Secrets Revealed

I never wanted to reveal the secret shame. But I had to let it out because it was so entwined with the story I was compelled to tell. The story of how my helpless, defenseless father was abused and neglected in nursing facilities. So I told the secret in Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.

Next I wrote Secrets Revisited, a collection of thirty-six personal vignettes showing the dynamics in the alcoholic family. Reliving each experience as I wrote it, I came to realize that through and in it all was God—seeing, knowing, and understanding.

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Durable by Design

Daddy could not trust his legs and his eyes to keep him from falling. I remembered how proud he was years ago showing me how he had securely screwed the child safety gate into the doorjamb at the top of the basement steps.  ‘See,’ he said while shaking it with his hand, ‘that’s going to hold.’

Pitching his head toward my mother’s open bedroom door a few feet away, he added in code, ‘You never know, anybody could fall.’ Mama, no doubt, knew she was the ‘anybody’ he was trying to protect.

Now that anybody was Daddy. (Before the Door Closes, pp. 6-7)

Engrained in my father was the drive to make things last. He took meticulous care of everything he owned. Keeping within his means, he bought the best he could buy and looked for ways to improve it and extend its life.

In 2003 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a Sunday magazine feature of readers’ feedback on tangibles that last forever. Poking up like mismatches among mundane stoves and refrigerators and toasters were a thirty-nine-year-old cake tester and a forty-seven-year-old egg cooker. Topping their longevity, however, is my cast iron skillet that worked its way down from the hands of my husband’s grandmother to his mother’s to mine. Facing the facts, I know my  body by design will never last as long as even the skillet’s current age of a hundred and forty years. That does not mean durability is not important to me. For one thing it’s what I look for in books.

I grew up in an era when, if you were seen in the company of a paperback, you were shelved under the category of cheap. You were what the book represented: cheap pages, cheap binding, cheap content. A throwaway after it’s been used. It would never earn the reputation of durable quality that a hardback denoted.

Recognizing that the paperback, also known as softback and softcover, has now come into its own, so to speak, my heart will forever gravitate to the hardback. (I still use that term even though “hardcover” has wormed its way into the book vocabulary.)  I like the stability I see in a hardback, and I like the strength it emits when I touch it. I like to “unbutton” its dust jacket before I read it and then cloak it again until I’m ready to take my friend out for another excursion.

Whenever I order a used book on Amazon, I buy the hardback if it’s available. And I choose the oldest edition so that I can be as close to the author as possible.

A few days ago I received my latest friend, whose copyright date is estimated at 1900 or earlier. The spine’s lettering is gold-embossed. A snug sheet of vellum still protects the frontispiece and the title page. I welcomed the previous owner’s name stamped on one of the leaves. I receive him as a kindred spirit who has shared my interests.  With Internet research I can also give Frank N. Kik a face and more.

This book, Moses: The Servant of God,by F. B. Meyer endured longer than Dr. Kik and, by the looks of it, will be abiding in my bookcase when my own earthly life is over. But I don’t believe that gives credence to the English writer William Hazlitt’s quotation, “Words are the only things that last forever.” Just this past Thursday, two seven-year-olds (one boy and one girl) told me they had never heard of a Twinkie.

The Things That Last” is a blog by Fr Bede, OSB. Part of his opening prayer says, “It is only the things which find their beginning and end in God that truly last – those things which are True, Good, Beautiful, and Holy.”

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Trash Triage

Trash can 2He was sixty-one and at his job when he asked the morning newspaper boy to help him throw it in the dumpster (http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/04/03/housing-complex-clerk-mistakes-suicide-jumpers-body-for-april-fools-prank/). The ninety-six-year-old woman’s body hadn’t appeared human. To him she looked like a mannequin. A dummy.

The surgeon made a similar operating assessment when my friend’s father had been ambulanced from a nursing home with a fractured femur. Expecting a routine consult with the doctor prior to surgery, the daughter left the hospital at ten that night and returned at seven the next morning. The minutes ticked by. One by one the heavy hours stacked up. Where was he? Why didn’t he come?

At five-thirty the daughter was beside herself as orderlies wheeled her elderly father out of the room and she caught a glimpse of the doctor. Confronted with her consternation, he explained, “I did not come by because 90 percent of patients with dementia never have anyone with them.”

All too sadly his informed statistic mirrors society’s devaluation of the demented elderly. That 90 percent of them are presented to the medical community as throwaways is a result built family by family. Child by child. Son by son. Daughter by daughter.

What are we thinking? Father doesn’t know who I am? Mother doesn’t remember my name? They don’t know me; so what’s the point?

Why do we make love conditional? Did our parents make it conditional when we did not know their names? when we could not say words? In our helplessness didn’t we sense self-worth through the security of a swaddling blanket, the contentment of cuddling, the soothing sound of a lullaby? They imprinted personal value. We did not have to do anything or be anything except ourselves. Unadulterated.

My father, too, was diagnosed with dementia. His was mania manufactured by the misuse and overuse of antipsychotic drugs. (See http://www.amazon.com/Before-Door-Closes-Daughters-Alcoholic/dp/1490808949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396716040&sr=1-1&keywords=judith+hall+simon.) My success in getting the mind-altering drugs eliminated did not restore the spark in my father’s voice that had belonged to him before he was made a zombie and cast off as nursing facility waste. I missed hearing that unique part of him the rest of his life.

The drugs, taking their toll, also left my father’s mental function vacillating between clear and unclear. On one of his hazy days, Daddy asked me, “Who are you?”

“Judy.”

“That’s what I thought. You’re the one who takes care of me.”

I’ll remember that the rest of my life.

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