It turns out it’s true that mourning is a winding path and not a straight line. We experienced a busy April and May, up and down and all around! Then things quieted down, ya saben, a calm before the storm of wedding planning pelts us. A quiet house is rare for the Greene home, but we’ve had a couple of days of it, bien nice! Pero, every time I slow down, even just a little bit, I start looking back, wrapping up all the events in sweet memories, but somewhere along that wrapping I feel the absence of my loved ones. I get emotional and the void in my life accuses me. If Patty were here, she’d approve of Emery’s choice. My apa wouldn’t be able to make the long trip for the wedding. Y mi ama? What would she say about my hijos? Lupe, my big sister, she’d scare Emery’s girl with her piercing Zepeda gaze.
It all started on Memorial Day when I counted my amas, 33rd year gone to her rest. Then, that night I read a blog about caregiving, y ahora I was looking for a picture and I got caught up rereading a string of family emails about my apas care. Tengan paciencia, I need to go through this process, my therapy, I went back to a time when my apa was a young man of 90.
Following In His Grandfather’s Steps
(This was when my apa was still able to live in his own home with caregivers)
It was my turn to take Dad to the doctor for his neurology visit. I drove into town early and thought that I would pull him out of his adult care program early and go have a treat. I had to wait until his full four hours were complete, the program was not going to bend the rules for Don Manuel! Maybe their funding was on the line? No choice but to wait. When my apa saw me, he knew the day was over. The ‘junta’ was over and his work was done, ‘la mesa directiva’ had made no decisions in that meeting. Many times he was frustrated with that “board of directors” for wasting his time in these meetings. You see, every weekday when my apa was picked up for his adult care program, he believed that he was going to work. A day full of meetings, like when he was a young man in 1970 working for a program called Campesinos Unidos. Asi es, for a short time my apa didn’t work out in the fields.
He was ready to leave, but we had to wait, so we made small talk. I had to keep redirecting him. He asked about my family, and his usual focus was, “Y tu hija? Valentina, ¿Ya se caso?” For some time dad had been calling my daughter Daniella, Valentina. She must have looked like a Valentina to him, so I quit correcting him. Back to Daniella’s marital status. “Si Apa ya va a cumplir 3 años de casada.” “Como? Cuando?” He was as always very shocked to hear the news that she had already been married for a short while. I asked about his day and the response was usually, “The director stood up there and talked and talked, but I didn’t know what he was getting at” Then, “Y tu hija, como esta? Ya se caso?” This time, although he was shocked at my answer, he remembered, and reminded me very apologetically that he wasn’t remembering things very well anymore. That’s when he asked again why he was going to the doctor. I explained his dementia issue. He was diagnosed with short term memory loss, the new memories were lost immediately. However, my sister and I suspected that his memory loss was very selective. I explained that his struggle with memory loss might be helped with medication. Suddenly he remembered his grand- father who lived to be 101 and also suffered from dementia.
Young Manuel with His Abuelo
His grand-father was old and frail, housebound, confused about his past and present. He lived in the past. One day as his abuelo looked out the window he saw the sky heavy with rain clouds. Manuel knew that it was a beautiful clear day, blue skies and sunshine. He listened as his grand-father worried out loud about the dark heavy rain clouds. He turned to him and said “those clouds are heavy with rain, it looks like an ugly storm coming in.” Manuel knew his grand-father was confused and said nothing, it happened often. Gone was his strong grandfather who had sat erect on his horse and gave orders.
Then Dad paused and looked at me, “It looks like I might be taking after him.” I said, “Quizas, since you’ve only got 11 years before you’re 101!” Again, shock registered in his voice, “Que tan Viejo estoy?! He didn’t remember that he was 90, he was sticking to 80. Interestingly enough, it was that year that he officially entered the ‘needing care and supervision” stage of his life. All I could do was ask God to hold back that dementia as much as possible. As I situated him into the car to go to the doctor, he casually asked “Y tu hija, Valentina? Como esta?”
At The Appointment:
Sitting at the doctor’s office was a sad unveiling. It was crowded. Chairs too close to each other, before covid of course, when all the world stood paralyzed. Men, women, young and old people all with some kind of nerve damage or muscle injuries, looking pained, angry and entirely restless. Hijole! I cringed at what I saw, heard and imagined. Most of them were there just for refills, they needed the temporary relief from the pain. Dad wasn’t in pain, why was I there anyway? And as if dad heard my thoughts he asked “Porque estamos aqui?”
The appointment was to see the much demanded neurologist in Imperial Valley, in which I hoped the evaluation would determine a solution, a goal… something. After an hour of waiting, dad was called. We walked slowly to an examining room, when we sat down, my apa was suddenly clear minded and present. As we waited for the doctor to enter, he asked if he was sick? He wanted to know why we were with “this” type of doctor. He looked at me knowingly, “estoy loco.” That’s when the nurse practitioner stepped in, the doctor wasn’t available. He greeted us, shaking dad’s hand, and both men stared at each other.
Nurse: ¿Cómo está señor Zepeda?
Apa: Bien, con un poco de dolor en la nuca.
He was always fine except for the pain in the back of the neck which was his usual complaint. The nurse looked at the back of his neck, determined that it was probably arthritis.
Nurse: What is your name and birthdate?
I guess if he knew those answers he must be fine verdad? Really, a long term memory, ingrained into him after 90 years.
Apa: Manuel Zepeda Solano, 12-15-24.
He stared at the doctor, dismissing him with his eyes. The nurse looked at me.
Nurse: Ok, I’ll write his prescription for a refill, doesn’t seem like there’s any changes. Que?! Por supuesto que things were changing! Why were we there? Was the medication helping? How could we help him? And us. When we got in the car dad pulled out the $5 that was always in his wallet and said “Vamos a una nieve.” So we went for an ice cream and I enjoyed hearing more about my strong bis abuelo, Solano.
Hijole! I do miss my sisters and my parents, I don’t know when I’ll see them again. It is my prayer and hope for that reunion. Pero mientras, it helps to pull out the memories and enjoy la familia I have here on earth.