One evening in July, my father locked up his home of 53 years for the last time, the house my sister and I grew up in, the one our mother filled with her crafts and book group meetings — until she didn’t. About 10 years after we moved out, Mom, in her 50s then, quit her hobbies and nursing job. Her former patients sent her money cards, but if she felt like a graduate, she never talked about next steps. Retiring earlier than planned, our father, Don, cared for our mother, Carolyn, 24/7 in their home for 20 years. He seldom said Alzheimer’s.
She stopped talking altogether, would hum when we’d near her, an eager, revving sound.
For the last 17 months of her life, Mom lived in a nursing home. There, Dad visited her daily, relating these visits on our 9 a.m. phone checks — a ritual that had replaced my spontaneous chats with Mom. To me, each day sounded the same: him praying with her, feeding her pudding through a straw, and on some special days she smiled.
By the time she died, six years ago, I had accepted losing my mother. I would not accept losing my father to his paralyzing grief. Eyeing the Ziploc bag containing Mom’s hairbrush, which he had brought back to the house he still called “ours,” I took his inventory. There was that high-paying job he had rejected because he wouldn’t move; his refusal to get a smartphone or pay a bill online. He was a successful engineer, but could he change to save himself?
On visits, I’d suggest Dad leave Connecticut to live near my family in Virginia, touting the virtues of “moving on.” Dad nodded from his La-Z-Boy chair, the one patched with masking tape. Should he make popcorn and turn on “Downton Abbey,” he would ask me once I had wound down.