The Thing to Do

After dinner. Pennsylvania, August 2012.

"The thing to do is throw me on the floor."

"Why don’t you just put me in the grave?"

"Trample on me, would you? Just throw me on the floor, and trample on me."

Pop Pop is miserable. Absolutely, 100 percent miserable. I should have known from our phone calls. I knew he wanted to leave the nursing home, and go back to his home home. I knew he was pinching and biting (yes, biting) aides when they put him to bed at night. I knew he was frustrated and agitated and sad. But I didn’t know it was this bad.

"The thing to do, Laura, is throw me on the floor. Just throw me on the floor!"

He says it over and over again. ”I will not throw you on the floor, Pop Pop. I love you, and I would never in a million years throw you anywhere,” I’ll say. Or, “Now, that wouldn’t be very comfortable. How about I not do that.” But nothing is a comfort. Sometimes I’ll try to grin and move along with, “The floor? I don’t know. What would the family say? I think they would be mad at me.”

Usually his floor/grave comments come when he wants to get to bed, but can’t. After lunch, he wants to immediately go back to his room and take a nap. After dinner, it’s the same story — he wants to immediately go to sleep for the night. Sounds simple enough for me to help, but he’s a big guy and now that he can’t walk or transfer on his own, he’s dead weight. I can’t lift him on my own, and the aides have dozens of other residents to care for, especially during mealtimes. He has to wait his turn. It is all out of his control.

"The thing to do is throw me on the floor."

Yesterday, per my aunt’s suggestion, I wheeled him across the street to the Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not the ideal stroll — to a dinky gas station along a country highway — but it’s outside air and a change of scenery, so she and our caregiver Michele do it sometimes. As I wheeled him away from the home, he thought up some new zingers.

"How about you push me down this hill?"

"Just throw me in front of these cars!"

"See those Waste Management bins? Put me in there and leave me."

It’s hard being here, hearing him say these things and knowing there’s nothing I can do to make him more comfortable. Am I doing everything I can? I bring him photo albums, birthday cards, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, special foods he used to like. I read to him, I play music for him, I fish for him to share the stories he loves, or used to love, to tell. What else can I do? I’ve started wondering if it would be better if I left him alone. Maybe it’s harder having me around every day, unable to make his dreams of home come true, unable to make his pain go away. Maybe the thing to do, Pop Pop, is leave.

But then tonight, after dinner and before bed, a daughter of one of the residents pulled me aside. Amy is her name. She’s there every single day, caring for her father who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, like Dibi used to be. Most of the time he sleeps. When he’s awake, he’s looks down or far away. He’s long past the days of words, sentences, conversation.

"I know it’s not easy," she said. "But be thankful that you can still talk to him. People sometimes tell me to be thankful that my dad is still alive. That’s true, and I am. But I am telling you, be thankful that you can have conversations."

And I guess that’s the thing to do. Take it day by day, and remember I’m fortunate for each one I have. I know I’ll look back on this post weeks from now, years from now, and know that Amy was so very right.