Tag Archives: aging parents

I’m Just Not Ready to Let You Go

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“Oh, yes,” my mother moaned, exasperated. “Just take me. Please, just let me go. Take me now.”

She’d consumed several Tylenol Migraine pills to quell yet another relentless headache that prevented her from sleeping, and my father had admonished her.

“You’re going to overdose and die!” he said matter-of-factly, as if he was a cardiologist talking to an obese man who’d just had open-heart surgery and still refused to give up beer and hamburgers.

“That’s fine,” my mother replied, equally blunt. “I’ve had enough.”

My dog, Wolfgang, looked at all of us, as we stood in my parents’ bedroom in the pre-dawn hours of some nondescript weekday. He finally sauntered back into my room and curled up with his towel. He’d always had a fetish for towels.

In the spring of 2005, I’d lived and worked in Oklahoma; laboring on a special project for the engineering company where I worked at the time. Wolfgang had stayed with my parents throughout most of that period, except for the month of May when I decided to bring him with me. Instead of flying into Tulsa and renting a car to drive to the work site, as we’d normally done, I’d rented a vehicle in suburban Dallas and drove up to Northeastern Oklahoma on a Sunday night. I just didn’t want to put him on a plane for a 30-minute flight just to end up in a car for an hour anyway.

One evening, as I sat at the desk in the room, scouring over my laptop, I noticed Wolfgang strolling out of the bathroom – a damp, dirty hotel towel in his mouth. I had a small pile of towels beneath the sink. I didn’t allow housekeeping into the room, unless I was there. I didn’t want to take the chance that Wolfgang would dart from the room in a frenzy and somehow make it out of the hotel into highly unfamiliar territory. I’d grown too attached to him by then; only two years after I’d taken custody of him from a troubled ex-roommate.

A few minutes later I looked again at him and was startled to see all of those damp towels stacked in front of the closet. He’d literally hauled every one of them out of the bathroom and then plopped down in front of the stack. I chuckled. Dogs do the funniest things sometimes; things only they fully comprehend and amuse we befuddled humans.

He was almost three back then. Now, he was eleven and just didn’t want to be bothered by the drama we bipedals have the tendency to create. I turned back to my parents. My father merely stared at the lamp on a nightstand, while mother rubbed her forehead; more out of frustration, I suspected, than pain.

I massaged my forehead, too. At their age, they were enduring – sometimes just tolerating – the physical quandaries of a long life. My mother with her headaches; my father with his acid reflux. On nights – mornings – like this, they sometimes openly wished they’d just die. They were tired; they’d had enough. I heard Wolfgang sigh.

There’s a price to pay for living so many years. You get to experience a number of different things. Hopefully, most are good, but for certain, many are bad. Regardless, at some point during that time, you fall in love; you laugh; you dream; you enjoy good food and beverages; you dance; you ogle at sunsets and sunrises; you may have children; you might have a pet; you become sad; you get angry; you work; you get sick; you drive a vehicle; you fall and break something; you meet all sorts of people; and you die. You can’t possibly live as long as my parents have and not go through a few bumps and bruises. You don’t even live to be my age – 50 – and experience some of that.

Last summer Wolfgang fell mysteriously ill. I was recuperating from a freak accident here at the house in which I’d severely damaged my right arm and hand. For some reason, amidst my frustrating recovery and exhaustive job searches, Wolfgang became incredibly lethargic; he’d yelp if he barked. Even the slightest growl seemed to hurt him. Then, he began urinating spontaneously, as if he’d grown so old he couldn’t control his bladder. My priorities shifted – and I thought back eleven years.

In August of 2002, my then-roommate Tom* had to put his miniature schnauzer, Zach, to sleep. In the few days preceding his demise, Zach began throwing up and urinating uncontrollably. His body shrunk so much we could see his ribs. It turned out he had a kidney infection. If Tom had gotten Zach to a vet in time, he probably could have saved him. Shortly after Zach’s death, Tom got a new puppy; the one I’d adopt when we parted ways in January 2003 and would rename Wolfgang. Zach had been 11 when he died, and I wondered last summer if Wolfgang was facing his mortality. His vet diagnosed a mild intestinal infection; an ailment a couple of shots resolved. But, it was a frightening week – for all of us. I caressed Wolfgang’s downy ears one night and whispered, “You can’t leave me now. I’m not ready to let you go.” And, I wasn’t and I’m still not.

My father sat near his computer one evening last fall, after doctors had confirmed that his acid reflux was more critical than anyone had realized. His gastroenterologist had referred him to a colleague who – unbeknownst to her – wasn’t accepting new patients. He referred my father to a younger colleague; a doctor who, although pleasant and affable, looked like he’d just graduated from high school. My father said bluntly on this one particular evening that he was waiting for his parents to come get him.

“No,” I said, “not now. I’m not ready for that.”

My father and I want to write a book about our family history. On his mother’s side, we are descendants of Queen Isabella of Spain, the woman who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage westward across the Atlantic. On his father’s side, we are descendants of Spanish noblemen who first arrived in what is now South Texas in 1585. My father began doing genealogical research in 1990 as a hobby; a way to spend the free time he’d encountered while working part-time at a printing shop. He’d been a full-time employee since before I was born. Then, in 1989, the company owner laid off him and a few others; only to rehire them as contract employees. The genealogy metamorphosed from a quaint past time to a heartfelt passion. The book I want to write with him would be a true labor of love. I couldn’t do it alone.

“I talk to Margo sometimes,” my mother revealed one day. Her older sister died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 59. “I talk to her when I’m ironing, or doing the dishes, or folding towels.”

That, I realized, provided her with a sense of normalcy. Like my father, my mother has never lived alone. She’s always been with someone. She came from a time when women got married young and had a family. Career women were alien creatures; unmarried women without children were subhuman. When I was born, my father didn’t want her to return to work – ever. But, she did – and retired at the age of 70.

I get so frustrated with everything here – bouncing back and forth between my parents’ all-consuming ailments, my unpaid student loans, recycled resumes – that I want to grab Wolfgang and everything I could pack into my truck and just go. Leave. Run away. Far away. Some place no one knows me. And, start all over.

I can’t. I just can’t. It’s not a question of fortitude or finances. It’s a matter of love and commitment. I can’t forsake the people who brought me into this world.

“I think I’m going to die in this house,” I told a close friend over lunch at a favorite restaurant.

“What’s wrong with that?” he replied, looking at me as if though I dreaded such a day.

“Nothing! I’m just saying I think I’ll die in that house – alone.”

Hopefully, alone – meaning no dogs will be trapped in here with me. I never got married and had children and I’ve never had any long-term relationships. But, I see a future as a secluded writer with dogs rescued from shelters.

Wolfgang will be 12 in a couple of weeks, and my parents bide their time; my mother doing crossword puzzles, and my father digging through ancient church documents. Sometime, I’ll have to let them all go.

But, not just yet.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

*Name changed.

© 2014

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Me and the Kids

I noted in my ‘About’ page that I’m a single father of a miniature schnauzer named Wolfgang.  But, I’m also the single father of two older children who are actually blood relatives.  Their names are Guadalupe and George – but I just call them Mom and Dad.  Keeping track of all three can be challenging.  But, I’m happy to say that when it comes to understanding what’s expected of proper behavior, Wolfgang has no equal.  Although he’s independent-minded and sometimes stubborn, he’s highly intelligent and obedient.  I have few problems with him.

Mom and Dad, on the other hand, cause too much trouble sometimes; too much for their own good.  Both are nearing 80 and long since retired.  What’s supposed to be their golden years has turned out to be more like a silver bullet – fast, brazen and wreaking all sorts of havoc.  I dread the day, for example, that I have to snatch the car keys from father.  Like most old men – like most men actually – that car is an extension of himself; a vessel of his independence.

Yesterday, Memorial Day, my dad decided he wanted some particular ice cream from a Braum’s and convinced my mom to ride along with him.  It was just a short drive down the busy thoroughfare out of our neighborhood.  They wouldn’t be long.  Summer is upon us here in Texas, so ice cream is just a small pleasure.

I returned to my desk and preoccupied myself with the usual tasks – writing, laundry and job searches.  I’m rarely idle.  My mind won’t allow it.  After a short while, Wolfgang became agitated.  I asked if he wanted to go outside.  He’d start for the door, but once in the sun room (which my folks converted from a lattice patio in the late 1980’s), he’d turn towards the garage – and look at me, frustrated.  “They’ll be back,” I assured him.  I was busy.

Some more time passed before I realized Mom and Dad were taking too much time for a brief jaunt down the street.  Perhaps, I thought, they’d decided to run another errand, or remain at Braum’s to eat something.  Then, the phone rang.

“I can’t get the car to shift into drive!” my dad shouted from their cell phone.

“What do you mean you can’t get it to shift?” I asked, becoming fearful.

My dad repeated himself and asked for me to come get my mother.  He’d just called AAA.  Wolfgang looked at me with an ‘I told you so’ expression.  “Don’t start!” I said.  I convinced him to jump in the truck with me and took off, waving to an elderly neighbor mowing his lawn as we passed by.

I was almost panicked.  The temperature in the Dallas area had reached 90 by that time of day, and my mother has always been heat sensitive.  My father has also grown sensitive to the heat in his old age, although he won’t admit it.  Old men!

I raced to the store where I thought they were stranded, blowing a Porsche and another Dodge Ram off the road.  Wolfgang kept looking at me; his big mocha brown eyes bearing a sarcastic glint.  ‘Didn’t believe me, huh?!  Huh?!  Didn’t believe me when I told you something was wrong, huh?!  Thought I was just being a brat, right?!  Come on, Daddy – admit it!’  “Shut up.”

I got to the store – and through vision blurred with pollens and pollution in a fast-approaching heat wave – I thought I spotted my father’s silver car.  There were several people standing around it.  Good, I thought, concerned citizens had come to their rescue.  God bless, my fellow Texans!  They keep putting Rick Perry in office, but they can’t be all bad.  Yet, as I entered the parking lot, a woman standing outside the car didn’t bear any resemblance to my mother.  My mom is thin, but this chick was super-model scrawny – kind of like borderline starvation.  That wasn’t my parents’ car.  That group of people didn’t notice me staring hard at them, as they piled into their vehicle.  Okay, I thought, they must be on the opposite side of the store.  I drove around – and around – and around.  Okay, I reassured myself, my dad probably got it going, and they’ve headed home.

I raced back to the house, almost forcing a Ford Ranger and a Cadillac off the road.  I don’t like Fords, and Cadillacs don’t look as good as in years past.  Wolfgang glared at me.  ‘Humph!’  “They probably went back home,” I told him.  ‘Mm-hm.’  I fumbled for my cell phone and dialed their number.  I hate people who talk on their damn cell phones while driving, but this, of course, was reaching the emergency stage.  ‘You’re telling me!’  “Shut up!”

They didn’t answer.  Oh God!  I had to calm myself down.  At their age, my folks aren’t necessarily tech savvy.  Their cell phone dates to 2002, and they think Facebook is a waste of time.  My cell phone dates to 2010, and I don’t think much of Facebook either.  But, I’ll tell you about all that later.  I suddenly arrived at a railroad crossing – with a train going by!  “On Memorial Day?!”  I kept trying to call my parents.  “Where are you?!”  Surely, they’ve headed home by now.  That’s what it is.  My dad figured out what the hell was wrong with the gear shift and they just took off.  Yea, that’s it.  ‘Humph!’

We made it back to the house – empty.  I panicked for a second and thought to call 911 and ask for a “Silver Alert.”  Look for a couple of old folks in a gray car with some ice cream and an outdated cell phone.  Texas takes its senior citizens seriously.  They’re the only ones who willingly vote and pay taxes.

I tried calling their cell phone from the home phone.  Still no answer.

Then, I heard a beeping sound, as if someone was trying to make an outbound call.  “Hello!  Hello!”

“Hello,” my mother shot back.

“Where are you?!”  I had gone to the wrong Braum’s.  They were at another one that they’ve visited frequently before, but where I’ve never been.  “That’s what they get for going to get ice cream,” I told Wolfgang.

‘Humph.’  He didn’t want to go with me, even though I offered him a treat.  ‘I’ll take the treat.  You can go by yourself this time.’

Fine, I said, tossing a treat into his small, but grizzly bear powerful jaws.  I raced down the heavily-traveled boulevard to the right Braum’s, only slightly concerned about the local police who I view with the same incredulity as politicians.  I came up behind a white van stopped at a green light.  “Move, you idiot!” I hollered into the windshield, as I leaned on my horn.  One of these days, someone’s going to hear me shout at them and get very upset.

My folks were in their car, right out front.  The motor and air were running.  “Let me see!  Let me see!” I told my dad, as I grappled for the gear shift.  Yes, it was stuck.

My mother stepped out of the car with the bag of ice cream – Braum’s is the only store I know that still uses brown paper bags – and climbed up the several feet into my truck.  “Ay, Chihuahua!” she groused, which she always did when she hoisted herself into my truck.

Just then, AAA showed up.  Thank God!  I decided to wait, as the man got into the driver’s seat of my dad’s car.  He grabbed the gear and managed to shift it from park into reverse.  He amazingly discovered the problem: my dad had forgotten to step on the brake.

“Dad, that’s Driving 101!”

“Ay, Chihuahua!” my mother exclaimed when I got back into my truck.  I decided to follow my dad back home.  Closely.  Like the Secret Service.  Ready to pounce at any interloper who’d dared tried to grab that gear shift.

Step on the brake; step on the brake!  That’s the only way you can shift gears – these days.  My dad must have been doing that instinctively and somehow forgotten for that moment.

That one terrifying, frightening moment.  Wolfgang didn’t look at me funny anymore.

My parents had a tough time conceiving me.  My mother wasn’t supposed to have a baby; she was too tiny, not good birthing weight.  She was half-German and half-Mexican, but still didn’t come out with big hips.  She almost lost me twice – at 7 and 9 months – and spent 14 hours in labor.  When the ancient pediatrician finally showed up at the hospital the night before I was born, my dad lashed out at him.

“What’s the matter?” the doctor replied.  “You got a date planned?”

My father grabbed him by his 1963 Neiman Marcus suit and slammed him against the wall.  “Listen, you old bastard!  My wife is in pain!”

They never had another kid, and I sort of resented that.  Being an only child really isn’t that fun.  That’s one reason my parents bought a German shepherd when I was 9.  We had just moved into this suburban house, and they’d promised me a dog.  I’ve come to like dogs better than people anyway.  Dogs don’t have attitudes.  My parents worked long hours – my dad in printing, my mom in insurance – to pay for that house and me and my education and the various accoutrements that come with all of that.  They were raised speaking Spanish, yet raised me speaking English – much to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother, but to the pleasure of my paternal grandfather.  They put up with a lot in their youth, when Hispanics weren’t often seen outside of farms and factories.  As a half-German / half-Mexican, my mother had it especially difficult.  And, they put up with a lot in their working years; dealing with paltry raises and company politics.

My mother got mad when Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment.  “Sexual harassment!” she screamed.  “That stupid bitch doesn’t know what sexual harassment is!  A married man invites a woman up to his hotel room at night and says she’s there for a job interview?  That’s not harassment; that’s being a slut!”  Damn!  Women can get vicious with one another.  My mother spent her working life on the phone and pays for it with headaches.

My father stood on his feet his entire working life; on concrete floors in thin-soled shoes.  And, his knees and feet are paying the price for it all these years later.  He worked for an old Jewish man who was filthy rich and gave out Christmas bonuses to his employees.  He closed his company in the early 1990’s and outsourced most of the work; my dad was forced into early retirement.

Between them, my folks put in nearly a century’s worth of labor and taxes.  Several years ago I was at a party, when someone asked me why I devoted so much time and energy to my parents.  She was one of those bleeding heart liberal types who – as a Caucasian – felt obligated to make up for the past evils of her European forebears and dig water wells in Africa for the Peace Corps.  She’d marched in protests against the death penalty and supported illegal immigrants’ right to work and use our state services.  She thought the U.S. war in Afghanistan was immoral, but felt Israel has every right to bomb the crap out of Palestinian neighborhoods.  Why, she asked me, do I feel the need to look out for my parents?  “Isn’t there anybody else in the neighborhood who can do that?”

With a ‘Fuck you, dumb bitch’ poised at the tip of my tongue, I gave her a resounding, “No!”  That’s my obligation; not the neighbors.  “While you’re digging water wells for people who are too stupid to dig for themselves,” I told her, “I’m taking care of the people who brought me into this world and gave me everything they could.”

“I’m going to sentence both of you to home confinement and place ankle monitoring devices on you!” I told them, once back at the house.  I turned to Wolfgang again – my adopted child and perennial therapist – and sighed.  “Why can’t everyone be as responsible as you?”

‘Because everybody wants too damn much!’

Like ice cream.  Okay, so what?  Ice cream is well-deserved after a century’s worth of work.  Ice cream and a dog with no attitude.

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