Visiting my parents this time made me so sick I threw up. For the record, I’m not a puker. As a comfort eater, throwing up is basically my psyche informing me the safe place is reversing on itself and exploding.
“The atmosphere is so different in your house now, I get the bends,” I told Mom the next day.
We were sitting outside an ice skating rink in Sacramento, my coastal Californian kids going wild for cold and mittens and slipping around in a big, melting circle. Dad, home with a fellow who’d been hired to take down the Christmas tree and wash the windows, but also trained to keep my dad soothed while Mom was gone.*
“I feel like that even when I’m gone for the afternoon,” Mom agreed, super interested to talk about this phenomenon. This is her world, where we bond over how unreal her life has become. Stress is no longer only in her head and heart. I see it in her skin.
Dad’s thing right now is the plurality of Moms. “There’s 50 (Mom)s running around!” he says. (Or seems to say with hand gestures and vocal intonations. But he was clear about it being 50, which is a helluva lot of wives running around their house.) His eye rolls convey annoyance, a camaraderie that I should understand his predicament, surrounded by all these Moms in their different ages and hairstyles and emotional content.** He points to empty places in the room, saying Mom’s name at each point. “You know what they should do? Tell me last names!”
Mom says you’re not supposed to accept or deny the hallucinations, just say something non-committal and change the subject.
As I’m focusing on trying to stay connected to Dad on an emotional level but totally shine him on in an intellectual way, it hits me how I keep expecting Dad to one day be Not Dad, to be a shell that I can let go of. It’s here I realize that’s never going to happen. Or maybe I am realizing it, over and over, like tremors, until this unpleasant theory breaks into shards of painful fact.
His actual sentences are, “And then… you… that’s… their names. Yes!” I’ve forgotten the proper term, but his face is now mostly expressionless and mask-like. He follows Mom everywhere, constantly bitching about how she tries to control his life, and then visibly swallowing his anger to ask her how to work the TV remote, how to turn on the radio, to help him do something mumbled under his breath, inaudible.
And yet, in every subtle cue, he is still Dad. Still looks like Dad, smells like him, still hugs me the same way even as he doesn’t seem to know for sure who I am. An irritated wave of the hand completes the sentence, an abrupt and clumsy twist of the waist conveys the rest: I got away from that wife! She pissed me off, and I got out of there! Ha!
This is on my mind because I know the only way I’ll convince Mom to let Dad go into a nursing home is to tell her with the conviction of truth that Real Dad would never want her to live like this. He would be so pissed off if he knew we were doing this! But this is still somehow Real Dad in front of us, violating one of Dad’s top tenets: When I get useless, put me on the ice floe!
Can I look at Dad and say to his face, “You belong in a home. You are not really my father anymore”?
Nope. I mean, I can say it all day behind his back, and in my nightmares, and to my sisters and husband, and on this blog. But not to his face. And so, lacking the courage of my convictions, I can’t really expect my mom to to put him in a home either.
Anyway, I’m thinking all this bullshit, nodding at Dad as he talks about the possibility the multiple women with the same name as his wife might be hallucinations, when Mom says, “They don’t need to hear about that!” in a stern tone.
Dad rolls his eyes, talks right over her. Mom deflates, scrubs the kitchen counters furiously. Dad’s still talking in 1/3 sentences with gestures, and the truth is, he could be talking about anything, there are so many holes in the story.
But I kind of get he’s talking about having sex with one of the hallucinations. The first grin I’ve seen him make since we’ve been here, and for a the heartbeat of a reflex, I can’t suppress the horror on my face.
Dad’s face falls, and he goes quiet, studies his hands. As if, despite losing his mind, the grey matter assessing social embarrassment still winks on, brightly adept. I think maybe Mom is crying a little as she scrubs. I’m an adult. He can’t help it, and my real dad would never in a million years do this. It’s like Mom said – don’t accept or deny the hallucinations.
So I say something non-committal and change the subject.
*With mom’s stable of double agents, I sometimes think of Dad as the 007 of dementia.
** Mom’s pretty sure they are all memories of her at different stages in their lives. I’ve blanked on the name of this type of hallucination/delusion, and can’t seem to google-conjure it. The symptoms are: Dad believes there are other Moms he needs to find (they are lost and need assistance) AND that (real)Mom is jealous of the other women, so she cannot be trusted when she says they don’t exist. But! Mom was able to read Dad a research paper on this type of delusion, and because it came from a third party, Dad was able to accept the other Moms might be hallucinations. He talked about that too, and it was really weird to see him attempt problem solving:
Dad: “I thought she was real. She said X (some conversation, I forget what). So we’ll see if she turns up today.”
Mom: “I said X to you last night.”
Dad: *Conspiratorial eye roll to me and my husband.* *To Mom* “We’ll see about that!”