Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of Sunday, Church, Dread, and Memories

This post wrestles with a complex subject. Touchy. Full of emotion. Difficult. And, since today is a Sunday, it's the perfect day to tackle the topic that has been swirling about in my head for days, the one pertaining to the recurrent and persistent requests I'm getting from both Mom and Dad to ".....take us to church some Sunday, soon".

"Oh my", I whisper to myself, "do they have any idea what taking them to an hour long service, including a 30-40 minute commute each way by car all by myself entails?" The walkers, perhaps a wheelchair for Mom, the parking, navigating the 3 steps at the side entrance to the church (better than the main entrance with the 10 steps), getting over to the pew they like to sit in, making it through the service, sitting on my own version of pins and needles, and then breathing a huge sigh of relief when I get them safely back home without a mishap, a slip, or a fall. If they had only asked once and forgotten about it, my conscience wouldn't be eating at me. But, the subject has come up at least a half dozen times from Mom and twice from Dad independently. So, it's on their minds and therefore important. I've got to make it happen and I will. They haven't been to church in a long time, a really long time and the church community used to be a regular part of their lives.

What's at the root of my dread and the not-so-good memories?

I'm hitting the rewind button and heading back in time almost exactly three years to a fine Sunday in September 2006, the last time the three of us were at a church service together. That was a rough day and one for the memory book, one of those experiences where hindsight reads 20:20 and shines a spotlight on how a doctor-daughter's diagnostic skills can be overwhelmed by circumstance and relative blindness. Mom and Dad had just moved from their home into a 2 bedroom retirement apartment in Queen Anne, a rather traumatic transition as they left the majority of their things behind and downsized to live in a place where meals were provided along with other extra services. Dad surrendered his driving rights, dropping both the house and car keys on the dining room buffet as he left with Mom, ready for the next stage of life as an elder.

Within a week of moving into the retirement community, Dad's disposition started to change dramatically. He became suspicious, short tempered, and irritable. One day he insisted on taking a walk alone, got lost, and ended up taking a taxi back home, only able to remember the name of the apartment, not the street address. This was not street savvy Dad. His confusion escalated relentlessly. I had no idea what was going on but was so caught up with my own issues that I had little time to think about what might be happening with him. Mom kept pointing out his behaviors to me, especially his inability to sleep and I remember suggesting things like Tylenol PM. Not so good.

They wanted to go to church on that lovely September Sunday in 2006 so I met them at their apartment with my car. Both were nicely dressed when I arrived to pick them up. Dad had his cane but wouldn't use it; "I just carry it to ward people off", he commented. He had been up most of the night Mom said and had been talking about seeing things and people. I brushed it off as a symptom of exhaustion. As we pulled out of the parking lot he asked me where we were going; he couldn't remember. We made it through the service. People came over to greet them and were friendly. Someone advised my Dad to use his cane, that his gait seemed fragile, but he refused and carried it like a night stick. Odd, I thought. Something wasn't right but I had no idea that four days later he would be hospitalized.

My Dad spent over 3 weeks in the hospital and then was in a nursing home for another 6 weeks literally getting back on his feet from an acute,wickedly debilitating mental illness that nearly took his life. To this day he barely remembers any of what transpired during this time and that's probably good.

Although hindsight shows me that his life had started to unravel long before that last church service we attended together 3 years ago, I still associate taking them to church with that last experience when the shit started to hit the fan and life as we knew it up to that point began to implode. Things with my parents, first one and then the other, have been imploding in one or another way ever since. Three years is a long time.

I told them today that we'll wait until September comes; when church is back in "full swing", when the choir members and their director are back from vacation and ready to perform and the organist is ready to play. Mom wants to hear the music. Dad wants to greet his old friends and the pastors. It's the right thing to do. Neither of them, guaranteed, has any memory of the last time we were there 3 years ago. Just me.


  1. That's a big request on their part and a huge responsibility on your part to honor it. I would be reluctant, too, if I thought I had to do it by myself. Is it possible that it could be an outing where other family members would be involved as well? You handle things so well on your own, Kate. This may be a good time to ask for help.

  2. Kate -- What a wonderful and painful post. I don't think you realize the true "weight" of another human being till your parents age and fail. It's devastating, I know.


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