Copyright © 1990 by Darlene Purcell  All rights reserved.
No matter what hour I go to sleep, which for me is always in the wee
hours…when the alarm screams at six a.m. I’m up instantly awake. If
necessary I will take a nap later but for this moment my responsibilities
supercede my exhaustion.Having very long thick hair I braid it before I sleep to keep the
tangles under control but often I wake up with it roped round my arm
or sometimes even my neck. So the first order of biz after I grope
blindly to shut off the alarm is to makes sure I don’t strangle to
death or yank my scalp and sprain my neck.

This morning I sat there unbraiding it while Jaffy rubbed a hole in my
ankles begging for her morning vittles. You’d think she was starving
to death, poor pitiful little twenty pound calico kitten. 🙂

I brush my hundred strokes before leaving the side of my bed (yes it
really works) and then pull it up in to a pony tail after slipping in
to my pink joggers and fuzzy tiger print house slippers. (I’ll head
for my morning walk after breakfast)

Step…trip…step…trip…step…trip. I struggle down a narrow
hallway with a loving feline anxiously trying to guide my steps to
her bowl. But my little darling will have to wait her turn. I have
carefully orchestrated my routine like a graceful dance in a tiny
space on limited time.

I hear the melody beckoning me to twirl and swirl gracefully as I open
the ice-box for the pre-poured oatmeal, cinnamon and sugar in a deep
white soup bowl.  Adding a dollop of butter and filling halfway with
water, I nuke it for two minutes on high.

While it’s un-dehydrating, springing to life in the heat, I am rinsing
out my cobalt blue mug, filling it with water while plopping a few
pieces of bread in to the toaster. I pour a small glass of orange
juice, when the oatmeal dings, it goes on to a tray with the other
ingredients while my cup replaces its spot in the microwave.

Step…trip…step…trip…step…trip. Her plaintive mewling is
getting more desperate. Even though I have fed her twice a day with or
without prompting for two years, Jaffy is convinced that today will
the day she’ll be forgotten and will starve to death in less than two
minutes. Huge amber orbs plead desperatly for me to acknowledge her
existence, which I do by pushing her gently out of my way to pad down
the hall to my father’s room.

I arrived here almost three years ago…summoned by my fathers doctor
who declared that he was declining rapidly and it was only a matter of
weeks before he would be gone forever. I walked in to a shocking
situation. His home was so filthy that I could not clean some of it.

I had to replace the toilet, paint the walls and redo the floors. He
had been silently ill for so long that he couldn’t even take out
garbage.  He had rooms of it as he used disposable dishes and
processed foods to survive on. Just the diet alone was unhealthy for a
diabetic with high blood pressure. But the filth and poverty he had
sunk to was unbelievable and even though I had been long distance
unaware of his decline I still beat myself up for not realizing how
old and fragile he was and doing something for him sooner.  It was a
very humbling lesson.  I guess non of us really understand that with
old age comes the loss of health and strength.  I just thought he
would live forever.

I was so appalled. My floors have always been so clean a baby could
eat off of them. It took me three weeks to make his little mobile home
habitable for us both. While I began feeding him decent meals and
getting him to shower, in observing his bizarre behavior and mood swings
that the doctors did not see and attributed to pressure on the brain
I realized my father was a diabetic and nearly comatose.

So through a series of living and eating changes, new doctors,
medication and inevitably a new surgical procedure to drain the
inoperable, irremovable tumor…my father has lived much longer than
predicted. He no longer remembers me. Except in small moments of
lucidity as his daughter. I look like and treat him like I am his
mother. He calls me Momma. This would be startling to some but I
raised a mentally challenged younger brother until, he was 30 and he
called me Momma too. In fact seven children, only one borne to me
have known me as Mommy. So if in his confusion it brings peace and
security to my Dad to think I am his mother, then it is in my nature
to realize that everyone needs one and his left for heaven long ago.
So I just smile and pet him and nurture him the best I can.

Some nights I cry in my pillow, feeling old as God…so alone in this
nightmare, needing at least one parent of my own. But I am everyone’s
mommy. Even Jaffy calls me meowwrmmmmy. 🙂

My worst fear is not that he will die…I’ve been coming to terms with
that for a long time now…but that he will die alone while I’m
sleeping. So I have given in to my nocturnal nature and I’m awake
writing in the wee hours while he sleeps…even though I have to be up
early to make sure he gets his food and medication round the clock
ever few hours.

I guess unconsciously I think by staying awake I will hear him if he
stops snoring or I will know it instinctively if he is in pain and
run to hold his hand. I want to be there for him. No one should die
old and alone.

So every morning I sigh in relief when he turns on his TV as soon as
he hears me in the kitchen. I dread the day that I walk into a silent
room. But this morning my heart pounded miserably when he didn’t stir
at all. The longer the silence, the louder I banged noisily to wake
him up. I could not hear him snoring. But perhaps the child in me that
is not ready to let go of her father no matter how mature or the
amount of time I’ve had to prepare, was prolonging the agony.

I loaded his tray as usual instead of running down the hall to see if
my worst fears had come true. I scolded the furry purry for tripping
me up, comforted by the sound of my own voice, as I walked slowly
careful not to spill his breakfast. I stood in the doorway, staring in
to the dark shadows. I shivered. He sighed in his sleep and I muffled
a sob joyfully setting the tray on his nightstand almost running to
open his shutters.

He was sleeping so peacefully it took my breath away when I turned
around and saw the sunshine dancing in his silver hair. He’s only
just this year lost his jet black hair. Suddenly he was old and those
big hands that were so strong tremble weakly now struggling to even
hold a small glass of juice. Those once flashing black eyes so full
of mischief and spirit look surprised, uncomprehending like a small
baby as it watches it’s mother.  They are dull and faded light brown,
resolute to exists between two worlds.

I wonder why he stays? What is left undone. Or is it me that holds
him here? I have fought so hard for him to have a few more days, hours.
But was that for him or me? I feel selfish sometimes.  As I near my
old age…I can understand that he is transitioning…but still
inside there is this child who never wants to let go no matter what
the price I have to pay…even if it’s with my own time.

I stood there this morning memorizing his face. When did he grow so
old? I remember him in his twenties. So handsome and alive and vital.
Now I feel as old as he is. We grew old together. I miss running in
to his arms as a child and hearing him say, “Hi Sweetheart, how’s my
baby today, you want a soda pop?”

I miss talking to him and hearing his words of wisdom. Knowing that
no matter how bad it got he would always be there for me. I pray to
God that even in his far away mind he can feel that I am there for
him in that same way.

He looked ethereal this morning. Sun rays light in his hair as they
roamed across the room warming it’s dark corners. I stood there just
enjoying another day that he might not even know I’m sharing… but I

I smoothed the hair off of his forehead thinking that I need to give
him a haircut and gently called his name. “Daddy. Dadddddy. Time for
breakfast. Are you hungry? You have to eat so you can take your shot.”

He cried like a little boy when I pricked his finger with the blood
test strip. It doesn’t hurt too much to you or me but for a man his
age with paper thin skin and sore fingers from being poked four times
a day it must be so terrible to wake up to that pain over and over
before you ever start your day. My heart bleeds for him.

Step…trip…step…trip…Finally my little furry friend will get
her grub. I fill up her bowl with fresh water and tear open a package
of chicken in gravy food. She won’t eat anything else. Spoiled little
critter. 🙂

I push the button on the microwave to reheat my hot cocoa for one
minute and plop in a couple of pieces of raison bread in the toaster.
That will be my breakfast with a little creme cheese and a vitamin.
I’m not hungry when I wake up. It’s just fuel to me.

Step….trip…step…trip…step….trip…Now she wants to play and
my little chatty catty will be non stop all day demanding her bells on
a string or to sit in my lap and push the keyboard off, or to purr so
loudly in to the phone receiver that no one can hear each other talk as
she demands total attention.

She is my Dad’s cat. Or so I keep wishing. I guess she’ll go with me
the morning I don’t hear him snoring down the hall… I wonder if she
will miss him too?


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