April 25, 2010

Whose Quality of Life is it Anyway?

Every night she paces the length of their two-bedroom apartment at the retirement home.

By evening he is tired. He helped her take her morning shower, selected her clothes, dressed her, brushed her teeth and put in her bridge. He made her breakfast and walked her to the basement for her Jazzercise class. He changed her diapers all day. He has selected and cut up her lunch and dinner in the dining room, and given her the right pills at the right time.

Now he just wants to watch the NBC Nightly News in peace for thirty minutes.

And he can't.

She is getting worse. Every night she cannot sit still for two to three hours. She paces.

He's tried to take her on a walk, but she won't go.

"Where are my papers to grade?" she asks him. "Where are my books?"

He just wants to watch the news and she will not sit down. She thinks someone is coming for a meeting. For months, she would get out all the extra bedding from the closet and make up the bed in the spare bedroom. He couldn't fight her -- he could just wait until she went to bed and put it all away. If he argued with her, she became livid.

Thursday night he used his cell phone to call his own phone. (My brother made him get a cell phone for trips. The last time they came to visit my husband asked him, "Where's your cell phone, Dad?" He said, "Locked safely in the trunk of my car.")

Dad took his cell phone and called his own phone, making it ring three times before answering. Then he lied and told my mother "It was your school and your meeting is cancelled,."

Fifty-five years ago this fall she taught second grade across town in a brick building replaced long ago.

She is teaching school tomorrow. She is living in the dormitory at the big state university. She thinks she is spending the evening with her father, dead since 1983. She is enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at her paternal grandparents, one who died in 1946 and the other two years later. She has a meeting tonight, doing lesson plans for tomorrow. Her parents are visiting Florida for the winter and they are fine. Today is her birthday. Today the dog needs to go out. Today is Christmas.

He told me that two weeks ago he almost shook her, because she wouldn't stop pacing. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her squarely in the eye and said, "Sweetheart, you don't have a meeting tonight."

He doesn't want help. "It's my apartment, too. It's my home." Money is not the issue -- it is privacy -- and pride -- and exhaustion. It's change -- and rage -- and all the losses piled up like dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.