gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Friday, December 4, 2015

cruising with dad.

at the ripe old age of ninety-one years, my dad decided he wanted to go on a cruise. he practically begged me to take him on a nice caribbean cruise and my older brother strongly encouraged me to acquiesce to his request. it was only much later that the same brother admitted he would never ever have gone on any such trip with the old guy.

for the life of me, i could not imagine the two of us surviving the voyage without some form of a tragedy happening. there were so many ways for it to go terribly wrong. he could have a stroke on the airplane. he could tumble down the ship's stairs or even fall overboard. he could have a heart-attack. he already had major heart surgery and wore a pacemaker. he could fall in the shower when the boat lurched. he could easily ruin three-thousand peoples' lovely family vacation. i kept wondering: how can the cruise-line allow a ninety-one-year-old guy, who is hard-of-hearing, almost blind and often spectacularly cranky, to go (?) i tried to talk dad out of it. i suggested he try something normal, like sky-diving or bungee-jumping. unfortunately, he remained adamant.

when the big day arrived, i was of course in charge of making sure we both were awake and ready for our pre-arranged taxi at 2:30 in the morning. i was so afraid of over-sleeping that i didn't sleep a wink. i just meditated, sort of, on my side of the apartment, peeking at the clock again and again until it was time. dad was already up, and the taxi was right on time but, as we drove out of the parking-lot, he freaked out. he had left his walking cane behind. i put my hand on dad's arm, told him not to worry. on my way back up to the apartment, however, i was horrified to realize that i had actually forgotten our passports and all our various tickets. if dad had not forgotten his cane... i placed my head against the elevator wall and muttered: 'this is not going to go well.'

although my stress-level was through the roof all the way along, we arrived in ft. lauderdale without incident. in fact, i learned a valuable lesson: getting through the security check is way easier when you're pushing someone in a wheel-chair. once on board the ship, i immediately settled in to literally watching every step dad took. out of all the possible ways the trip could be terrible, however, the one factor i overlooked was dad's propensity for becoming wildly belligerent. he had a problem with everything: registration took too long, his luggage came late to our cabin, his bed was too soft, the towels were too hard.

of course i opted for us to be seated with others at dinner rather than alone. everyone was nice, happy, even joyous. dad remained silent. he was focussed on his salad. the rest of us were just getting to know one another. we were all just eating and talking, eating and talking. especially one lady, a rather loud obnoxious american woman with hair in a bun and aunt phyllis-style glasses. she went on and on until my dear dad, looking up from his soup at me, positively hollered: "you think that lady's ever gonna shut up!?"

after that first night, i opted for us to dine alone. my dad much preferred that as, i'm sure, did many others. one morning while waiting with a bunch of people at the elevator, dad realized he forgot his beloved 'bran buds cereal' in our room. he was addicted to the stuff and startled everyone when he began wailing. "oh for god's sake! oh for god's sake! oh what the hell am i gonna do (?)!" you gotta understand that we were not more than about ten paces away from our door. i put my arm around his shoulders and said: 'dad, it's not these peoples' fault that we forgot your 'bran buds.' you wait here and i will get it." by the end of the week, honestly, i was exhausted.

the one thing dad seemed to really like, perhaps the only thing, was the classical piano music each night in the lobby before dinner. he would sit in a chair near the guy playing and pretend to conduct an orchestra, waving his hand to the music. one evening, he even stood up and waved his cane around demonstrably like it was the baton, swaying with the music while everyone watched, smiled and took pictures.

in the middle of absolutely every night i'd wake up to the sounds of dad sobbing in the bathroom. i was so tired, over-tired in fact. but i'd have to go in, talk a bit, carry him back and tuck him in. he was scared, terrified that he might pee in his bed. i assured him i'd take care of any and every eventuality. it really didn't help. he was too petrified to sleep much. neither of us slept much. even on that very last night i woke up to the same whimpering noises coming from the bathroom. like a zombee, i went in, talked to him, tried to sooth him and put him back to bed. then, about an hour or so later i woke up, shocked. i had peed in my bed! i could not believe it. i was horrified. that next morning of our departure, i handed the cabin boy a rather generous tip, leaned in close and whispered: "i am so sorry, but the old guy peed in his bed."

three years later, as my dad lay dying, he looked up at me and said: "that cruise we went on, that was a good time wasn't it?" i agreed, of course, and then i thought to myself: 'you know, actually, it really was.'

1 comment :

  1. I love all your writing, but this one is special. My 95 year old mother has been living with me for the last 5 years, so I can relate to your experience of caring for an aging parent.
    Dealing with the weeping of an elderly parent is the hardest thing imaginable. There is so little that can be done.
    Thank you for this!