Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Wind Beneath My Wings

I have never cared one whit about football. Watched the Super Bowl for the commercials, barely knew who was playing.

Having married into a blisteringly enthusiastic Steelers clan, I will jump and holler and root on the Steelers. Because if I don't, I will get no wings. I can show a little vim and vigor for wings. I follow the chicken. Spicy, enticing chicken.

Call me a sell-out. I'll be the one over here with 15 napkins.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three Pals

I love this picture. Another one, compliments of my sister and her snowy yard.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


My family has been sending me their snow photos all day.
And their stories of snow, ice, school closings, slick highways, and all those other midwest weather treats. I've felt guilty for being in the desert, wishing I could zap them all here.

But this picture made me laugh. Something about my sister's attitude translating into the ruler she jammed into the snow.

If I phoned her and said something pukey like "Well WE got nothing but SUNSHINE here today" she would slither through the phone line and chew my face off like a mongoose.

Monday, January 26, 2009

When Your Brain Spins its Rolodex

Scott and I were watching a show a couple nights ago about how to survive disasters. A psychologist explained that if you look out the window of the jet you're on and see the engine on fire, your brain immediately goes back through all your memories, all your stored information, and tries to find a matching reference. (Hmmm, where did I put that file about the shit hitting the fan?...)

When your brain finds no reference and therefore cannot find an appropriate response to the present situation, it goes down one of two roads: panic or productive thought. You can probably guess which one is more helpful.

Of course you may be thinking "If the engine of my plane is a fury of blazing fire, and we're hurtling toward earth, what difference does it make if I panic or stay calm? I'm toast either way."

Apparently it does make a difference. If you, for example, spend that horrifying rapid descent toward earth focusing on how many seats are between you and the emergency exit, you'll have a better chance of saving your own life (if it's still intact) after impact. This way, when the cabin fills with black smoke and you're instantly blinded and struggling for breath, you can feel your way past the 7 rows to the exit, and push the panicked guy out of the way to open the emergency door yourself. You can reject panic and fight for your survival.

During the many hours I spent with my dad in the nursing home in Indiana, the emotional impact was staggering. But since I've come home and have a little distance, I realize how many times my own brain was fluttering through its files, trying to find something to draw upon.

I've seen documentaries about elderly family members with dementia, one in which a daughter is saying, in a loud voice for her hearing impaired father, "NO. I'm not your wife. I'm your DAUGHTER." I remember thinking how devastating it would be, to no longer be "known" by your parent. How could anyone bear that? Seeing their dad so lost.

Dad still knows me, sometimes. It was less solid on this last trip. And when he asked me, several times, "Are you my sister?" and "Am I your older brother?" and "Are you my mother?" it was not so much devastating as it was other things.

First, there was the brain-search.

I don't think he's ever thought I was his sister. Where did this come from? I know Aunt Frances used to say that I look like his little sister, who died when she was 12.

There was the shock.

How did we get to this place? How can it be that I'm middle-aged, and my dad is in a nursing home? Where did life go? How can we get through this?

The shock kept coming. I felt like a cliche. Like one of those people on the local news whose house has just been flattened by a tornado. They say "You never think this can happen to you."

The uncharted territory made it so hard to soak in the reality, that my emotions would turn off and on abruptly.

When I got back to Phoenix, I'd be doing something mundane like the dishes, and would suddenly go hold onto Scott and say, stunned, "My dad is in a nursing home." Like I'd just found out.

And when I think about what my mom is dealing with, the way her brain is scrambling to find some context, driving home exhausted to a silent house, that's when I'm back on the plane, trying to keep track of the number of rows to the exit. I keep losing count.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Delicious Writing

At the end of last semester, I got some exquisitely bad research papers. The following quotes came from a paper arguing in favor of gay marriage.

"Being gay isn't something you tell your family and friends and angles float down from the heavens and start strumming their harps!"

(In a deeper spiritual experience, one can sometimes experience a visitation from a trapezoid or a rhombus.)

"If society would really sit down and think about it, why would someone choose to be gay?"

Sitting down and thinking about things changes everything. Especially if an entire society sits down. Does a society have a lap?

"Society shuns upon the fact of marriage because they are just looking at the physical altercations behind it instead of realizing that along with marriage comes many other benefits that would be impossible to obtain otherwise."

If you gays out there would stop punching each other out, society would stop shunning you. After they stand up, that is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trying to Return to Normal Life

I finally had to come home from Indiana. I changed my flight and stayed longer, but eventually was forced to come back to Phoenix to start my semester. I was so glad to see Scott I could barely think.

My mom is still having a very tough time. She can't stand having Dad in the nursing home. He asks her every evening (over and over and over and over) "Are you staying here with me tonight?" It is brutal for her to have to go home without him. She keeps her remote control close to her, where he used to sleep, so she can turn on the TV during the night when the loneliness is at its worst.

Dad is being well taken care of, and in a rotten situation there is much to be thankful for. Still, the rottenness is vividly apparent.

Until I go back to Indiana yet again, I'm trying to spend as much time as possible with Scott, and to focus on my classes. The teaching routine might be helpful. There might be a few exceptional students who impress me. I read their student information sheets last night. One student I'm pretty certain will not impress me answered the following question with the following answer:

Name three of the best books you've ever read.

"Haha your funny."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Small Victory the Size of a Tsunami

Dad was back to "normal" today. No mention of wanting to go home, no interrogation about why he was "in this place", no reading of the Devil's script.

Because of my relief, my exhaustion from answering his nonstop questions was happy exhaustion. We were back to "Where do you call home?", "What relation am I to you?", "Where do I go to pee?", "Do you have a husband?", and all the other regulars. It was like welcoming back the cast of "The Beverly Hillbillies" after you've had a brief, extremely unwelcome commercial break with Dr. Mengele.

Mom stayed home today, trying to get over her sore throat, and I spent the afternoon and evening with Dad. I had her write him a note, telling him why she wasn't there, so I could take it to him. He read it many times when he couldn't remember where she was. I would put it in his hands and ask him to read it out loud for me. His voice is soft and faltering and his reading is slow these days. Every time he got to the part where she wrote "You are not to worry about ANYTHING, OK?" I almost cried.

He'd sit and look at Mom's familiar handwriting and I'd say "Did you hear that? You're not supposed to worry about anything! OK?"


The victories now are very small. We have to look harder. But they are still victories.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Don't Have Any Weapons

I can't tell you that this blog will be funny or entertaining in the near future. I'm crawling into this internet hole and writing every now and then just to try to keep my skeleton inside my body. The thing with my dad is devastating, and far more unpredictable than I could've imagined.

Dad's usual daily routine for the past year has included about 16 hours of sleep. When he isn't napping, he wants to be. He starts begging to go to bed for the night in the late afternoon. As though his battery is incredibly low and he's half conscious.

When he first got to the nursing home 13 days ago, the sleeping continued. This was a bit of a blessing, because we could tell ourselves that he's getting to do what he wants to do: sleep as much as he wants. Most of the time he won't even realize he's not at home.

Today, when Mom and I got to Shiny Meadows, around 1:00, everything went tilt. Dad started in on Mom, and he did not stop. He did not take a single nap, he talked NON-STOP all day, from when we got there to when we left at 8:00. And I don't care HOW melodramatic this may sound, but it was as though the Devil himself had written the script for Dad to directly torture Mom. These were Dad's repetitive lines:

"I was beginning to think you weren't coming today."
"Why can't I go home?"
"Why won't you let me come home?"
"I thought I was a good boy. I must be a bad boy or I would get to go home."
"Don't you miss me through the night? I miss you all night!"
"I don't like it here. I want to come home with you."
"Why can't we sleep in the same place again?"
"Who determines when I get to go home?"
"I don't want to stay here the rest of my life. I need to go home."

And it Did. Not. Stop.

I had to get out and go to the "Y" to get away from it, to get on an elliptical for awhile, and had to pull the car over twice on the way back to the nursing home, from panic attacks.

It felt like I was watching Dad put cigarettes out on Mom's skin. I feel so sorry for him, ache for him all the way to my bones, but I wanted to duct tape his mouth shut.

Mom was stunned by exhaustion and guilt and grief when she fell into bed tonight.

This is what the spouse, left behind, endures. Left behind at home, living on their own, trying to make loving decisions, trying to find a reason to go on. Left behind in lucidity.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Residents

I know almost all of them now. (At least the ones in the Rehab wing. The Long Term half of the building is a netherworld I can't take in just yet.)

I'll start introducing you.

Before I got to Indiana, my sister said "Candy, you have GOT to meet George." She described him as a very "colorful" old guy who lived in the room two doors down from Dad. He was, in fact, initially going to be Dad's roommate. But a friend of our family's who works at Shiny Meadows steered Dad's assignment to a different room. Because George likes to get into other people's stuff. All the time. He sits in his wheelchair and "walks" himself in and out of rooms and rearranges things and/or runs off with small treasures like combs and candies and anything not nailed down.

He weighs 80 pounds at most, with skinny little ankles the circumference of a boiled egg. He has no teeth, and used to like to scoot around Shiny Meadows with his harmonica in his pocket, occasionally serenading residents with religious songs. And always playing "Happy Birthday" when appropriate.

My sister said that every so often you could hear a resident or their visitor yelling "Get outta here, George!" It became the one comic relief for her and my mom during that first sickening day. George didn't seem to mind being yelled at. He just moved along to the next pilfering spot, like a wren looking for aluminum Doublemint wrappers.

So I was anxious to meet him, thinking about how I would lay bait out for him and delight in watching him take it. I packed some beanie babies to entice him with. I would buy a bag of marshmallows. I could fatten him up.

You know how life is fleeting? Wow. Way more fleeting in a nursing home. By the time I got to Indiana on Wednesday, George was too sick to get out of bed. He died yesterday.

As it turns out, his nephew, Steve, is a man who used to work for my dad in the sixties as a hired hand on the farm. I was fascinated with him because he ate frog legs for lunch every day. He told me that a few weeks ago, George's harmonica went missing, "as many things do here," and that had been George's "clutch." His meaning. He went downhill from there. Again, there it is. The small things.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reporting from the Universe Next Door

As is always the case when something overwhelms me, I have to process it in small chunks, like a basset hound pondering each bite of kibble. The following chunks (over the next week) are in no particular order, except for the first one.

My niece Michele picks me up at the Indianapolis airport. It's gray and gloomy and snowing. By the time we get to the nursing home, it's completely dark outside. I try to make some kind of mental adjustment, to brace myself to see Dad in this place for the first time. Nothing comes.

When Michele and I go inside, my mom and sister are coaxing Dad to walk down the hallway with his walker. He is wearing an electric-blue sweatshirt. My sister says "Look! Candy's here!" and Dad gives me that wide-eyed look that is half curious, half blank. I say "Hi, Freddie," and hug him. (My siblings and I have called him Freddie, a nickname, for as long as I can remember.)

There are hugs all around. I am here, in a new world. I started out this morning in blazing Phoenix sunshine and am ending the day in skin-burning Indiana cold. And I am visiting my dad in a nursing home. I repeat it in my head to try to emotionally recalibrate. This is a place of long, carpetless hallways, and doors to little sub-worlds of suffering or sleeping or chatting visitors or blaring TVs. All saturated in the non-warmth of endless fluorescent lights.


The nursing home (I'll call it Shiny Meadows) has two wings: Rehab and Long Term.

The patients in Rehab are a mixture of 3 groups:

1) The elderly who are here temporarily recuperating from an injury or surgery. A broken ankle; a knee replacement.

2) The elderly who are here for good, but who are, for the time being, receiving physical therapy to improve their mobility. My dad is in this category.

3) The confusing (to me) group who seem to belong in Long Term. They are definitely not ever going home, and are way past therapy. The rules are fuzzy as to who stays in Rehab and who goes over there.

Long Term

Not only is it the older, way more dreary part of Shiny Meadows, but it is populated with those residents who can only be described as Far Gone. Putting Dad into Shiny Meadows was horrible enough for Mom, but she really didn't want him in Long Term. That's where, she says, "they just park the poor old things out in the hall and let them sit there with their heads drooping." It's what you picture when you think of nursing homes in their worst light. Not quite alive and not quite dead, Mom says. Just lingering.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Headed to Indiana

Dad has been in the nursing home since Friday. My mom and sister gutted it out on their own, dealing with the incredibly depressing move from the hospital to the "nursing facility." When I spoke to Mom on the phone Friday night, the things she said put my heart through a meat grinder with holes the size of fishing line. I will keep those things private, and for once, let her say something without it being written down here. Suffice it to say that she was in agony. All night I ached for her, and for Dad.

At the very least, I'll be there tomorrow and won't be 1800 miles away anymore. It has been surreal and unnatural to experience this from such distance. I've felt like a greyhound whose gate failed to open when the race began.

What I have noticed from my sister's accounts of the days at the nursing home, is that it's the small details that kill you. It's always the small ones.

The little snack the nurse brings to Dad at 9:00 p.m.: Grape juice and a cookie.

Dad asking (about his room-mate) many times a day "Who's that guy over there in that bed?"

When I was talking to Scott the other night, and spoke the phrase "Dad's room-mate" it was as though I had just scraped my teeth across granite. Everything stopped, and I had yet another cry. His "room-mate" is Mom. Forever. Each small detail needs its own examination, its own little corner of grief. It's a process.

Mom is making the best of it, as she always does. She and my sister are such incredibly strong women that they stun me. They are cut from tempered steel and I seem to have been formed out of Velveeta. But sometimes even Velveeta knows when to buck up.

Small things can make you or break you. There are still many sources of joy. My dad sang a little one-line, off-key song to me on the phone tonight: "How is every little thing going?" I got him to sing it again.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome to the New Year

"Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
with open arms and open eyes."

- Incubus