Day 4 -10   Leave a comment

After Dad’s Day 4 in the Nursing Home:

I type into the search engine:

“81 year old man with untreated non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”

or life expectancy of 81-year-old man with dementia and untreated non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

or average length of stay by nursing home residents

or life expectancy of 81-year-old man who sees dead relatives

or life expectancy of 81-year-old man with untreated non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

and dementia and is in a nursing home and has ungodly long toenails and sees dead relatives like his mother and the brother he liked better than the other also dead brother and who asks his daughter to wheel him around the nursing home to find his brother and his mother. He worries that she is not being taken care of.

The Internet gives no answer

Dad said, “I don’t know how I got in this jam. There were religious people in here visiting and they seemed like they would do anything for you, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask if I could borrow their pickup.” “Can you put me in your car and take me home?”

“I’m in this jam, and I’m confused.”

I said, “It’s a new place, and you haven’t been here before so it’s not surprising that you feel confused.”

“You don’t understand. I’ve always been able to get myself out of anywhere.”

The above two lines feel like the most real conversation that I’ve ever had with my father.

I filled out the social history paperwork that the nursing home asked me for, and I checked nothing under hobbies but added he likes to watch old movies, old Westerns, but not anymore.

No religious affiliation (he’s must be Catholic by immersion with marriage to the best Catholic woman ever), he never attended mass, he doesn’t follow sports, does not like to read. My sister said you should have put down that he likes to drink, dance, and get in bar fights, but even that was 25 years ago.

Day 5 in the Nursing Home

Life is great, never asked to go home, all the people are nice and call him by his first name. He looks better than he has for a long time. He’s eating dinner with a lady resident.

The sweetest faced young man pours his water and coffee and smiles an equally sweet smile and calls dad by his first name.  The lady eating at his table tells him to eat his food and says he didn’t eat the first couple of days he was there. She’s looking out for him.

He’s not alone for hours at a time.

Staff made an appointment to see the foot doctor. Yeah!

Daughters both exhale deeply. Maybe this IS best.

Day 7 in the Nursing Home

No crazy talk today other than he said that he plowed 145 acres the day before., but maybe he was trying to understand/explain his exhaustion after physical therapy.

I told him that mom’s sister fell and broke her hip in four places and had surgery the day before. I didn’t tell him that they put her in a nursing home before the fall and she became combatant and tore things off the walls in other’s rooms and struck out trying to hit people.

I didn’t say, “It’s crazy, dad, the nice aunt who would never hurt a fly is combative and, you, the bar room brawler, sits quietly in your wheelchair when just a two weeks ago you drove the riding lawn mower a few blocks to see a friend.

A lady named Nellie watches dad get his wheelchair made more comfortable. My daughter and I wondered how old Nellie is. I wrote this poem the next day.

How Old are you Nursing Home Nellie?

The aide cuts strips of cloth

puffy and white like lambs wool

and wraps dad’s wheelchair where he rests his legs

where he rests his legs

Nellie sits by in her chair

In her wheelchair, Nellie sits by,

watches, and reaches for the scissors

How old are you Nellie?

Down syndrome baby with wrinkled old face

How old are you Nellie who reaches for scissors

and says, “Get out of here fly.”

I watch Dad’s face watch Nellie

he tells me he can’t talk much when he’s tired

he can’t talk when he’s tired

just smile at Nellie’s old baby face

Day 8

My sister calls and says she stopped to see Dad and he does not look good, very tired, color not good, one lower leg swollen and inflamed. He was okay with her leaving, just too tired. I reconsider the form that I was asked to complete and thought about my checking the box that said “no antibiotics” as well as “do not resuscitate” only comfort and pain relief. What is my right?

Day 9

I called the nursing home and was told that Dad was doing all right. He had eaten breakfast, and seemed to be feeling okay. I wonder what feeling okay means as a nursing home patient. Does it mean, “I know I’m old and this is where I’ll live until I die, or does it mean I’m not yelling or falling out of bed, or does it mean I’m willing to sit in my chair and doze and then talk with the nurse when she or he comes in to check my blood pressure.”

My niece stopped to see Dad. He did not recognize her at first, and this shook her a bit. This was the first time this had happened. But he was then able to talk with her, but not all of it made sense.

Day 10

I visited dad around I saw him after I entered the sitting area. He was asleep in a recliner. There were  about a half dozen other residents in recliners  in a sort of circle. The large screen TV was showing a  “Little House on the Prairie” episode.  No one appeared to be watching. The picture was fuzzy and the closed caption wasn’t showing the words correctly. It had the @ sign instead of some letters and some letters were missing. I woke dad up and it took him a minute to focus and recognize me. He had on his overalls and looked clean and shaven as usual.

“Did you have a nice nap”?

“Yes, I think I did.”

“How is your day going?”

“Okay, did you find some work for me.”

Some of his questions take me by surprise. I answer,  “Well, Ted and Andy have been busy driving the trucks.”

“Have they?”

“Did you have a whirlpool bath today.”

“No, I had one yesterday.”

“How about physical therapy?”

“No, none today.”

“You know that lady over there wants to marry me.”

“Really, that one.”

“Yes, she a good lady. Can you help her get up? I hate to see her that way.”

“They might not want her up, because she may fall.” The lady was struggling to get up from her recliner and I let a nurse know, and they came to help.”

Dad continued, “Yes, and see that girl putting ice in the cups. She wanted to marry me yesterday, but I told her that I was too old and she had a lot of fun left in her.”

“You’ve got lots of ladies wanting to marry you.”

The lady sitting on the other side of me, who seemed so functioning and conversational that I wondered why she was in the nursing home, continued to ask me questions. I realized quickly that she seemed to have no short term memory as she repeated several of the same questions and sentences that she has said moments before. She was interesting and told me how they used to have raisins and pecans for a snack when they played cards at her home in New Orleans. She loved the French Quarter and loved to dance there. She said that New Orleans is a romantic city with great food and friendly people. She asked if I like to play Scrabble and invited me to a game sometime.

“Do you think it will ever be the same since Katrina?”

“Oh yes, they are an industrious people.”

She nodded towards Dad after he said that two women wanted to marry him, “All the women are after him. There are too few men here.”

I said, “Dad, she said that all the woman are after you.”

Dad chuckled.

“Did you see Mariah yesterday?”

“Yes I did.”

“Did she have her kids with her.”

“No, but she brought me pictures of Gunnar’s kids. They are very cute.”

“All those little ones are cute, aren’t they?”

“What did you have for lunch?”

“I don’t know. Nothing tastes right. They eat rabbits here.”

“They eat rabbits here?”

“Yes, they have a big pen the size of this room.”

“Where is the pen?”

“It’s in Scottsbluff.”

“I guess rabbits would taste okay. You’ve eaten a rabbit before, haven’t you?”


“How about a squirrel?” I wouldn’t want to eat a squirrel?”


“People shouldn’t get old” Dad said.

“It seems to happen kind of fast, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, you reach that middle line and then you might as well give it up.”

He changed subjects, “ There were people banging pots and pans, and I took them away and put an end to that.”

A large man walked by and dad said, “He threw me against the wall.”

“He threw you against the wall. Is he mean to you?”

“He can be. He can be nice, too.”

“Becky is coming to see you tomorrow.”

“What time?”

“She won’t leave work until after 5 pm, so it will be after you eat tomorrow evening.”

“I’m going to leave and go home now, but Becky will see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Bye dad.”


He’s letting us leave without asking us to stay longer and he’s not asking us to take him home either. I guess that’s a good thing, or at least, easier for us, but is he just resigned now to this fate.

It feels odd that this man who was always physically strong is not strong. And everything that mattered in the past does not matter at all now. To me, and as it also seems to be for him, a letting go. Such a different experience than I had with my mom. I wrote this poem in July. In August he moved to the nursing home.

He Brought her Firewood

a girl-child of six years

holds her father’s hand

they cross the railroad tracks

ten more years

she’ll be sullen and angry at his imperfections

the way he parts his hair

and sits at the table in his underwear

bossing     expecting her to take him seriously

her eyes  so quick to roll   she  hardly knows she does it

at 18

she’ll wonder at her mother’s choice

and yearn for the time she won’t see him

this man who talks with his mouth full

yells at all of them    her mother works, works more,

and  then works more

the girl wants him to die

at 36 she’ll forgive

all his real and perceived sins

and cut his hair and  take him to the doctor

still he does not know her

she cannot remember her hand ever in his


there is a safe place

with fathers like this

somewhere long ago

where men are musky mountains

who keep you safe

even if you’re afraid of them

I cannot remember

my father’s hand in mine

will the little girl’s father

let her ride one summer night atop the rack meant for hay

above the cab of his truck          Ten is a good age

to learn how tight a grip must be

Schlitz was my father’s drink

the ride was wild

some days he let her do what mother never would

other days    better not ask for anything

“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Maybe the man walking with his daughter

will bring her firewood in the fall of his 78th year

and they will unload it together and stack it neatly in a pile.

Mary Strong Jackson

July 5, 2010


Posted August 31, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Have a Chair, Uncategorized

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