Well. Summer’s over. I mean it isn’t really over, it’s not yet Labor Day. Outside it’s as steamy as a Turkish Bath and even the dogs are having dog days this August. They are sleeping, listless in the heat and without the energy to bark.
But I’m home. I’ve left our summer cottage, driven back down south with reams of clothes and papers and food in freezer bags with melting ice. I’m home and I’m grumpy and a little bit snitty. Did I accomplish what I wanted to this summer? I had lofty dreams about getting lots of writing done in the three hour stretch my kids were at camp, or the early mornings when i could sit by my computer with a ghetto latte (lots of microwaved milk not frothed and a tiny bit of java.)
But I did. I accomplished so much that I wanted to. I hiked, I watched movies with my kids, I answered far too many emails and flirted with facebook, only to be driven back by the volumes of messages I didn’ t feel like answering. We finished that jigsaw puzzle of previous blog fame and we swam and laughed and cooked and ate. But I didn’t write. Not much anyway.
Every time I sat down to tackle something on my list, there was some kind of interruption. And many of those interruptions were from my parents, most specifically my Dad. I’d settle in front of the computer and through the screen door, cheery as a bluebird, I would hear his voice call out to me “Helloooooooooo.”
For just a moment, a part of my heart would sink. “I have three precious hours,” the Type A part of my brain would scream. And then the dutiful daughter part of me would muzzle it, put a pillow over those thoughts and push down. And then they would stop. I would stop. “No regrets,” I would tell myself. “No regrets.”
As the summer progressed, my father and I fell into a regular morning ritual of coffee and chatting as he made me the half-way stop on his daily walk down to the general store to be fussed over by the ladies at the coffee counter. Each morning was the same. Ground Hog Day. He’d stomp up the steps, come in, announce how winded he was from walking up the hill and then sit. In the same tone I use with my children I’d chide him for not drinking enough water, put a full glass in front of him and tell him to rest, maybe pull off his sweater as the day heated up.
We’d sit and talk about the same things, the weather, when I was leaving, when my husband was coming, where the girls were. I’d feel myself unwind, relax, the tension would leave my shoulders. This was my Dad. He has dementia which means that every week or month or so we can almost feel the little pieces of him slipping away, breaking off. Dementa is a slippery eel. Some days he is more present and with it. Other days he will have a hard time getting a sentence out. He can often form the words, I think he knows them in his head, but they come out wrong or jumbled. He hesitates a lot more now, more even than last month, unsure of what will come out. In those moments I see the mask slip, the casual jaunty smile he wears and has always worn, of confidence. Underneath the mask I see terror, pure, clean fear at what is happening and what the future holds.
I am powerless. I’m powerless to do anything as he asks me the same questions over and over in the span of 15 minutes. I can listen and answer patiently and pour him some more coffee and smile at him in that loving way daughters smile at their Dads. This much I can do.
And as my mind flicks to all the things I need to get done, the dentist appointment to rechedule for my daughter, the school forms so Cathryn can play pre-season soccer, the college shopping list I need to put together for my son and the writing, always the writing, in the back of my mind, I force myself to relax.
“This is what summer is for,” I tell myself. “It may be his last summer here and these moments, this time in the kitchen, these are the things that really count. You don’t want to have any regrets. You want to feel secure that you spent the last good years letting him know he was safe, loved, cared for, before he slips away.” It’s the very least my sisters and I can do. It’s the legacy of love.
And so here I am. Summer is over. l’ll be planning a trip to see both my parents soon in their independent living facility a state away. But those visits aren’t the same as summer. Summer is the warmth of the dock, a cold plunge in the lake, delighted screams from the raft and all of our family around. Summer is freedom, roaming, his daily walk, the sunshine and the smell of pine and moon, of the July rains and my Dad’s once carefully tended geraniums. The other months of the year, lived out in their small apartment, make life seem diminished, circumscribed. There are smells of new carpet and industrial cooking in the building. It is a place to live, not a home. It is not summer.
I am home now, buried under a mountain of things to do. But I have no regrets. No regrets.