When you care for senior citizens on a daily basis, you often notice with startling clarity little changes in their ability to do certain things. These are things that have slipped by you but then suddenly seem so obvious you can’t believe you’ve previously missed them. Like being able to wear certain kinds of shoes. Mama J. has always loved a good pair of sandals but now all of her shoes have to have some kind of support in the back. That’s to keep her from slipping and falling because she shuffles as much as she walks. Pants have to have an elastic waistband. It’s too exhausting to fight with zippers that always win. She signs her checks, but we fill in the blanks. Her handwriting could get her into medical school.
Papa T. has quit talking about trying to drive again. “When my eyes get better” has been replaced with “will you pick up my mail at the post office”. I drove his truck last week and realized I couldn’t remember when it was last filled with gas. Directions such as “the cornbread is to your left” don’t keep food out of his lap anymore. Somebody has to read the newspaper to him every day, not just on cloudy days. The most recent change in him scares me, though. As I watched him eat dinner last night, I realized that his hope has been quietly replaced with resignation; resignation that his health, namely his eyesight, will probably never get better. That his social life is drawing to a close and that his quality of life will likely continue to decline. In Mama J.’s eyes last week, I saw fear. She is scared for both of them. She sees the future, and she doesn’t like it.
Can they see the fear on my face? Do my tone and carefully chosen words betray me? Is my wrinkled brow giving me away? Do they notice that we check on them more times each day than we did just a few months ago? Or that we walk with outstretched hands behind them to catch a fall? I hope not. I want to be strong for them. I need to. I see the future, and I don’t like it.
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