Blanket Apology To The Human Race (and Most Higher Orders of Animal Life, Excepting Only the Canada Goose)

angrygooseI spend every day of my life wanting to apologize to everyone I know on social media and quite a few of the people that I know in person.

I believe that most people who know me either:

  • think nothing at all about me, or,
  • think I’m an annoying, attention-hungry loser

I’m not worried about apologizing to people to whom I’m a complete non-entity; that’s actually the preferred state, I guess, given what I assume the alternative is. But everyone else — all the people I’ve annoyed, all the people I’m going to annoy, and all the people that I’m currently annoying — to you, I am very sorry.

I’ve spent my whole life doing impulsive, stupid things and then realizing how offended people were and then asking myself “why the hell did I do that?” And I suspect that there are countless more things that I’ve done that I didn’t pick up on. That when I leave the room people look at each other and just shake their heads. That people cheer up when they arrive and I’m not around. And so on.1Please don’t give in to the urge to post a follow-up saying “but that’s not true at all.” I promise you — I did not write this with the goal in mind of having people respond telling me that I’m not so bad after all, or because I was fishing for sympathy.

I sometimes think that the only way I can avoid cheesing people off through my spastic, dumb-ass sense of humor is to say nothing at all to anyone, to stay off social media, and to never go out in public except to go to work. (Somehow, I’m able to adopt a work persona that gets the job done and doesn’t feel a need to go off on weird tangents. Usually, anyway.)

I’m not overly fond of the blanket excuse offered up by over-psychoanalyzed Late 20th Century Man: “My parents did this to me.” I imagine that everyone’s parents did various not-so-constructive things along the way, and I believe that blaming one’s misfortunes on one’s parents is just a lame albi. My father did spend my entire childhood telling me that I was a jerk, that no one would ever like me, that I was an idiot, that I was a quitter who would never accomplish anything, and so on. That probably contributed somewhat to my belief that I had no friends, that the world was pretty much divided into:

  • people who don’t know me at all
  • people who can’t stand me
  • people who barely tolerate me

I was careful growing up to never ever ever refer to someone as my friend, for fear that they would look at me with a repulsed look on their face and say “We know each other. We’re acquaintances. But we’re not friends.” To this day, I feel weird about the term “friend”. Other people have friends. I have people I haven’t completely cheesed off yet.

But I don’t think this way of thinking this is all my father’s fault. I’m a gray-haired 48-year-old man. It’s past time that I take responsibility for my own thoughts and actions. It’s fairly pathetic to say “stuff that happened over 30 years ago continues to shape my thoughts today and every day.”

I think that the truth is that I really do careen through life doing a lot of dumb-assed stuff, and always have, and unless I take up the life of a hermit, probably always will. I’m very glad that I’ve got my work persona to fall back onto, but I can’t be that way 24/7. Somewhere along the way I developed a strong work ethic… but when I take the necktie off at the end of the day, the other Jay comes out.

And so I spend a lot of time face-palming at my own actions and wishing like crazy I had an “undo” button. And since I don’t… I wind up apologizing a lot, or wanting to apologize, or wishing I could go back and apologize. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to make amends to everyone you’ve ever hurt, even if they were disposed to give you a chance. In my case, there are just too many people.

Sorry

And thus, this post. To you, dear reader, I’m really, really sorry for anything and everything I’ve done to annoy you, irk you, cause you to sigh despairingly, waste your time, bore you, or otherwise act like a millstone around your neck. If you want to contact me for a more specific apology, please let me know.2Seriously. If you resent me for having done something annoying, wrong, mean, or otherwise bad, and I’ve been too damn clueless to realize that I screwed up, I’d welcome the chance to at least tell you I’m sorry.

Unless, of course, you’re a Canada goose. The blanket apology, and offer of a more specific apology, does not apply to them. Canada geese are mean. To heck with ’em.

goosehead

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Please don’t give in to the urge to post a follow-up saying “but that’s not true at all.” I promise you — I did not write this with the goal in mind of having people respond telling me that I’m not so bad after all, or because I was fishing for sympathy.
2. Seriously. If you resent me for having done something annoying, wrong, mean, or otherwise bad, and I’ve been too damn clueless to realize that I screwed up, I’d welcome the chance to at least tell you I’m sorry.

Drowning

Drowning

Though this is not going to come as a newsflash to anyone who knows me, I’ve been suffering from severe depression for a few years now. Of late I’ve been so depressed that at the end of each working day I’ve simply gone home (or to the hotel, when I’m traveling for work), eaten something, and then gotten into bed in a dark room to surf Wikipedia on my tablet. Nothing else. Same thing every day.

I am scheduled to walk in the 2016 Susan G. Komen 3-Day in Seattle this September, and I haven’t even started my fundraising, because I’m so damn depressed. Every week I say “perhaps this weekend I’ll compose a fundraising letter and send it out” and every weekend I do anything but. (If you want to sponsor me, though, you can do so here: http://www.the3day.org/goto/jayfurr — but for what it’s worth, this whole blog post is not intended to get donations by sounding absolutely pathetic.)

Four years ago, I was doing a lot of running. Then life took a few ugly turns, and I lost all my motivation, and since then I haven’t run at all. The last time I even tried to run in a friendly local race I was so far behind everyone else that I wound up dropping out. It was a 10K, which I didn’t have a lot of experience with, and I wasn’t feeling at my best, but regardless, I have to say that the overall weight of depression didn’t make things any easier. And after that debacle of a race, I just basically stopped.

Five years ago, I had gotten my weight down to 180 pounds. On a 6’2″ frame, that actually made me look skinny — for the first time since high school. But then depression hit and now I’m back up at 240. I have suits I bought when I was down at 180-190 that I can’t wear any more, but I can’t face the prospect of buying new, larger ones again because that’d be the final blow — a way of absolutely surrendering to the weight gain. As long as I don’t buy new suits, I can pretend that one day I’ll fit into the Slender Jay suits again.

My father died at the end of March, so now I guess I’m technically an orphan. That didn’t depress me as much as I’d have thought it would’ve, because, frankly, his death meant he didn’t have to suffer for years in a state of relatively severe dementia. If I recall correctly, it was only eight months or so from the time he was admitted to a nursing home (as a result of frequent periods of confusion and disorientation) to the time he passed away. Some people aren’t so lucky and linger for decades.

Still, it does sadden me to think that he’s gone. He and I didn’t see eye to eye, and I can’t recall him actually ever directly praising me for anything, but I respected him and I think he came to respect me and actually felt a little bit bad about how abusive he’d been when I was younger. I wish I’d had more time to get to know that Keith Furr — the one who looked back at a long life and wished he could have been a better father.

Right now, today, I’m in Phoenix, Arizona — in town to do two days of training at a local customer and then to present a session at my company’s national conference. I had a perfectly fine day today, training-wise, but I spent most of the day privately wishing like anything that I could just go back to the hotel and sit in a dark room. I doubt the customers ever realized I was thinking anything of the sort, but behind my cheerful, professional mask was a deep gloom and the thought that it would be nice if some sort of emergency (say, a tornado alarm, or an alien invasion) happened to occur.

Toward the end of the day I happened to mention that, hypothetically, I might be interested in going to see the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Yankees tonight… and for some reason all the folks present seized on the idea and started looking up ticket prices and giving advice on taking the train to the stadium and this and that and the other… and the whole time I was thinking “why did I mention that? I’m way too depressed to go back to the hotel, change into casual clothes, and go out to a game.”

I am taking medicine for my depression: citalopram, buproprion, and trazodone (which I don’t take every night because it’s so heavily sedating that I feel groggy the next morning). I think the medicine helps somewhat — I don’t find myself waking up with panic attacks and so on, for example, but it’s certainly not making it possible for me to have a regular life. I’ve tried other medications as well, and none have made much difference. I imagine that if I started getting a lot of regular exercise, that’d help tremendously, but there’s basically zero chance of my going back to the hotel, changing into exercise clothes, and going down to the fitness center to pound out a few miles on a treadmill.

I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m just plain drowning.

Drowning II

 

 

Missing Carole

I travel for work — some years, in excess of 75% of my weeknights are spent in hotels far from home. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and counting, and Carole and I have always managed to make it work. Carole doesn’t mind me being gone; it means she can watch TV and play a lot of Plants versus Zombies without me distracting her. As for me, so long as I can check in with her at some point in the evening, I get by. There’ve only been a few occasions when I felt a palpable, aching loneliness; for the most part, spending most of our time apart just seems normal.

As it happens, though, Carole is the one who’s out of town this week. She’s visiting Los Angeles with her parents. There’s more to the trip than that, but I can’t talk about the specifics right now. She flew out yesterday and is scheduled to come home on Thursday. And the weird thing is, even though she’s been gone only a day and a half, I find myself really missing her. Much more than I would if it were me in Los Angeles and her back here in Vermont.

I think my brain must be having a hard time coping with the fact that I’m here, at our house, and when I’m at our house, Carole is always around. Except that she isn’t. When you’re used to things being a particular way, it’s very hard to get your brain out of that way of thinking.

still find myself expecting to see our cat Thursday lounging on the back of the living room sofa; I see something out of the corner of my eye and my brain automatically fills in a ginger-and-white kitty. But that’s impossible; Thursday died in June. Try convincing my subconscious of that: Thursday spent a big chunk of the last twelve years lounging on the back of the sofa, so clearly, on a sunny day, that’s where you’ll find her.

So, yeah, I know there’s a rational explanation for why it seems so odd to be here in Vermont and not have Carole around, but my subconscious wants nothing to do with rational explanations. So here I sit, lonely.

I’m not the only one missing an absent spouse, either. Dad told me the other day that, despite being a hard-nosed realist with little use for religion, he’s started seeing Mom sitting next to him on the bed. Since she died two years ago, either her ghost has started hanging around, or Dad’s sleepy subconcious brain is filling in a perceived void with what it thinks should be there. Who knows? Either way, Dad has my sympathy. 🙁

 

Missing my mother

My mother, Dora Furr, would have been 84 today, had she lived to see the day. She passed away two years and four days ago, somewhere in the evening of August 31, 2011, although on her death certificate they recorded it as September 1. (I’m still not sure why.) She died of “diseases of the elderly”, which basically means “everything gave out,” although her condition’s initial decline was due to a persistent MRSA-like infection of her legs.

My main regret was that I didn’t have a last conversation with her that gave me the opportunity to say how much I appreciated all she’d done for me. When I last spoke to her, she was an inpatient at a rehab facility and was very groggy, incoherent, and peevish … and at the time, I had no idea that would be our ‘last call’.

I never spent as much time traveling to visit her as some people might consider appropriate: maybe one visit every two and a half years. I’d hate to go through old Quicken records to figure out exactly how often I went down there, because I might be wrong; it might have been even less frequent than that. When I did visit or call, our conversations typically lacked depth; she would typically tell me about every person in our extended family who had had surgery in the recent past, and if no one had, she’d typically tell me about random acquaintances I didn’t even know, who had. Mom did not have Alzheimer’s or any kind of senile dementia that I’m aware of — she just had a well-worn groove when it came to topics she liked to talk about.

I don’t have kids; Carole and I decided that it was for the best that we not have any, given my travel schedule and Carole’s tendency toward depression and certain other related issues. I wouldn’t have been around to share the job of parenting and Carole wouldn’t have made a great solo mom. That decision severely impacted the number of topics that Mom would have been interested in discussing; I know that if I’d had kids she’d have wanted weekly updates on them. But since our nest was, is, and always will be empty, our store of entertaining stories mostly had to do with our cats, and I have to say, I don’t blame Mom for not having a lot of interest in what our furry little friends were up to.

Mom had to settle for having grandkids by my sister Julie. My brother Rob and my sister Elizabeth and I all had other life outcomes. So it goes.

So — in any event, our conversations were often banal, trite, and more or less for the sake of having conversations than for any actual value that came out of them. I never knew what to say or what she’d be interested in hearing about, and she never seemed to have much to share other than “same ol’, same ol’.” And I feel bad about that.

Mom was glad that I had my life in order and that I was gainfully employed and married and had my own house (mortgaged) and had been able to settle in a beautiful area where I could be happy. She didn’t hold it against me that I was at the far opposite end of the eastern seaboard from her — me in Vermont, her in Florida. I wish we’d had more in common and had more to talk about. Everyone wants to write the Great American Novel. Everyone wants to have the ideal relationship with their spouse. And everyone wants to be able to sleep at night knowing that they did right by the parents, who did so much for them. And that we left nothing unsaid that ought to have been said.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want.

I still miss her. I know it’s hard for my father, too — he still hasn’t packed away any of her clothing. Her belongings are just where she left them the last time she was in the house. They may well stay right there until the day he, too, dies.

Each of us has our own way of coping with loss. I wish I knew what mine is.

 

Life Is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

What do you do when your life has, basically, gone to hell and you can’t talk about it with anyone because either they won’t believe you when you get down to the specifics, or because you feel compelled to protect the privacy of one of the people who is making your life hell?

Yes, I know I can go to therapy — I went to therapy pretty routinely for most of the last year, but haven’t been a lot lately because I’ve been so busy with work. Therapy helped somewhat — it helped me avoid getting into conflict with the person who has the most significant negative impact on my life.

But last night I realized that somewhere along the way, something just … plain… broke inside me.

I have not gone bicycling this summer. I have not gone kayaking. I have not gone scuba diving (not that diving in Lake Champlain is all that great, but it’s what we’ve got). I have not gone for a single hike in the Green Mountains. I’ve done minimal blogging and creative writing. I started the year planning on doing a lot of running, then sometime in June found myself dreading my runs so much that I, well, just stopped. For the last six years I’ve spent a lot of my summer nights walking long distances in order to toughen myself up for walking in one or more Susan G. Komen 3-Day walks — but this summer, I blew that off. I did precisely two long walks in preparation for this past weekend’s Michigan 3-Day, and those took place in the last ten days. As a consequence of failing to train, I ended the walk (having walked every mile) more footsore than I’ve ever been and absolutely wiped out. Just tired beyond the capacity for rational thought.

But wait, there’s more. I had dieted and exercised my way down to 177 pounds in late 2009 and early 2010. I decided that made me look a bit more skeletal than really was good for me, and let my weight get back up to the 190-195 pound range. But a year ago my weight really started to creep back up and up and UP when it turned out that basically the only kind of self-nurturing I could find interest in was… eating. This is not a surprise to anyone who’s ever been depressed.

I weighed myself when I got home from the Michigan 3-Day yesterday. I am at 225 pounds. Some of that, to be sure, is retained water from the event — it’s common to put on some water weight during the event, then shed it over the following week. I was at 217 before the walk. But still, 225 is frightening. That’s just 15 pounds shy of my all-time high, and I regard that level as “the time when I was a blob.”

I’ve taken anti-depressants: citalopram and trazodone. Neither helped in the slightest with my malaise and lethargy. In fact, for all I know, they may have contributed to it — trazodone is known to have soporific effects, so it became a bedtime medicine for me. But neither restored me to the get-up-and-go Jay that I used to be.

I believe much of my depression is external in origin — the person I’m referring to seems to delight in making my life hell, and I have absolutely no leverage to do anything about it. And when I attempt to talk to mutual acquaintances, they flat-out tell me that I must be exaggerating.

I’ve learned mad conflict avoidance skills — but if the core of the problem is that as a result of my avoiding conflict, I’ve turned myself into a doormat and encouraged my tormentor to up the abuse to see how far they can go before I erupt, then what?

I don’t really have a solution at this point. In the short term, I do plan to try to get back to exercising — once my left heel stops hurting so much, that is — and try to cut out all the binge eating. No more stopping off at the deli counter at the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a bag of fried cheese sticks. That may help get my weight down — but it doesn’t help with the key questions I posed at the top of this post:

What do you do when your life has, basically, gone to hell and you can’t talk about it with anyone because either they won’t believe you when you get down to the specifics, or because you feel compelled to protect the privacy of one of the people who is making your life hell?

 

The Shape I’m In

If you haven’t listened to “The Shape I’m In” by the Band recently, go do that. Then come back and read the rest of this.

Today was a bad day. Not because of anything that went wrong at work, because nothing did. (I’m in Aurora, Colorado, doing training at one of our customers. The classes today went fine. Nothing whatsoever is wrong vis-a-vis work.) But despite the sunny day outside, I’ve been sitting here like a bump on a log for 90 minutes and counting, too lethargic and morose to get up, get in the rental car, go back to my hotel and change, and then go do something.

The last few months have been an absolute fog. If it weren’t for my Outlook calendar, allowing me to go back and say “what the heck did I do the third week of April?” I’d be in even worse shape than I am. A blend of various kinds of depression has sidelined me; I’ve done very very very little with my life and I’ve basically been on automatic pilot.

I last had this problem — to this extent — about five years ago. I felt like my life was going absolutely nowhere and had no real meaning. My friend Sandy challenged me to come walk the DC 3-Day with her, and more out of “what the heck” than anything else, I signed up, did the fundraising, did the walk, and was glad of it. I spent the next five years enthusiastically fundraising and walking in 3-Day walks, gradually becoming fairly widely known among the larger 3-Day walker and crew community.

But for some reason, I am finding it hard to get the same fire in the belly this year. And it’s not because cancer’s been cured or anything like that. In fact, I’ve seen more friends and acquaintances pass away from breast cancer this year than I have in any prior year. For some reason, I’ve been trapped in a perpetual “mañana” attitude. I’ll blog tomorrow. I’ll train tomorrow. I’ll do this tomorrow. I’ll do that tomorrow. And then I never do.

My 3-Day fundraising has suffered for it — I’ve been stuck at $1199 for over a month now and no new donations have come in. Even when I have posted about the event and my fundraising goal, no one’s donated. Would I feel more enthused if people were donating and I was nearing my $2,300 minimum? Maybe. But I doubt it. I’m just swimming in molasses.

I do have things that potentially might motivate me and get me fired up, much as my initial plunge into the 3-Day did back in 2008.

For example, I ran my first-ever relay leg in a marathon on Sunday. I did okay — I ran/walked 5.5 miles in 53 minutes. In the pouring rain and temperatures in the 40s, I might add. Philosophically, I’d like to set a goal of running a marathon next year; it seems like I ought to be able to do 26 miles in 6 hours or less if I can do 5.5 in 53 minutes. (I only mention the 6 hour figure because that’s the cutoff for the Vermont City Marathon. I don’t know what cutoff other races use.) But I’m never going to get faster and develop more stamina if I don’t run.

I should be out running now. I’ve already located a good running trail in Aurora and I’ve had more than enough time to leave work, go change, and head back out to run. But right now I feel so down I could just about cry.

I feel that my depression is almost entirely biochemical in nature. I don’t think it’s due to my personal life issues, although they could be contributing. It’s been very stressful dealing with a very sick cat, and it’s also very stressful coping with my wife’s unemployment.

It may be unfair of me to say so, but I do feel that she could be doing much, much more than she currently is to look for and find work. I know, however, that she‘s dealing with depression, and that doesn’t make it easy for her either. While she’s unemployed, she tends to take out all her frustration and stress on me. Furthermore, she tells me that she has no interest in hearing anything I might have to share, which is at least open and honest of her even if it’s depressing at the same time. I don’t even bother telling her about work or about what’s going on in my life. I’ve tried to tell her about running, but she instinctively tunes me out. According to her, my talking about running makes her feel bad about the bad shape she’s in; she simply finds it impossible to be happy for me that I’m trying to get myself in better shape.

But as I said, she’s dealing with her own depression, and it’s not fair of me to demand perfection from her. Or even a middle-of-the-bell-curve level of attentiveness. She is who she is, and I am who I am, and that’s unlikely to change.

Yes, I am taking medication. I’ve recently been encouraged to double my dose of citalopram, and I’m still taking a nightly trazodone to help me get drowsy and possibly help with depression at the same time. I’m also taking gemfibrozil and simvastatin for high cholesterol (thanks to heredity) and losartan and hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure. It seems possible to me that one of the aforementioned drugs could be impacting my depression, but how do you determine which? Drop off one and see if I start doing cartwheels? How long do I have to stay off said drug before I can be sure it was making a difference? What if it’s some odd combination?

I know that running a lot would probably help my mental health. But there’s the whole catch-22 thing: if I ran a lot, I’d feel happier, but I don’t run a lot because I don’t feel happy enough to do so.

I’m concerned about my lack of energy and about my overall fog. I’m contemplating trying to blog once a day, just summing up what the heck I did with my day, to sort of force myself to take stock of things and not drift through life as much. And, as a side benefit, it’d make it possible for me to look back and go “what DID I do that week six weeks ago?”

Normally, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the days getting longer and I used to bounce out of bed early each morning, ready to go out and seize the day when the sunlight came spilling in and 5:30 a.m. — but not any more. We each get only so many springtimes in life — and it’s driving me crazy that I’m throwing this one away.

 

 

What is love? Part 1

I am spending Valentine’s Day far from my sweetie.

This isn’t as unusual as it might be for some people. I work as a technical trainer for a very large Fortune 500 company and it’s often the case that I’m on a business trip on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I send flowers, sometimes I send chocolates, and in any event, we often try to have a special meal out when I return.

But this week I’m not on a business trip. In fact, I was supposed to be at home this week; I expected to be in town all week long, resting up between road trips and getting in some serious running at the gym and, with any luck, having a romantic Valentine’s Day night out with Carole.

That all changed last Wednesday night, when my father, Keith Furr, tripped over his own loose sock on the hardwood floor of the hallway outside his bedroom at his house in Brooksville, Florida. Dad is 80, a widower, and had been planning on having a hip replacement soon anyway, but that fall fractured his right hip but good — the same one he’d been planning on having replaced. He lay in agony in the hallway for a while, somehow managed to drag himself back into his bedroom and onto his bed, and then finally was able to wake my sister Elizabeth up with his shouts. Elizabeth lives with him; she’s the oldest of my three siblings, and is disabled with mental health issues. She got word to my cousin Anne who lives across the street and who works with my family as driver, housecleaner, cook, and all-around superhero. And it was off to the hospital for Dad.

I got word as I was already in Illinois for a business trip. There was debate over whether Dad would even be healthy enough to survive surgery; among his many problems is a bad heart, a significantly blocked artery, and atrial fibrillation. A debate took place between his orthopedic surgeon and his cardiologist as to which surgery would take place first. In the end, they went with the hip replacement.

I knew that I needed to get down to Florida as soon as I could. For all I knew, Dad might not wake up from the anesthesia; if he did, he might be looking at months of rehab and/or hospitalization. I had vague notions of flying home, unpacking, repacking, and flying down here to Florida to spend the week with Dad at the hospital until he was well enough to transfer to rehab, then keeping him company in rehab until the weekend and then flying home to resume my work schedule. But life took another frustrating turn when my flight home from Illinois on Friday was cancelled outright; I couldn’t get home to Vermont because of a massive blizzard that hit the Northeast. The earliest a flight could get me home to Vermont would be Monday of this week.

Then the Good Fairy interceded: it turns out that I could alter my Chicago-to-Vermont flight to a Chicago-to-Tampa flight, basically at an even trade. No out of pocket on my part, and I could fly down as soon as my Illinois work assignment was over — essentially, Saturday morning. I arrived here in Florida with no return ticket; I wanted to wait to see when it would make sense for me to fly home. For that matter, my siblings in Calgary (AB) and Chapel Hill (NC) might decide to come down, so I figured I’d wait to see what their plans were.

And that’s how I came to spend the weekend, Saturday and Sunday and Monday, sitting calmly in my father’s hospital room in Brooksville, Florida, watching him sleep, serving as a go-between to make sure that he actually got fed (he kept getting left off the meal list and if I hadn’t been there, he’d have gone hungry), actually got looked after (he wasn’t functional enough to ring for a CNA when he’d wet himself, and I had to keep checking on him and summoning help), and so on, and doing my best to talk with him and keep his spirits up, despite the pain. Dad was very very loopy when I first got to Florida; he had been on an older form of anesthesia since had not had a week to wean himself off the Plavix he routinely takes, and if I understand correctly, that particular kind of anesthesia takes a long time to leave the system. That, and the narcotic painkillers he was on, left him unable to distinguish between dreams and reality. He didn’t know where he was; he was convinced that there had been a huge party at his house Wednesday night, which he was very cranky about, and that my sister Julie had been present (she’s still in North Carolina), and even though I politely, but firmly assured him that there had been no party, he kept going back to that belief.

Don’t even ask about the nightmares he’d had, which were equally “real” to him. I’d be sitting talking with him and he’d seem quite lucid, but then he’d begin talking about how “that trip to the cemetery” had taken so much out of him. I learned to recognized the signs of the false memories and could distinguish them from reality, but he would also treat his doctors, nurses, and CNAs to the same jarring tangents into horror.

We decided that it was best if he took no more narcotics and switched him to Tramadol for pain. He got some decent sleep and by Sunday afternoon, the second day I was there, he was almost back to normal, mentally.

All along we had been acting on the assumption that he would be in the hospital for five days, post-surgery, then transfer to an inpatient rehab facility. I arrived at the hospital bright and early at 8 am on Monday morning and no sooner had I walked in than Dad cheerily announced that his doctor said he could go home. Home home. Not to the rehab facility.

I had no idea if this was real or another delusion, so I went and found his nurse and got some clarification. He could go home if his physical therapist thought it was reasonable. I secretly hoped that his PT would persuade Dad that it wasn’t a good idea; I had a premonition that Dad would take home physical therapy a LOT less seriously than the intense, three-hours-per day PT he’d get at the inpatient rehab. I wasn’t alone in worrying about the prospect — the nursing supervisor for the floor and the case manager for the floor arrived mid-morning, looking alarmed at the prospect of Dad heading home as though he hadn’t just broken a hip and had emergency surgery. I could tell from Dad’s face that he desperately wanted to go home and not spend another night in a crummy hospital bed, no matter how nice. I equivocated and said that we would certainly listen to the advice of the PT and his own personal doctor, who would be coming by around noon.

You guessed it: the PT didn’t tell us “over my dead body”, and his doctor said “Yeah, okay, whatever.” And after about three hours of waiting for papers to sign and transport to arrive, we loaded Dad in a wheelchair and loaded the wheelchair in a van, and next thing you know, here we were at the house.

Dad’s going to be getting PT three times a week, A nursing visit three times a week. And a visit from a CNA three times a week. But so far, he’s not been super-dedicated about doing the exercises his PT assigns him. And when we get him up in his walker to move him to a chair, he just won’t listen when we beg him to stay inside the walker, not pushing it so far in front of him that he’s practically falling down. But he needs to be up and moving around and doing his exercises to get strong… and it’s incredibly hard to persuade someone who just feels defeated that there’s a reason to rise up and give it another try.

I sympathize tremendously. I’m not angry at him. I don’t fault him. He’s 80 and injured and weak. But willpower makes such a huge difference when fighting health issues, and I know he’s got will. The trick is trying to bring it to the surface.

But when he’s resting, and I’m waiting for the next occasion to help him, the minutes and hours sure do pile up… minutes and hours that fill, unasked, with melancholy thoughts.

I didn’t grow up in this house. Far from it. Mom and Dad retired to Brooksville in order to get away from the snowy, cold winters in Blacksburg, Virginia. But the house is full of possessions I did grow up with. And it’s full of memories of my mother, who passed away suddenly a year and a half ago.

It’s been very emotionally upsetting for me, hanging out at this house where a reminder of good times or bad lurks around every corner. And I’ve had a lot of time to ponder and mope as Dad’s needed someone to be here around the clock ever since we brought him home on Monday. When he’s sleeping, there’s not much I can do other than sit around waiting for him to call from the bedroom that he needs help. My cousin Anne has been a huge help, and she’ll continue to look after Dad after I fly home on Saturday, but she’s got a life of her own and when she’s not here, mostly I sit, do a little work-related email, and gloom.

I worry about my father. He had few friends and loved my mother very much. She was his life. And when she died, the ship of our family suddenly lacked a captain. While Dad was the breadwinner, Mom was the person who made sure things got done here at the house. Even when she wasn’t strong, when she was in her last years, she still made sure things didn’t get overlooked. Without her around, and with my father so terribly weak and frail …

I keep wanting to go around and “fix” things so they’ll be the way she would have wanted them. Books that I know no one will ever read again — they need to be straightened. Houseplants that she once looked after attentively — they need to be tended to, fertilized, transplanted, whatever. I want to pick things up, put them back the way she liked them.

I’m obviously suffering through some kind of denial. Though she’s been gone for a year and a half, I was able to push the thought of her demise away by focusing on work and my life back in Vermont. Back here in her house in Florida, the presence of my mother is everywhere. And I know that no matter what I do, nothing’s going to bring her back.

Dad is suffering from the same denial. He hasn’t gotten rid of anything of Mom’s. As you walk around, it’s almost as though he thinks she’ll be back. Her drawers are still full of her underwear and scarves and jewelry. Her closets are full of her clothes. Her rack of daily prescription medicines would probably still be on the dining table if Carole and I hadn’t taken it upon ourselves to dispose of them a couple of days after her memorial service.

I know that one of these days Dad is going to die. And I spent the first five days of this time down here dreading that like you would not believe. Not just because Dad will, ultimately, die, but also because it will be hard, HARD when the time comes to go through the house and dispose of all their things. A couple days ago, Cousin Anne informed me that Dad has altered his will putting the house in a trust for Elizabeth so she’ll continue to have a place to live after he dies, and that puts the date of us having to empty the house off for, I hope, MANY years. Dad hadn’t informed me of the change, but I wholeheartedly agree with the new plan.

I’m exhausted and wrung out, emotionally and physically. Dad’s having prostate issues and several times a day we’re having to go deal with the consequences. The poor man can’t get up to use the bathroom and a bedside urinal isn’t always easy to manage in the middle of the night when you’re in pain, disoriented, and sad. I’ve been sleeping on a sofa in the room next to Dad’s bedroom so that I can come running if he needs me in the middle of the night. The “sleep” I’ve been getting hasn’t been great; I come awake over and over again, listening and thinking “was that him calling for me? is there a problem?” only to find out that it’s just him mumbling in his sleep. It grieves me to see the man who was such a strong central figure in my life when I was a kid so foggy and frail and helpless.

Some people who know me well find it a bit incongruous that I’m down here at all. Dad was a hard man to have as a father. I was beaten up, physically and emotionally, for years. Dad never had a kind word to say about me from about the time I entered third grade until I finished graduate school, and even then, the praise came only rarely. Dad didn’t really start treating me with respect until I got a salaried position and began living a normal middle-class life. Until that happened, I’m sure he was waiting confidently for me to fail — he spent most of my childhood aggressively predicting failure in my every endeavor.

He mellowed a bit as he got older. But he’s still got the same problem that he’s always had: he’s not good at showing love. Except to Mom, and even then, he usually found a way of expressing it that allowed him plausible deniability. That he loved her is not in question. But he was never good at showing it, not when others were around. And he’s not good at showing it to his children, even today. He’s quick to criticize, quick to find fault, and the only defense is to show a quiet, unflappable competency.

But on the other hand, something pretty out of the ordinary happened the other day. The last day he was in the hospital before coming home, after a flurry of activity where I’d chased down the hospital catering crew to find out why, for the second time in five meals, he’d been skipped, chased down his nurse to find out why a promised pain pill had still not materialized after an hour, and helped him out of his chair back into bed (not an easy task), he looked at me and said “Thank you for all you’re doing to help me.”

I said “It’s no more than I should be doing — you looked after me when I was a baby and when I was a kid, now it’s my turn to look after you.”

And he replied, “Well, yeah, but …” and here his voice dropped to a barely audible mumble … “I was pretty rough on you at times.”

That is the closest he has ever come to admitting “I beat the hell out of you for most of your childhood.”

And I understand why people who know me, and know Dad, and know how we haven’t always gotten along (to say the least) find it odd that I’m down here. That I’m waiting on him hand and foot, talking with him to try to keep his brain engaged and lucid, lying half-awake all night waiting for him to call for help. That I’m going to such lengths to try to help him.

It’s not easy. But it is the right thing to do. When someone you love is in pain, you do what you have to do.

And there’s that word: “love”.

Love is a confusing, frustrating thing. It’s not an easy thing. We think of love in terms of “romantic love” more often than not, especially on today of all days. But love comes in many forms, and if it’s not love to change your father’s wet bedsheets three times a day with a smile on your face and without a word of complaint, then I don’t know what love is.

It does me no good to keep a record in my head of all the mean and angry things Dad did to me over the years. It would do me no good to hold a grudge and to say “Let him suffer; it’s no more than he deserves.” It would do me no good to sigh in exasperation and say “Oh, jeez, what now?”

I must simply remember: Dad is a human, like all the rest of us. He is not perfect. Nor am I. But we are all deserving of love. One day he will be gone and no amount of tidying or reorganizing his cluttered office will bring him back. And when that day comes, I will miss him. And I do not want to have on my conscience when that day comes that I did less than I could have.

I believe that Dad can regain his strength and live several more years, able to walk and function and enjoy life. I am optimistic that he’s going to get stronger and that he’ll be able to take care of himself and not be perpetually dependent on others to care for him. But even if my belief and optimism come to nothing, whether he prevails or whether he gives up, defeated, I still love him. With all his faults, he’s still my father.