Shave

A moment with my father who is now in the late middle stages of Alzheimers.
I wrote this on the train this morning…

I went to see my father the other day.
I needed to sign some papers so he could get a flu shot since he can no longer sign his own name.
What comes out instead are crazy lines and meaningless squiggles that would probably mean more to a child than any adult.
In my mind, I can still see his signature from not so long ago; the smooth and precise lines of legible writing that defined the organization and intellect I once associated with the man that he used to be.

He smiled softly when he saw me.
Maybe I still look “familiar” to him, which seems to me a paradox because he’s become a total stranger to me.
My sister had been to see him and asked that I stop by and trim
(please, excuse me here) his nose hairs which were, in the words of my sister, “long enough to braid”. Hey, hair grows, right?
His beard was stubbly as well; a testament to his growing aversion to anyone strange getting near him.

“Would you like a shave, Dad?” I asked.

“Ok.”

He doesn’t say much more than a few words these days and is sadly beginning to dabble in a bit of gibberish as well.
I know the pattern well by now.
He was never a talker anyway but these days I feel he’s just dog tired of trying to communicate his needs to the strange world around him.
I’ve learned over the years that it’s just easier for me to talk about… things. Anything relatively inconsequential works: my life (boring),
the grandkids (cool), the weather (foul), food, the Red Sox (suck season)… Nothing too complicated.

Questions are pointless and leave him frustrated because he searches for an answer I know he’ll never find.
I feel sad knowing my mother is flying with angels and can never tell him so.
In his heart he still thinks she’s alive and maybe that’s not such a bad thing because in some ways, she is.

I walk him to his room and have him sit in the bathroom for a shave.
I draw some hot water to soften the stubble and glance at him, he's unaware I’m doing so. He looks sad to me and my heart breaks for him, like always.
It’s almost as if he knows all that’s transpired but refuses to acknowledge it to the world.
It should be an unusual thing to shave your father’s face but after all he and I have been through it seems almost a comfort, for him and for me.
It’s simple and it’s right.
He seems to enjoy it as much as I enjoy doing it for him.
I finish and find myself face to face with him.

I look into his eyes that seem to be growing more tired by the day and I say, “How’s that?”

“It’s good.” He says.

And it is good; for him and strangely enough for me.

Shaving is an essential part of the day for any man, a ritual we look forward to, a cleansing of the soul of sorts, a clean slate we give to ourselves.
For us gorillas, it seems to complete the daily “routine”, and we like the way it feels.
So my father takes pleasure in the memory of the ritual with my help and it makes me happy.
I bring him back to the common room where the other residents are doing some light exercise.
He seems happier now than he did before and I feel I actually accomplished something.
Come to think of it, maybe I really did….

~m

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8 thoughts on “Shave

  1. A sad and beautiful story. My grandmother is in the same situation. She is 92 years old, though each time you ask her she adds a year to what she replied the time before. Some days I can have great conversations with her, while other days the best she can manage is “my mind… I … it’s… words…” A testimony to the fact that she knows she’s slipping, and it pains and frustrates her. She takes comfort in my achievements, though she sometimes can’t remember them longer than a sentence later. She used to be so vibrant and sharp, and I know that she would hate to see herself this way. It hurts me too. I sometimes comfort myself with the thought that the wonderful proud woman she used to be is already dead, and so there is no reason to mourn over the husk that is slowly withering behind. And other times I try asking her questions, prompting her to discuss things and just *think* a little, hold on just a little bit longer before slipping away.

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  2. Wonderful piece, and as you can see sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most. My grandmother has this awful disease as well, and it is so frustrating to carry on a conversation as the same questions are repeatedly asked. It is so difficult to see someone you love, a shell of what they once were…

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  3. Oh wow. This is a great piece. The fact that you can have that kind of intimacy with your dad is definitely something. It’s still a means of communication with him, even if it is physical rather than verbal.

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