with sliced beef, coleslaw, apricots with brown sugar & oatmeal, juice, milk. Dad is served a standard menu, and the food is just like what might be served to anyone. Dad surprised me by using the knife in his right hand to push final bits of rice onto a spoon that he held with his left hand. Dad used to be right handed; the massive stroke in early 1999 left him with little use of his right arm. ... Normally Dad would have been wearing a big terrycloth bib, but the bibs were not back from the laundry. When Dad would drop food onto his clothes, he would carefully remove it. ... During the meal, one of the residents offered some colorful language -- a "G*d damn" here, and a "G*d damn" there. Another resident began saying, "Stop swearing! Stop swearing!" ... Dad looked at me and rolled his eyes.

Most conversation in the room was from aide to resident, with aides encouraging eating. One thing may confuse my father: A resident who eats in Dad's dining room is named "Alice." She has great difficulties eating. Thus, while Dad eats, he hears an aide saying repeatedly, "Come on, Alice. ... Wake up, Alice. ... You've got to eat, Alice."

Dad was one of the last to finish his meal. When I began to push his wheelchair out of the dining room, he said that he needed to move his tray across the room to the large transport rack. I said, "Dad, someone will do that." Dad began to try to move the tray himself, so I bussed his tray. I thought we were done, but another resident pointed to the floor where someone had dropped food. My dad said he'd have to clean it up and moved in his wheelchair towards what needed to be cleaned; I cleaned the spill. Then, Dad moved to the table where two of the most disabled residents sat, and he began stacking their empty dishes, clearing their table. I gave up and let him do whatever he was going to do.

September 20, 2005, Tuesday:

Today was my birthday. I arrived at Fountainview at 2 pm with a sheet cake, paper plates, plastic forks, and napkins. Dad was napping. ... A resident wanted to sit outside; I offered to sit with her. Because she gets confused at times, she goes outside only when someone goes with her. We walked around the fountain; I pulled some pods off a sycamore tree to share with her. ... The parents of my high-school friend arrived to visit their loved one, saw me, stopped to chat. They said it was the 92nd birthday of my friend's uncle; I told them it was my 55th. ... I took my new friend inside; she thanked me for the chance to sit outside. ... Went to Dad's room, and an aide got him up from his nap. Dad cannot get into or out of bed without assistance. I served the cake in the little dining room and sang "Happy Birthday to me." Some women residents came in for cake; a resident who can't feed himself came in, and I feed him a piece of cake, gave him a drink of water, and he thanked me. One of the women there for cake had a copy of Bill Clinton's biography; she'd been reading it every time I'd seen her. There was conversation, and it turned to Clinton. Dad said with absolute assurance, "Clinton was the best president we ever had!" The last I'd heard, he considered Truman the best president. Someone tried to beat up on Clinton with mention of his girlfriends; Dad scoffed at the comments: "Oh, who cares? What difference does it make?" ... Dad's opinion seemed to be, "It takes two to tango."

I took some cake down the hall to my friend's uncle. There I saw my friend's son and the daughter and granddaughter of a boy I'd known since 5th grade; it's a small town; there are intermarriages of various people I grew up with. My friend's mom shared some brownies she'd made for her brother-in-law's birthday. I took them back to Dad, and he ate two brownies. That surprised me; Dad didn't used to like chocolate, but he liked the brownies.

Read poetry to Dad in the hallway; now and then a resident would stop to listen to a poem or two. I was tired of standing and said to Dad, "You know the bustles that women used to have on their dresses? I need a bustle that has a chair so that I can sit anywhere when I get tired." Dad laughed. ... Read some more; asked Dad if he liked me reading to him; he said he'd rather look at the book himself. ... I went to my car to get an art book; when I returned, Dad was in the little dining room at his table, waiting for supper. ... I put the book in front of Dad, told him it was just like one he'd used when he was at University of Chicago. I'd used his old college book as a picture book when I was a child; a few years ago I found a copy in a used book store. ... Dad opened the book, began looking at the lithographs. A few minutes later, in the voice of one scholar to another he said, "You said you went to University of Chicago. What did you study?" ... I said, "No. Not me. YOU went to University of Chicago!" ... He said, "I was there a year. I wasted too much time, and I had to leave." ... I said, "I could not even have gotten in at University of Chicago! I went to Indiana University, then University of Maryland for grad school." Before I could mention my law school, Dad said, "Alice was at University of Maryland." ... I said, "Yes, Daddy! I'm Alice!" He seemed not to believe me; his food arrived, and we chatted through food. ... A couple of minutes later, I said to my father, "I'll be anyone you want me to be, Dad. Whom do you want me to be?" ... There was a small laugh, and he said, "Dorothy Lamour." ... Sorry, Dad; no can do!

After dinner an aide took Dad for a shower. When Dad gets a shower, he is wheeled into a large shower room where he's undressed and moved to a shower chair. Exactly how he's moved to the chair, I don't know. The shower chair has wheels, an open seat, and a back that lets water run through. His clothes are tossed into an industrial-sized clothes hamper. He's showered, redressed in the shower room, and reappears all clean!

When he came out, he was wearing a hospital gown. I asked, "Dad, which would you rather have, night shirts or pajamas?" ... Dad said, "Neither." ... I said, "Well, if you had to choose, which would you wear?" ... Dad's answer was simple: "I probably wouldn't wear either." He does, however, tolerate the simple hospital gowns that the aides put on him when they get him ready for bed. I reminded the aide that he has some nightcaps to help keep his bald head warm at night, and we put one on him. Bald men lose a lot of body heat through the tops of their heads.

I spread Pond's Cold Cream on Dad's face and shaved his beard. There was shaving cream in a drawer, but cold cream seems more gentle.

I stayed after Dad had turned in for the night. At about 11 pm, he awoke, and I offered him water. He said no and added, "You know what I'd really like now? I'd like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!" I told him I'd go make him a pb&j sandwich. Stepped outside Dad's room to the nurses' station and asked if I could get a sandwich for my father. The nurse said that he could put in an order so that Dad might have a pb&j sandwich ready as a snack in the future, but he had no access to the sandwich makings then. ... I went to the nearby "mega-mart," bought peanut butter, strawberry preserves, bread, and beer for Dad. He needed a fresh supply of beer anyway; Medicaid doesn't cover beer. ... Was back in Dad's room 30 minutes after he'd asked for the pb&j sandwich; he'd fallen back to sleep.

When he stirred an hour later, he wanted water. Hydration is a constant concern for Dad, and I pushed water at every opportunity. ... The room was dark; he drank the water, probably thinking I was just one of many aides who help him 'round the clock. Then he spoke in a concerned voice: "There's someone here who says she's Alice, but if that's Alice, she's gotten awfully fat awfully fast." ... I stifled a laugh and said, "That happens sometimes. I gained a lot of weight myself." ... Dad went back to sleep.

The evening shift had arrived. One of the nurses began preparing new water cups for residents. She wrote the time and room on each styrofoam cup, filled it with cold water, added a cap and a straw, and delivered water to each resident's bedside. The nurses attempt to keep track of every residents "intake and output." There are computer monitors and entry pads in the walls in the hallways. The monitors are flat with the walls; the nurses and aides enter info on each resident when anything happens.

One of the things that happens often with my father is that his incontinence pads are changed; I'd call them "diapers," but that doesn't seem dignified for an 87-year-old World War II veteran. My father is completely incontinent, a not uncommon result of a massive stroke. Wastes are held inside our bodies with sphincter muscles; when one side of the body is paralyzed, there's an impact on sphincter muscles. During the day, Dad has no complaints about being changed regularly and frequently. At night, however, he objects -- firmly. Early in the night shift, Dad's nurse told me that Dad swings his good fist and kicks when he is awakened at night. She said, "He's almost gotten me a couple of times. I always take a second person with me when I have to change him." Dad is changed every two hours at night. About 1 am, I heard what the nurse had described. I was in the hall, in front of the nurses' station, rubbing the back of a little old lady who can never get to sleep at night and who was confused that night about where she was. ... Dad's room is immediately next to the nurses' station. A nurse and an aide went into Dad's room. Soon Dad's voice was booming as if he were only 50: "G*d damnit! I'm going to knock you down!" ... Then one of the women said, "I hope it's not me." ... They continue changing Dad despite his complaints; so far as I know, he has not had a bed sore or a skin lesion since he's been at Fountainview.

I sat in the little dining room, across from Dad's room, working on my computer. About 2 am, a fire alarm sounded. The nurses closed doors and wondered whether it was a false alarm, a real alarm, or a fire drill. I moved to the guest chair in Dad's room and figured, "Old man, if it's a fire, you're getting out of here even if I have to punch out a window and drag you out." Fountainview is a one-story building, but evacuating over 120 non-ambulatory people would be difficult, especially with a reduced nighttime staff. A nurse spoke by phone to someone in the other wing of Fountainview. They realized it was a false alarm, but no one knew how to turn off the alarm. Fire trucks arrived. After ten minutes, the alarm was turned off. ... Both Dad and his roommate had slept through the noise. ... Back in the hall, one staffer said to another, "Oh-no! There'll be an in-service about this."

September 21, 2005, Wednesday:

Dad's niece and I arrived at the start of supper: meatball sandwich; fresh sliced tomato, lettuce, & onion; peach cobbler; milk, juice. He ate it all, along with fresh peppers and a tomato from my cousin's garden. ... I sat with Dad and his tablemates, and he talked about lard again, saying there had been lard in yesterday's cake. There probably had been Crisco in the frosting; Crisco and lard have similar textures. Then Dad said that he had just learned that yesterday was also the birthday of someone who lived in the neighborhood. I thought he meant the neighborhood where he'd lived from November 1949 until December 2004. Dad gave the name as Pat something-or-other (I forgot the last name) and said that Pat lived on Queen and Blaine. ... Queen and Blaine intersect a block from the house where Dad grew up: 1218 Kinyon, in South Bend. Dad lived on Kinyon from the mid-1920s until he joined the U.S. Army in January 1941, and again from 1946 through late 1949, after he left the Army. When Dad is talking about 60 years ago as if it's yesterday, I don't question or correct. I know the story of his life well enough to understand what he's talking about, whatever decade he's in at any moment.

We went to Dad's room where his schoolteacher niece had fallen asleep in his guest chair while watching TV. I woke my cousin; she shared with Dad some zucchini bread she'd made. Then she and Dad talked about growing tomatoes and eating tomatoes. I rubbed his back, felt that his skin was cold, and asked him if he was cold. He said yes. I helped him put on a sweater, put a throw across his legs, and told him that he NEVER should be cold, that he has several sweaters and he should ask an aide to put a sweater on him if he's ever cold. He said, "Okay. If I remember to." Dad has six cardigan sweaters in his closet, but if no one remembers to put them on him, the sweaters can't keep Dad warm. And here was Dad acknowledging that he knew he might not remember to ask for a sweater. ... Then it was picture time. Didn't get much of a smile until Dad's niece started joking with him. After we left, she said of my father, "He seems content."

September 2005 with his brother's daughter

September 22, 2005, Thursday:

Arrived at Dad's before noon. Had expected to be the "cookie baking lady" in the activity room for the afternoon. Instead, there was a surprise visit by a musician who sings country western. His music made me want to dance and tap my toes, and the large dining room was filled with residents who'd come for a good time. Dad, however, wanted to nap soon after lunch. Most of Dad's "walking around" is before noon.

a "Sara Lift"I told an RN that Dad wanted to lie down. That particular nurse is a small woman. She pulled into the room an apparatus called a "Sara Lift." The gizmo is used to help move someone from chair to bed, or bed to chair. It has a strap that goes around the person's back; the person positions his feet on a platform on the floor, holds onto part of the frame with his hands, and the lift pulls the person into an upright position. To use the "Sara Lift," the person must be at least partially weight bearing. The machine is battery operated, so it's supposed to be easy for both the person needing the care and the person giving the care. The nurse put the strap around Dad's back, had him position himself, turned on the lift, and learned the batteries were dead. She removed the strap, pushed the lift away, and said, "Well, Miles, we're gonna have to do this ourselves." She gave Dad instructions about what to hold onto and where to put his feet, and she lifted. Somehow, my dad was in the bed. The nurse said, "We did it, Miles!" ... Dad was laughing and smiling and said, "Yes, but I don't know how, and don't know if we could do it again." It was a funny scene; you'd had to have been there.

As Dad napped, I unpacked a box of "stuff" I'd brought and began inventorying the things in Dad's room that I'd sent for him. Over the months, I'd sent clothes, photos, picture frames, a chair, an ottoman, a quilt, two afghans, and other things to help his space be "homey"-- attractive and comforting for him, and inviting to visitors. Everything I'd sent or brought for Dad was there, except two afghans, a square photo frame with his mother's picture, and a few loose old family photos.

Hunting for the afghans, I met Fountainview's laundress and visited the laundry room. The afghans were no longer at Fountainview, but I learned from the laundress how she sorts laundry for over 100 residents. All clothing is marked, but she said that she seldom needs to look for the mark: "Usually I know whose clothing it is from sight." She is also the one who delivers the clean clothes back to the residents' rooms. She hangs each piece on a wire clothes hanger, arranges the clothes by room on a clothes rack, and goes from room to room refilling the residents' closets. I never heard a complaint all week about lost laundry. I never did so well doing laundry for four. ... I was disappointed that the afghans were gone, but I was certain that no one in the Fountainview community was responsible.

Fountainview keeps an inventory of the possessions of all residents. In my father's case, there was a further reason for Fountainview to want the inventory: It's the property of Fountainview. Everything I send or deliver for my father is the property of Fountainview, with lifetime possessory rights to my father, excluding any power-of-attorney or guardianship. In other words, while Dad's alive, Fountainview will use it for Dad's benefit. When my father is no more, Fountainview will have full title and possession. Dad may not give away anything I give to him; he may not bequeath it to anyone, and anyone who takes it from Dad is stealing from Fountainview. ... I had checked out the folks at Fountainview enough to know their trustworthiness. In a town like Mishawaka, you always know someone who knows someone, and people know who's honest, and who's not. If something were stolen from Fountainview, it would be Fountainview pressing the claim.

Supper time was funny that night. I don't remember the menu, but I remember feeding both Dad and the gentleman who sits next to him. The man's wife was not there that night; he would have been fed by an aide, but he'd have had to wait. I stood at the corner of the table and fed my dad with my right hand and fed the other gentleman with my left hand. It was like feeding twins: You just have to remember not to get the forks mixed up!

After supper, Dad and I visited with the little dog Daisy and her "Fountainview mama." We went to the room where Daisy stays. Dad talked with the woman about the time he'd had 25 Boston Terriers in his house. My mom used to breed dogs, and most of those 25 dogs would have been puppies.

Next we joined Dad's roommate and his daughter and one of Dad's tablemates and his wife in the living room, which Fountainview calls "the quiet lounge." It's a living room. It's filled with living room furniture, has a TV, books on shelves, carpet on the floor, and a big window looking outside. Inside the room there is a small room built in the corner; I asked what was inside the room. The wife groaned and said, "Nothing. Don't get us started. There's absolutely nothing in the room." Apparently "corporate policy" mandated that the social worker for the residents in that wing have an office in the wing. However, "corporate" wasn't in Mishawaka and didn't really have any idea how Mishawaka worked. The little room sits empty and does nothing but take a bite out of the living room.

Dad didn't add much to the chatting, but he sat, listened, acted like part of the social group. He purposely positioned his chair so that it was part of the conversation circle, and he held his head erect. There was about 20 minutes of chatting; then we all left. I figured Dad wanted to turn in for the night. "Dad, hold your feet up, and I'll move you fast." Dad held up his feet. ... We got to his room; I began to turn the wheelchair into his room, and Dad put his feet down, stopped the chair, and made a grunt showing exasperation and annoyance that someone else would decide where he should be going. Dad had no intent to turn in for the night. Sitting in the hallway about 20 feet ahead of us was the resident who is always reading. Dad moved over to where she was sitting, began talking with her, and I figured, "Well, I'm not needed here."

I went shopping at the nearby 24-hour store. It's three blocks from Fountainview and has everything. I returned with cookie making supplies, a Bible, and framed prints for Dad's room: Monet's "Water Lilies" and Monet's "Poppies." The night before, Dad, his niece, and I had discussed art for his walls. I'd asked Dad what he'd like; he said he didn't care, that I could choose anything. Monet won out.

Like all nursing homes that come under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 (U.S.C. 42 1395i-3 and U.S.C. 42 1396r), Fountainview is a 24-hour facility for family. A family member can visit any time to check on a loved one. It was late when I returned from shopping, so I had to ring the buzzer at the front door; a nurse who recognized me let me in, and I trudged in with my bags. I removed my shoes to reduce noise for sleeping residents and made three trips down the hall and back to get everything inside the little dining room across from Dad. I began putting together the prints, mats, and frames. Then I took a break to talk to the "night time twins," two little old ladies who never can get to sleep at night. They share a room. They usually sit in their wheelchairs in front of the nurses' station until the wee hours. Some nights they were like two old girlfriends talking to each other; other nights they sit apart. One night a nurse got one of the ladies situated in a long, reclining lounge-type of wheelchair; it looked like a portable bed. The nurse may have been trying to get the lady to lie down and go to sleep. It did not work; she insisted on getting back into her chair. One night one of the ladies did not know where she was; she kept asking the nurse to "call my daughter, or call my brother to pick me up." The nurse said kindly, "Your room is paid for for the night. You could lie down and rest until morning." The lady looked at me and asked, "Why am I here?" ... I've no training, and I don't know what the right answer was, so I said only, "Because we love you." I rubbed her back a little and hoped someone would do the same for me if I were ever in her position. She spoke of the streets she had lived on when she was raising children, and I realized that I could have gone to school with her children. Mishawaka is my hometown, and some of the women who were baking cookies as homeroom mothers when I was a child could now be residents at Fountainview.

It was after midnight. I went to Dad's room to sit in a comfy chair and put my feet up before going back to working on the frames. Soon after I sat down, a man was outside Dad's room cleaning and waxing the floors; he announced, "Unless it's an emergency, would everyone stay off this floor for 30 minutes?" I intended to go back to the frames as soon as I could walk across the hall. Instead, I awoke at 3:30 am and decided against driving back to Elkhart for the night since I had to be back at Fountainview by noon to begin the cookie baking. I cleared things from the little dining room, walked down the hall to the lounge/living room, and went to sleep on a sofa.

September 23, 2005, Friday:

About 5:30 I woke up and saw that some residents were already being awakened to be dressed for breakfast. Five-thirty in the morning is mighty early for me! I was surprised at the early wake-ups. I walked towards Dad's room and learned from an aide, "Your dad has trained us to wake him last." ... I thought, "Ah, yes. I won't ask how he 'trained' you!" My father has never been a "morning person," and he has never liked to be awakened.

A woman stood at her door as I passed. She thought I was a nurse and asked me to help her dress so she could go to breakfast. I told her that I was not a nurse, that I was Miles Beard's daughter. "I don't work here, but I can help if you'd like." She seemed completely competent, only in need of physical help for dressing. I entered her room and took the dress she wanted from her closet, the underwear from a shelf, and helped her with her socks and shoes. She asked for a specific sweater, then asked for her walker. She uses a complicated walker to get up from bed and into a wheelchair, but she is able to do it on her own, with limited assistance. Her speech was that of a well-educated lady. There was a large, old university diploma in her room. I asked if it was hers. "Yes. I have a master's in humanities."

Dad had been in the dining room for a few minutes when I joined him. He had juice, milk, a bowl of oatmeal, and biscuits & gravy. He'd loaded the gravy with pepper and gone back to sleep in his wheelchair. An aide feeding another man at Dad's table kept saying, "Miles, wake up! ... Miles, you've got to eat your breakfast!" ... Dad was barely awake. I leaned down and spoke in his ear: "Dad, you just open your mouth and swallow. I'll shovel it in. As soon as you're done, I'll give you a cookie, and you can go back to sleep." I don't think he had his eyes open, but he ate 100% of his breakfast. I wiped his mouth, gave him one of the homemade cookies, and wheeled him in front of the nurses' station so that he could sleep. Dad stays there for about 20 minutes after he eats so that the nurses would see any after-meal choking. Dad just slumped back to sleep.

I went to speak with Dad's social worker about having an eye doctor see Dad. (A doctor saw him a week later and determined that his current vision Rx is as good as it's going to get.)

After Dad had lunch, I went to the "activity room" to make cookies with some women residents. Men would have been welcome; none wanted to make cookies, but some offered to eat them once they were made. The activity room looks like an extremely large kitchen/craft room. At one end is a standard refrigerator, electric range, and sink, with kitchen cabinets and countertops between them. At the other end of the room there are shelves and storage space with craft supplies. Along the side with the windows is a work table, and there's a big table in the middle of the room. This is not the kitchen used for cooking residents' meals; this is the residents' own kitchen, except that they call it "the activity room." The room is used when residents gather to cook, when they play bingo, when they play other games, when they make crafts.

That day the room was used to make "Miles Beard's Grandma's cookies." The recipe was from my dad's grandmother: Sarah Catherine Hooker, Mrs. Jesse Beard. Fountainview's activity director was there, but I played "Camp Fire leader" for the afternoon and completely enjoyed myself. We teased; we chatted; we had fun. As any Camp Fire leader would, I modified the activity when needed for each participant. One woman has Parkinson's disease; she can't use a spoon to stir, so she creamed the butter and sugar with her hands. Another woman has use of only one hand, so I'd hold the bowl when she mixed. There may have been other accommodations, but what I remember of the afternoon was the pleasure of making cookies with some nice women. A ninety-year-old lady was the best at spooning out the cookie dough, and she did it faster than I can. I divvied up the cookies among the women; each got a quart container filled with homemade sugar/butter cookies.

Supper was a sandwich, something Dad can handle with ease. Dad arrived at dinner already dressed for bed. He'd had a shower immediately before supper, and he ate supper while wearing a hospital gown and a robe, tugging at the gown sometimes to make sure that his legs were covered. He went to bed right after supper, and I sat in his room reading poetry to him and his roommate. I read until I realized both were asleep.

September 24, 2005, Saturday:

There's a Catholic Mass at Fountainview every Saturday morning in the large dining room. The priest is from St. Pius in Granger, and the musician is Fountainview's resident flutist. I stood with one of the cookie baking ladies during Mass; actually, she sat in her wheelchair, and I stood.

Dad had visitors over lunch time so I visited with a friend I'd made during the week at Fountainview. We watched the Notre Dame football game, and I gave her a manicure. Her room has shelves and drawers and baskets of the kind of stuff that most women collect: makeup, accessories, magazines, catalogues. At one point she needed to use a bedpan; she buzzed for help, and no one came. She buzzed again; no response. Then she picked up her cell phone, phoned the nurses' station in her wing and said, "This is so-and-so, in room such-and-such. I've been asking for help with the bedpan for over 30 minutes." One more change in the modern "nursing home": Some residents have cell phones, computers, and internet access, and they know how to use them!

My new friend and her roommate had looked at the menu for that evening's meal and decided to phone a local restaurant for a home delivery. One more "so much for my image of a nursing home." She said that Fountainview has its own bus that takes residents where they want to go. She goes to grocery stores, other stores, the library.

Later I learned that my dad spoke very little with his visitors. Most of the time they were there, he dropped his chin to his chest and didn't speak. He did, however, make one clear statement to one of his visitors. He told her, "Alice has a law degree now."

Later in the afternoon I returned to Dad's room and learned that his visitors had stolen his mom's photo, his grandmother's photo, and the new Bible. Dad was visibly sad about the thefts. He shrugged his shoulders, turned his hands, and said, "Well, what can you do?" There was a pause, and he added, "I don't have much longer anyway." I rubbed Dad's shoulders and promised that I'd replace what his visitors had stolen. He thanked me. ... I wanted to rush out and punch the thieving visitors. I asked my father, "Are they angry at you because I'm visiting you?" Dad answered, "It could be." ... I said, "Give me a hug, Daddy." He put his good arm around me and hugged me close as I hugged back. ... As sad as the thefts were, it was even sadder because Dad had been aware of the thefts and had felt helpless to prevent them.

I asked Dad if he'd like a peanut butter & jelly sandwich; he said yes. I went to the kitchen, made a sandwich, returned, and my dad and I split a pb&j sandwich. ... I explained to Dad that this would be my last day with him, that I had to leave and drive back to Maryland because I had to fly to Alaska. I asked him, "Is that okay?" He said, "Well, it depends on who you are, whether you're you or me."

Then Dad had supper -- a fish sandwich, coleslaw, and something that looked like yellow pudding. He needed only a little help with eating, ate all but a bit of the bun. I wiped his mouth and gave him a cookie. ... Cookies are wonderful; they have CALORIES!

He finished the cookie, and I asked if he'd like a beer. He said, "A beer would be good today." It had been a particularly stressful day for the old man. ... Dad sat in the middle of the hall, drank his beer, and talked of his days in Manilla during WWII when the Army would get beer from Italy for the troops. ... I asked, "Did they provide however much beer you wanted to drink?" ... Dad laughed and said, "Well, not ALL that you wanted!" ... Then he talked about Drewerys beer factory and how they used to give free beer at the back of Drewerys to anyone who came with a container: "You could sit there and drink as much free beer as you wanted." ... Another of the residents said, "Maybe that's why they went out of business."

Dad finished his beer; I trashed the can. He was sitting with other residents of his wing of Fountainview, and all were talking. I went to his room to get one of the framed prints I'd bought for his room. I had to put screws into the back of the frame. ... I sat on the floor in front of him and started working. ... I felt completely comfortable there, which was not how I was supposed to feel in a "nursing home." ... I took the print down the hall to show one of the "cookie ladies" and b.s.'d with her and her roommate for a while.

After Dad was tucked in for the night, I went back into his room, did some things that needed to be done before I left. I stayed till after midnight, gave Dad a cookie and water when he woke up briefly, adjusted his covers, sat with him, and kissed his forehead good-bye.

I left Fountainview feeling that my dad is in safe hands, has a good home, and is surrounded by good people. I also left trying to figure out the correct term for his home. "Nursing home" doesn't seem to fit, because nursing homes don't have dogs that run down the hall and women whom I enjoy baking cookies with and gossiping with.

Oh, the rack rate monthly tab for this is $5,690; that's $68,280 per year. In my father's case, Medicaid pays the bulk of his bill; his BallBand pension and his Social Security check pay the smaller portion of the bill.

If you visit my father, take homemade cookies, a couple of beers, or a friendly dog, and he'll be happy to see you. Don't take anything from his room because it's not nice. Mishawaka's a small town; do you really want to be known as someone who would steal from a poor, disabled, 87-year-old World War II veteran?


November 2, 2005:

The World War II veteran once again has pictures of his mother and his grandmother:

his mother: Bernice Griffith Beard his grandma: Sarah Catherine Hooker Beard

Replacing the photographs required the efforts of a niece, a sister-in-law, one son, two nurses, a nursing home administrator, Dad's physician, and a lawyer. Dad's physician stated the obvious: The photos will not harm the old man, and they might comfort him. The lawyer explained that the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 guarantees that Americans who live in Medicare- or Medicaid-certified nursing homes retain their basic rights. Two nurses heard my father say that he wanted the photos replaced, and Dad told a nursing home administrator that, YES, he wants the pictures displayed in his room.


November 28, 2005:

In February of 1944, my dad was almost 26 years old and had been in the U.S. Army for four years. Both his brothers were also serving in the U.S. military. The world was at war. Then a bit of sunshine came into his life when he became an uncle; his niece Mary Fran had become part of his life. Mary Fran did not forget her uncle just because he had moved into a nursing home. She would telephone him from Texas, and when the phone chat was particularly interesting, she would share with me. She has a good memory of Dad's childhood home, remembers his grandparents' farm, knows all of his family, knew all of the old family friends, and had heard all the "growing up" stories from her own father. She could get Dad talking about hydrangea root systems, fishing in the St. Joe River, and his "bad-boy" cousin. Her phone calls always invoked pleasant memories for Dad.

When she phoned Dad on Nov. 28, Dad was "holding court" in the central gathering spot in front of the nurses' station, drinking his evening beer. The nurse told Dad that Mary Frances was on the phone, asked if he wanted to talk with her. Dad said yes, but he didn't want to hand over his can of beer, and he had only one good hand. The nurse held the phone to Dad's ear, and Dad held onto his beer. He told Mary Fran, "They're listening to me."

His comment confused Mary Fran, so she called back after their talk to ask the nurse what he meant about someone "listening" to him. The nurse explained: People were listening to him! Dad had been sitting in the midst of a small group of residents, and he'd been talking, and people were actually listening to him! He was 87 years old, and he had found a new audience for his stories. People had stopped listening to him years before; here he was at a nursing home, and people were listening to him again.


January 3, 2006:

Mary Fran talked to Dad in the afternoon. She phoned me to say that he sounded defeated and browbeaten.


January 30, 2006:

Dad told Mary Fran, "There's an empty space at my table now." Five days earlier, one of Dad's tablemates had died. For over six months, he had eaten three meals a day sitting next to or across from a red-haired, octogenarian, retired lawyer. The gentleman had died.

Dad asked for his sister-in-law, Naomi, to visit, and he added, "Ask her to bring her dog."


February 24, 2006:

Mary Fran talked with Dad. She said it was one of the best conversations they'd had in months. He sounded good, happy, and aware. She asked him if the food was good: "Oh, yes! The food here is good."

She said, "Uncle Miles, You've got to keep eating so you can put on some weight." He said with an upbeat tone, "I'm trying."

She mentioned that he's tall and really needs to take in the calories. He said, "I was the tallest of the three. I was 6'2"; Max was 6'1", and Bruce was 6 feet." ... "The three" were him and his brothers; he may have exaggerated each by an inch!

Mary Fran asked if Alice was still sending him cookies. He said, "Yes, but she's still not using lard. Tell her to use lard."

She asked if he was being kept warm. All of his life he had felt colder than others around him. I had sent sweaters, flannel shirts, thermal undershirts, day caps, night caps, and afghans, all in an effort to keep him warm. Then Mary Fran would phone the nurses to remind them to dress him warmly. Dad told Mary Fran, "Yes, they're finally keeping me warm!"

Once more, he said that he'd like Aunt Naomi to come visit him. Mary Fran said, "She just won't drive in the winter weather, Uncle Miles." Dad said, "Yes, I know. That's how Bruce would have wanted it." Bruce was his brother who had died in 1990; Naomi is Bruce's widow. Naomi is almost 79, lives an hour away, and has health problems herself.

Mary Fran asked, "Have you seen any of the kids?" Dad's response startled her. He lowered his voice, spoke in a conspiratorial tone, and said, "Jes was here. I saw him, but he didn't see me. I went into a friend's room so he couldn't see me."

Neither Mary Fran nor I knew what to make of the comment.


March 9, 2006:

My mother, dad's wife of 56 years, was taken from her home to Mishawaka's hospital because of massive, infected pressure sores on her backside.


Saturday, March 18, 2006:

Today, when food was put into Dad's mouth, he did not swallow it.


Sunday, March 19, 2006:

Again, Dad did not eat, and he did not get out of bed. He did not speak. However, he did make eye contact once with a favorite nurse sometime after 6 p.m.

At about 10:30 p.m., I asked his favorite nurse to please go to my father's bedside and tell him that Alice had phoned, and that Alice wants him to know that she loves him. ... The nurse did so around midnight. My dad looked towards the nurse's words. The nurse said there may have been eye contact, but the nurse was not sure this time.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006:

In the morning, a message came from the nursing home that my father had rallied during the night. His night nurse seemed to think that my dad was going back to his old self.

However, at 5:30 p.m., a registered nurse reported seeing no improvement in my dad's condition. His condition was described as about the same. The nurse and I talked about my dad's beer drinking, about how he would sit in the hall after supper and drink his beer, and the nurse said, "We all like him. He's funny, and he doesn't cause any trouble."


Wednesday, March 22, 2006:

Someone saw my father at noon and reported that he was "able to move in bed, but not responding when he's spoken to. I don't think that he really even knows that anyone is in the room with him."

At my request, a visitor saw my father at 4 pm. My father was in his bed, covered by an afghan that I had sent. The woman who visited is the niece of my old high-school Latin teacher, and her uncle had been eating meals with Dad for two months. She spoke to Dad, and he turned towards her, but she said, "I couldn't say whether he truly made eye contact." An aide came into the room to clean Dad and change his bedding. The aide rubbed Dad's shoulders a bit.

At my request, someone went to my father's room shortly before 8 pm. The person did not enter the room because she heard an old, familiar voice coming from inside the room, screaming, "I KNOW THAT SHE HAS SPIES HERE!" Persumably, I was the "she" in that shout. The person doing the screaming had arrived to remove a few possessions from my father's room, as he lay dying.

Repeatedly, people were told that no information could be released about my father to anyone but the person with his power-of-attorney. Repeatedly, it was made clear that the nursing home was following the orders of the person who represented herself as having valid, durable power-of-attorney. The fact that the documents had been signed more than four years after my father was seriously brain damaged was never considered by the nursing home.


Thursday, March 23, 2006:

At my request, someone from the community saw my father at 11 o'clock this morning. My father was lying on his back, stretched out straight with his hands on his chest, paralyzed right hand curled up, left hand relaxed. His mouth was wide open. His face did NOT look "at peace." He was freshly shaved, and his hair looked trimmed. His eyes were open a tiny bit. He was thin, very thin. The visitor reported that he thought my father was asleep; more likely, it was easier for the visitor to think that my father was asleep because it saved the person from making the little speech he'd planned for explaining who he was and why he was there.

Dad was dressed in a hospital gown; the head of the bed was raised a bit, and a note was taped to the headboard: "No pillow please." The note was dated 10/25/05; Dad never liked pillows. The report from the visitor was, "Your Dad looks frail, but his respiration seemed normal and not labored." The room was described as clean, neat, and without any unusual or offensive odors. Institutional bedding was stretched over my dad, pristine and almost without a wrinkle; the afghan and quilt which my dad had had since I had sent them many months earlier had been moved away. Dad's bed was next to a window; the vertical blinds were closed, but daylight came through. There was a wrist band on Dad's right arm, the usual name band worn by all residents. There was a small, round, blue, bell sticker on the wall at the head of his bed. There was no indication of any use of an IV for my father, not even a saline drip. There was no IV present, and there was no presence of a heparin lock, a method of keeping the needle in the vein while detaching the actual tubing between "drips" or feedings.

A styrofoam cup of water sat on hospital table near my dad's bed, with a plastic straw inside the cup. Fresh flowers were on the stand at the head of his bed; I had been sending fresh flowers every week. My friend said that my father's roommate was no where to be seen.

The visitor saw my father at 11 a.m, Thursday, March 23. At 1:25 p.m, he sent me an email with his report, with five photos attached. I had neither requested nor expected the photos, but I appreciated them. Two of the photos were of my father; the other three were of the room. One photo showed the full length of Dad lying in bed; another was a close-up showing my father's face and his hands on his chest.

I studied the photos, picture by picture, detail by detail. Finally I realized what "information" was being hidden from all except the very person who had given the orders:
My father was receiving NO nutrition and NO hydration.

No IV's were used as per orders from the person who held his power of attorney.

My father died at about 7 p.m. the evening of March 23rd, in his bed at Fountainview, alone.

Please pray for the repose of his immortal soul.

Eyes slightly open; mouth wide open; eight hours before death. Right hand curled up from paralysis.
Lying ramrod straight, dying of forced dehydration. The cup of water.

Ephesians 5:11


Epilogue:

A month later I drove to Indiana, for some healing time with cousins and a dear aunt, and to thank in person the people who had cared for my father for his last fifteen months, and especially in his final days.

Even before I reached Indiana, I talked with one of Dad's nurses, a certified nursing assistant. It was the woman whom I'd heard Dad threaten to "knock down" in late September, when she had awakened him at night to change his incontinence pads. Communication has changed so much since the days of tin cans and a string! I was on the Ohio Toll Road, at a fancy rest stop. The rest stop had Wi-Fi, and I had my computer. I'd seen the woman's email address because we had some email friends in common, and I sent up a modern-day "smoke signal":

Alice [10:53 P.M.]:  You there?
CNA [10:53 P.M.]:  'here
Alice [10:53 P.M.]:  I'm sitting in a rest station on the Ohio Toll Road.
CNA [10:54 P.M.]:  are you heading this way?
Alice [10:55 P.M.]:  Yes, I'm headed to Elkhart.
CNA [10:55 P.M.]:  what's in Elkhart?
Alice [10:56 P.M.]:  My cousin lives in Elkhart. Her dad and my dad were brothers. She lost her father in 1990.
Alice [10:58 P.M.]:  Did you see my dad in his last days?
CNA [10:58 P.M.]:  yes I did but not much because I worked down the other hall.
Alice [10:59 P.M.]:  Was he conscious right to the end?
CNA [11:00 P.M.]:  Yes. I remember changing him and he was still feisty and I said there is nothing wrong with him because he has too much spunk to go now.

It was she who had reported to an R.N. in the early morning hours of March 21 that my father seemed to have too much strength to be dying.

At Fountainview, the first persons I saw and spoke with were Dad's roommate and one of his roommate's daughters. I spoke with two R.N.'s, an L.P.N., several C.N.A.'s, some aides, several residents, two social workers, an activity director, the director of the nursing home, some family members of residents. All verified what I had learned previously: My father had been in decline for about two weeks, but he was getting out of bed, dressing, eating, and getting around in his wheelchair. Then, on March 18th, the Saturday before he died, he did not eat.

One of the aides who was tasked with feeding my father said that on Saturday, March 18th, "When I put the food into his mouth, he could not swallow."

I asked, "Do you mean that he COULD not swallow, or that he WOULD not swallow?"

She seemed to think for a moment and said, "I don't know. I don't know if he could swallow or not, but he didn't swallow, and he had eaten the day before."

When she had first seen me, she came to me with tears in her eyes saying, "I'm so sorry that no one was allowed to tell you that your father was dying."

An R.N. and an aide commented on how fast my father had gone at the end. One said that she'd had the weekend off and returned on Monday to the news, "Miles is dying." She said that when she left Fountainview on Friday, she would not have guessed that he would be dead within the week. "He was still up and getting around."

I retrieved the two framed photos that had been the subject of my dad's last stand: the photos of his mother and his grandmother. I had to admire my father for having had the guts to speak up and say specifically that, YES, he wanted those two photos in his room, and, YES, he knew who they were.

One aide told me that she liked my dad and that the two had a running joke. The woman would buy lottery tickets. One day she asked my father what number she should bet on. He gave her a four-digit number. She won $100 betting on the number, and she then told Dad that she had won. After that, when Dad saw her, he would tell her to be sure to bet on that same number.

I saw the resident who was always reading, a woman whom my father had befriended. I hugged her and thanked her for being my father's friend. She teared up and said, "He was a nice man." She and my dad had shared birthday cake with me on my 55th birthday.

The activity director saw me and said she had something for me. She gave me two photos of my dad, probably the last two photos taken of him before the photos that were taken eight hours before he died:

I cried when I saw the photos, hugged the woman, and thanked her. One photo was taken December 31, 2005, on New Year's Eve. There was a party at Fountainview for the residents. The photo shows my father wearing a "Happy New Year" hat and eating something. The other photo was taken in mid-January 2006. Dad was in the activity room with some other residents, planting paperwhite narcissus bulbs in pots. I'd sent planting pots, bags of potting soil, and paperwhite bulbs, enough for seven residents to have an afternoon of bulb planting. I had sent them to the activity director with the request that she encourage my father to join in the activity. When I was a little girl, my father created planting activities specifically for me. I wanted to return the favor.

The activity director said that my dad took great care in arranging the bulbs. When you plant paperwhites in a pot, you plant the bulbs with the "noses" even or slightly below the rim of the pot; in other words, you bury the bulb or "body" but expose the pointy tip or "nose," and the "noses" should be arranged just so. The photo shows that my dad had arranged his paperwhite bulbs perfectly. The pots of paperwhite bulbs were arranged in a sunny window in the activity room; they bloomed nicely and were enjoyed by my father and by other residents.

There were four large boxes of clothes that I'd sent to Dad, all embroidered with his name. Someone loaded them into my car. For the rest of the week Auntie, Cousin, and I had a "reverse sewing circle": We used our little scissors and tweezers to remove the embroidery. I returned the clothing to Fountainview for some other old man; it's what my dad would have wanted done; it's what his mother and his grandmother would have wanted done.

One evening my aunt and some cousins joined me at Dad's grave site. We left some flowers; I read from one cousin's Bible, and we said a prayer. Then I gave each woman a can of beer and explained, "Many years ago, my dad had me promise to give a beer to everyone who came to his funeral. I'm fulfilling that promise as well as I can." We all popped the cans open. One took a sip and said, "Here's to you, Uncle Miles," and we poured the beer over Daddy's grave:

We went to a nearby restaurant and broke bread together. These were the women who had visited my father to the end. One had cared for my dad after his massive stroke in '99, coming to Dad's house to help him shower. How does one say "thank you" for such kindnesses?

My aunt told a comforting family story during our "reverse sewing circle" time. She told of my dad's grandmother (Sarah Catherine Hooker, Mrs. Jesse Beard) beginning a quilt in about 1950. By then, my dad's Grandma Beard was 79, the current age of my aunt. Dad's grandma was hunting for a project, something useful to keep her hands busy. My dad's mother found fabric that she had first used decades earlier when Dad and his two brothers were children; Dad's mother had made shirts for her three boys when they were young, and she had yards of fabric left over from those old sewing projects. She offered the fabric to her mother-in-law. Dad's grandma cut pieces for a pieced-work quilt; she got the pieces cut and most of the pieces put together before she put the project away. She died when she was 80 years and five months old.

Three years after she died, Dad's mother died. When his mother's house was cleared out, someone sent the quilt project in my aunt's direction. Over the decades, at different times, my aunt has worked on the quilt that first began with my grandmother making shirts for her three boys born in 1918, 1920, and 1921. Now the quilt is almost done. My aunt plans to give the quilt to her granddaughter and explain to the young girl the story of how the quilt was put together over the decades, and over the generations.

Life goes on.


In God's Hands

Sometimes, the Lord calms the storm;
Sometimes, He lets the storm rage and calms His child.


Dr. Robert D. Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) describes psychopaths as
"predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence
to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs.
Lacking in conscience and in feelings for others,
they cold-bloodedly take what they want and do as they please,
violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret."

Only Dr. Robert D. Hare could understand the actions
of the person who caused my father to die of forced dehydration.


memorial marker, provided by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Memorial marker provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.



Letters home
by Alice Marie Beard

|the devaluing of human life|
|breakfast with a cop who went to the Supreme Court|
|
a visit with Justice Thomas| |remembering a teacher|
|
an abandoned kitten| |guns in the desert|
|
London & Paris| |a kiss goodbye|

~swtutws~

the chapters of
Alice's place:

|dead people stories| |live people stories|
|
law| |ONE HELL| |Camp Fire|
|
child sexual abuse|

~swtutws~

~swtutws~

Alice Marie Beard