We’re lucky that my Dad is mostly in a good mood while Parkinson’s eats away at his mobility and dementia claims more of his time. As I’ve posted previously, we just go along with whatever reality he’s in. It’s as if he’s literally seeing things that we can’t see, which I suppose he is. He was recently in hospital for eighteen days and we thought we’d lost him. Now he’s back in his long-term care home and re-adjusting pretty well. But he fixates on things for a day or two at a time and on the weekend, he was seeing – or wanting to see – grapes. 

Not Don Cherry, no, Dad’s not that much of a hockey fan anymore. He was mildly obsessed with going to “help” with “the grapes”. As a teenager, I tied grapes for one memorable, miserable afternoon, but I don’t know if Dad has any actual grape experience beyond eating them. Dad’s voice is getting softer and difficult to hear. Sometimes I miss a crucial detail or two like, NOW it’s time to see the grapes! 

After attempting (and failing ) to get Dad out of his wheelchair and into his recliner, we visited for a long while before he asked me to back him up into the hallway outside of his room. He calls it the alley, but I know what he means. As I slowly reversed we were startled by excruciatingly loud wails that screeched through the building. Then the intercom blared “CODE RED! CODE RED IN THE SUPPLY ROOM! CODE RED! CODE RED!” The double doors all closed automatically and everyone who was able, started buzzing around while the screeching continued.

A calm but insistent nurse dressed in burgundy scrubs appeared at the end of the hall and waved us through the doors. “You need to come, now!” she said. She led us into the TV room where Wailing Willie (I don’t know his real name) was attempting to outscream the alarm. Poor Willie screams a lot, whenever he’s awake, it seems. But he was particularly agitated by the loud noises. I parked my Dad and sat facing him as other people came in, some in wheelchairs, some with walkers. When Willie made eye contact I tried to calm him by telling him it would be okay soon but it didn’t reduce the volume or frequency of his yelling. “What’s going on?”, asked one old lady.

“I’m not su…” was all I got out when Dad barked, “Don’t tell her anything!” She might be the woman who won’t talk to him at dinner. I had just engaged the enemy.

In came the nurse again. “Okay, everybody out, follow me!” 

“Where are we going?” asked the old lady.  Thinking it might be a matter of life and death – hers – I began to answer before Dad shushed me again. Sorry, lady, you’re a goner. We followed the slow-moving herd which frustrated my father. He ordered me to break away from the pack! He barked his orders. LEFT! RIGHT! PUT IN THE CODE! (The one that lets us outside.) LEFT! I SAID LEFT! He directed me through the parking lot directly to the road. The one with no sidewalk. I wasn’t prepared at all. We didn’t have our jackets for the cold wind. The sun was bright and I didn’t have my sunglasses so tears immediately streamed down both cheeks. I was wearing stupid little (adorable) ballet flats. What the hell? As we turned a hard left onto the shoulder, two fire trucks came screaming up behind us toward the home. To suspicious onlookers we were escaping arsonists, rolling away as fast as Dad’s snazzy chair would take us just as the fire crews arrived. It felt like the start of a movie. The Man Who Tricked His Daughter Into Wheeling Him Out to See Grapes. 

“How far are we going?”, I asked meekly.

“‘Til we get to the grapes”, he said. I stopped and threw my sweater over the front of him to guard against a brisk wind. 

“Get this thing offa me!”, he commanded. I laughed. “No way. I’m not taking you back there with pneumonia!”

We resumed our roll and he continued to direct me like a drill sergeant. “Pick it up through the intersection!” Ignoring him, I waited until traffic cleared, which he found annoying. Once it did, I ran, pushing him at a top speed of approximately seven km/hr. He told me once again to remove my sweater so I rolled him onto the shoulder and put it on. “You’re going to get hit by a car”, he said. I shook my head, amused. We were now beside a small farm where a man on a tractor gave a friendly wave and we could smell the blossoms on the fruit trees. 

“I don’t see grapes, Dad”, I said gently.

“Not yet. See that white van?” I saw the van. It was driving over railroad tracks at least another click-and-a-half away. I estimated that we had been rolling for ten to fifteen minutes already. It was time to start lying.

“I can’t go that far, Dad. My feet are killing me and the wind is too cold. I’m sorry. Can we see the grapes another time?”

“Okay”, he said, sounding disappointed. “I should have gotten your brother to take us in his truck.” I wheeled him around and the wind at our backs wasn’t so bad. It was turning into a lovely day. As we drew closer to the home I noticed smoke from the yard of a house a few doors down and assumed that’s where the fire “threat” originated. Someone was burning leaves, likely illegally. We were silent as we rolled along until we reached the parking lot and Drill Sgt. Dad began shouting his orders again. (Note: Dad was never in the armed forces.) 

Firefighters were packing up the last truck and preparing to pull away when we wheeled up behind them into the home’s large entryway. I was slick all over with sweat and could feel a blister forming on my right heel. Dad looked a little flushed but claimed he wasn’t cold or uncomfortable. However, he did ask for a hot chocolate from the beverage cart.

“Oh, you went for a nice walk?”, asked one of the PSWs. “Yeah”, Dad said, unconvincingly. He really wanted to see those grapes. I felt like I’d let him down and yet I also knew there were no grapevines nearby. I had been rolling him through someplace in his memory bank and we could have continued on without ever finding the grapes he wanted so badly to see. I wish I could have made grapes appear for him. He was gentle Dad again, worried that I might have caught a cold and wondering if I’d like to have a nap on his bed before I left. Next time I visit, I’ll wear better walking shoes because these days, you just never know. 

6 thoughts on “Dad-venture”

  1. Dear Lisa: My heart goes out to you as you navigate the challenges of your Dad’s declining health. I, too, went down that path with my Mom, but what leaped out to me in your post from today is a man who still cares for his daughter and was concerned for her after such an abrupt exit from the building. I hope that warms your heart still despite the chill of that windy day.

    1. Thank you, Pam. Yes, when he’s with us he’s really with us. There are times that he isn’t but I’m grateful that we still have him at all. <3

  2. I had a friend whose Dad lived with her for the first couple of years of the onset of his dementia. He became obsessed with buying Kleenex and would go to the store every day to buy just one box. By the time he was placed in care she had enough Kleenex to last her for the next 10 years.

  3. Those of us who haven’t had the challenging experience of living with someone who’s leaving us because of dementia, can’t even imagine. But, thanks to your beautiful, poignant and humorous take on such a heart-wrenching “dad-venture”, we now can…and we’re grateful.

  4. This writing took me back to a similar time when my father’s stroke was quite fresh and we were receiving post-care at the Shaver Hospital. After his therapy it was a lovely day and I knew he would enjoy his favourite coffee from Tim’s. We still had a an hour to wait before the scheduled return in the wheel chair access bus came to get us. Okay I can do this, I thought. We ventured down the street and he was delighted to be out. The wheel chair was heavy for me and at any point I was fearful on a slight hill we would roll into traffic, we made it a couple of blocks to the Tim’s and at that point I was quite exhausted and nervous, feeling the magnitude of what I was trying to do with my little experience and my newly operated on back. There it was, the Drive Thru, and yes that’s what I did. I was told when I got to the window that this was not allowed and at that point I was close to tears anyway. We managed to sit in the sunshine in their parking lot patio and we both just kept our faces to the sun. After the ordeal that it was, getting back, it was probably the last time I could get him out for a coffee, so I am grateful.

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