I was at my aunt’s table last week, looking over my father’s discharge papers from the hospital. He had suffered a stroke a few days prior, while we were all at his family’s reunion. He didn’t come, of course, because he was in the hospital. I had a sense that he wasn’t going to come to the reunion, an apprehension that I couldn’t quite explain. I didn’t know it was going to be a stroke.
It took a few days for me and my brother Mark to get by my aunt’s. I had to return home with Dawn and Bryce and after being away for a week, be at the office for at least a day, long enough to begin feeling overwhelmed by all that I was leaving undone.
We sat at the table, looking at him, inspecting him. We talked and listened. I had read the physician’s notes to a chaplain mentor friend over the phone the night before. I think we were in the mode of getting things done by the time my aunt brought another stack of papers. In that stack was a folder, brightly colored with faces of elderly people. It was a resource packet on dementia. She told us a few weeks before that he had been diagnosed earlier this year. I flipped the pages, scanning the headers, not really reading at all.
I looked at the people on the cover of the folder and thought back to my father’s face. I looked over to him. He was sitting in a large chair, seeing what I wondered. His vision, memory, and cognition were impacted in a dozen ways from the stroke. His face had that strange openness that I had seen before on him, back when it was simply my dad’s way of settling. He isn’t a hurried man. He is cool, collected, almost distant. So watching him, after the stroke, I wasn’t surprised that he was somewhere else, detached from the moment with its anxiety, even while the anxiety stemmed from concern for him, his body’s constitution, and the next doctor’s appointment.
My dad was somewhere else. Perhaps he was taking refuge in his own thoughts. Perhaps he was between gratitude that we cared and irritation that we intended to be so convincing.
And I looked down at the pictures of those smiling old folks. Their faces didn’t look like my dad’s. There were individuals and couples. A family sat together, if memory serves me. They all wore smiles. I didn’t see hints of broken brains and torn memories in their eyes. I didn’t see the early signs which were discussed on the back side of all those happy people. There were no true images of fragility there. I had to glance up to see them. I had to look at my father for that.