“Vale,” Dad’s voice came through a little shaky over the phone. “Are you very busy today? Your Mom is driving me crazy and I need some help.”
Mom had been having serious bouts of dementia and Dad himself wasn’t feeling all that great. “I’m not that busy today, Papi. I’ll swing by around lunch time.”
His voice perked up a bit. “Gracias, mijo.”
It would be my very last telephone conversation with my father.
I finished up some paperwork, replied to a couple of emails and rescheduled my afternoon appointment. Now, in retrospect, I realize I should have been happy that Id get to spend an afternoon with Mom and Dad, but the truth is, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Dad was in a lot of pain. His back and hips were causing him all kinds of hurt and he was very frail. It was difficult to see Dad, the big, strong ox, so weak, so thin, so helpless. Mom wasn’t doing so well either and adding to that was the dementia, which had gotten progressively worse in recent months.
I called Dad back as I left the office. “Did you two already have lunch?”
Dad said he’d had a little something but Mom hadn’t eaten. “Your Mom says she is going to cook. Chicharos.”
It had been months if not years since mom had taken to the kitchen and while I welcomed a steaming bowl of Mom’s chicharos, you never know how the food a person with dementia cooks will turn out. “I’ll swing by the Latin Cafe,” I told him. “pick up a couple media noches and for you a Latin 2000. It’s like a Cuban sandwich but with chorizo.”
“Ok,”he replied. “Sounds good.” You could never have too much food, according to Dad.
When I got to Mom and Dad’s, sandwiches in hand, Mom was in the front the front porch, staring out the window. “I thought you were your Dad,” she said. “he still isnt back from work.”
Mom thought Dad, who was sitting in his recliner watching tv, was Dad’s Dad. “Your father left me with the old man,” she told me. “And he looks ill.”
Dad and I laughed through the sadness about it. “She’s been like that since yesterday,” he said. “Driving me nuts.”
I broke out the sandwiches even though Dad said he wasnt all that hungry. I knew once he saw the chorizo, he’d eat. And he did. “Este sandwich esta empigau,” he said. “Dont eat the other half. I want it for later.”
Mom was tinkering around in the kitchen, searching in all the wrong places for everything she’d need to make the chicharos. She’s lived in this house over thirty years, cooked 2 or 3 squares a day, every day and couldnt even remember where she her pots or pans, her spices, spoons or anything else.
For the very first time in my life, at the age of 49, I helped Mom cook chicharos. The very same chicharos she’d pour over my head when Id refuse to eat them as a kid.
Dad napped most of the day while I chased after Mom. She kept pacing back and forth, going out to the front porch, bitching and moaning that Dad was late from work and he wasnt answering his phone and he was supposed to be home already and what if something happened and maybe I should go look for him. To say that witnessing this, living this, is heartbreaking is an overwhelming understatement.
I could not imagine what it must have felt for my Dad to live through this. To see his wife of 60 years mentally deteriorate to such an extent and he not be able to do anything for her. Dad could barely stand, he could hardly walk and for a man like my father, who spent his life protecting and providing and caring for his family, it must have been relentlessly devastating. The weight of the world on his shoulders.
Mom returned from one of her forays to the porch and suddenly recognized Dad. “When did you get home,” she asked. “we’ve all been waiting for you.”
Luckily or as I like to think by design, the dementia had given mom a short reprieve in the late afternoon and she went and sat next to Dad. She cupped his face in her hands, combed his white whisps back behind his ears and kissed his big hands. I could tell Dad was fighting back the tears but for those fleeting moments, they were so happy to see each other again.
“Coso,” Mom whispered to Dad. “I made you chicharos. Do you want a bowl?”
Dad said he thought she’d never asked. “the aroma was making me hungry.”
I helped Mom find his tray, set it up and serve him a bowl of chicharos that Mom and I made. Dad savored every bite and asked for a little more. “Este potaje esta de competencia.”
A couple hours later, Dad would have a pulmonary embolism, we would call 911 and Fire Rescue would take him to the ER.
He would never see his home again.