“Is Mom Gone?”

I got a message from Amanda that Dad was having a “rough time” and headed over there to check up on him.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing breakfast when I got there. I rested my hand on his back and he looked over at me and smiled. I held his hand and he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. Then I brought his hand to my lips and kissed it. He smiled again.
Dad: How’s Mom?
Karen: She’s fine.
Dad: Where is she now… is she (mumbling)…?
Karen: (Thinking how I should answer this question. Finally…) Daddy, Mom passed on two years ago. (I feel I should say this – I feel like he needs to know…) She’s waiting for you when that time comes.
Dad: (Nods and looks down at his plate. I’m not sure he heard or understood. I wait.) Where are Peter and David?
Karen: Pete’s in Hoodsport – on the peninsula. Dave’s in Olympia. They’re both doing great. Pete came and saw you a couple days ago. You watched football together. Dave’s coming up this weekend.
Dad: (Nods.)
Karen: They both love you very much.
Dad: (Nods.)
Karen: And I love you, too.
(Dad looks up at me and smiles.)
Karen: Looks like you’ve been eating an avocado.
Dad: Yeah. This was a rich one.
Karen: (I lean over so my mouth is next to his ear, and start singing a hymn I know he’s familiar with..) “In heavenly Love abiding, no change my heart shall fear, and safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here…” and “O dreamer, leave thy dreams for joyful waking!…”
(Then we sit quietly for maybe ten minutes, or twenty – I lose track of time. I don’t feel the need to say or do anything. We’re just together. He’s starting to nod off now. His head drooping towards the table…)
Karen: Do you want to go sit in the recliner in front of the television and take a nap?
Dad: (Looks up at me and nods.) Yeah.
(Dad is in a wheelchair today – he’s having a hard time standing or walking – so Dietrich pushes him in the wheelchair over to a recliner and helps lift him into the chair. Amanda and Dietrich cover Dad with a blanket and get him comfortable.)
Karen: Are you comfortable?
Dad: Yeah.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you. (Thinking.) Is Mom gone?
Karen: Yeah. But I feel her presence with me all the time. And I know she’s waiting for you when you’re ready to join her.
Dad: (Nods. And this time I know he understands.)

I wave to him and blow him a kiss. And he waves back and gives me a sleepy smile.

How Beautiful!

Dad had just finished breakfast when we arrived. He was tired – leaning his head on his hand. He started scratching his ear with the hand he was leaning against. I tried to take mental photographs of his face, his skin, his hand, to keep with me forever. Today he is alive. He’s moving and breathing and thinking. The skin on his hand is thin – almost translucent – stretched thinly over the bones. I could see the hand skeleton moving through his skin as he scratched his ear – and I thought, “How beautiful!” It’s the same thought and feeling I had when I took mental pictures of Mom’s face and hands in the time before she passed. So beautiful!

Dad and Karen

“Nisqually Icefall… I love you…”

Dad was in his bed, sleeping, when I entered his room. I leaned over and touched his forehead and he woke up.
Dad: (Smiling at me) … Nisqually Icefall…
Karen: Nisqually Icefall?
Dad: (Mumbling) Nisqually Icefall… I love you…
Karen: I love you.
Dad: Did you take time off work to be here?
Karen: I’m retired.
Dad: Oh! So you can be here to send us off on our climb!
Karen: Yes. You can go back to sleep now and rest for your climb.
Dad: (Nodding.) Okay. (Closing his eyes and going back to sleep.)
 
***

I think this must have been what Dad was talking about – his first ascent of the Nisqually Icefall with Bob Craig in 1948:
http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12194913800/print

(Photo of Rainier by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)
Rainier up close this one

“I haven’t been in this place for a long time.”

Dad was in the shower when I arrived. I sat on his bed and waited for him, and he made his way through the door with his walker a few minutes later…
Karen: Hi, Daddy! How are you?
Dad: (Smiling) Wet. (Looking around his room.) I haven’t been in this place for a long time.
Karen: It’s so good to see you again! Scotty and I have been gone for a few weeks. We drove to Michigan. We just got back a couple hours ago. We saw the Devil’s Tower and The Badlands of South Dakota – have you ever seen The Badlands?
Dad: (Shaking his head.) No. I’ve never been there.
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: I’ve got a meeting tonight. I have a date to meet… (thinking) an elderly woman…
Karen: Oh. Okay. You want to go for a drive now, though?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.

Amanda helps me load Dad into the car and we set out on another adventure. Before we’ve made it very far…
Dad: I’m going to need a milkshake.
Karen: I know just where to take you!

I drive Dad to Sisters Espresso where Dave Waka (by all accounts, a saint of a human being) left enough money for Dad to get shakes and floats for a very long time. I park in front of the espresso stand and Dad immediately recognizes it…
Dad: Vanilla.
Karen: You want a vanilla shake?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(I go up and get Dad his shake and myself a lavender green iced tea and bring them back to the car.)
Dad: (Sincerely.) Thank you.

I pull back onto the road.
Dad: Are your boys doing well?
Karen: They’re doing great!
Dad: How are Scott’s parents? Do they get out here much?
Karen: Scott’s mom is doing really well. Scotty’s dad died a few years ago.
Dad: Oh. (Thinking.) Scott’s father ?
Karen: Yeah.
Dad: I’m sorry. (Tearing up.) Scotty’s a good guy.
Karen: Yes, he is.
Dad: Are we going to your house now?
Karen: Sure! (I head for my home.)
Dad: Should we get a dog?
Karen: Do you want a dog?
(Dad doesn’t answer – he probably hasn’t heard me. We pull up in front of my house and I run in to fetch Scott. Scott comes out and chats with Dad for a while and then Dad and I get back on the road.)

We meander through the Bow area and at some point we stop so I can rescue one of my campaign signs from the blackberry vines – the vines have twined themselves all around the sign and look like they’re trying to consume it – I’m reminded of that plant in Little Shop of Horrors – “Feed me!” I tug the sign out of the bushes. Dad sees my sign then, and asks me if I won the election. I explain that I made it through the primary and am going to be in the general election in November.
Dad: Are you traveling nationally?
Karen: Oh! (I realize Dad is envisioning something far grander than what’s actually going on here.) No, this is just a local election.
Dad: (Nodding.) Oh. (Thinking.) Do you ever have meetings with the other farmers?
Karen: (Sometimes you’ve just got to go with it…) Yes!
Dad: Can you see Mount Rainier from here on a clear day?
Karen: Sometimes…
Dad: (Just then Dad notices the top of Mount Baker above the hills and points to it…) Baker!
Karen: Yeah!
Dad: Are you enjoying your new job?
Karen: (I am newly-retired.) Yes, I am!

It’s time to get Dad home. I head towards Burlington and work my way through the round-about and stoplight towards his house. I pull up in front of his front door – but this time I come up the other side.
Dad: (Recognizing his home.) Oh! We usually come up to that other door.
Karen: Yeah, we do!
Dad: What are the names of these people?
Karen: Gwen and Amanda…
Dad: (Nodding and smiling with recognition.) That’s right!

I help Dad into the house and up the stairs and Amanda leads him to the dining room table. Dinner’s almost ready.
Karen: Thank you for the drive today, Daddy! I love you!
Dad: (Smiling.) Thank YOU!

Are You Taking Me Home Now?

*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.

Dad Is Shrinking

Dad is shrinking. His clothes are getting baggy on him.

He is sitting at the dining room table when I get there – a full plate of avocado and eggs in front of him. He is not interested in the food. His head seems heavy on him – it keeps dropping. I ask him if he wants to sleep and he nods. Megan joins us and helps Dad move to a recliner in the living room. I sit in a chair next to him and hold his hand and we watch an old re-run of Match Game with Gene Rayburn, Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, et al. As I see those old faces from my youth I find myself wondering which of those fine folks are still alive.

Dad looks over at me and mouths the words, “I love you.” And I mouth them back to him.

At the end of the re-run I get up to leave. I kiss Daddy on the forehead.
Dad: Are you going to take me home now?
Karen: No. I’m just going to let you rest here for a while.
Dad: (Nodding.) Okay.
Karen: (Waving good bye.) Good bye, Daddy. (I blow Dad a kiss.)
Dad: (Blows me a kiss good-bye.) Good bye.

Are You Taking Me Home Now?

*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.

“Where am I?”

Dad is sitting at the dining room table eating breakfast when I come in. He sees me come in and smiles. I pull up a chair next to him and sit down.
Dad: (Said in the voice of someone who’s just awakened from a nap.) Where am I?
Karen: You’re at your home in Burlington. I live 15 minutes away.
Dad: Good. (Thinking.) How’s Mom?
Karen: (Thinking. Trying to decide what direction to go with this…)
Dad: (Watching my face.) Is Mom not alright?
Karen: Daddy, Mom passed on two years ago. (Knowing from experience the questions he’s going to ask…) She passed on peacefully in her sleep. She was in my house and I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed. You told her you loved her and she told you she loved you before she left the hospital.
Dad: (Tears are running down his face.) Was she in any pain? What did she die of?
Karen: No, she wasn’t in any pain. She had congestive heart failure. Her heart got tired. She passed peacefully while she was sleeping. (I wipe Dad’s eyes and the tip of his nose.) We had a memorial service for her…
(Amanda quietly slips the photo album of Mom’s memorial service to me and I open it and show Dad the photos. Dad recognizes the faces – his family and friends.)
Karen: A lot has happened in the last two years, Daddy. You’ve been very brave and very strong. Last year we took you up to Mount Rainier to celebrate your 100th birthday.
Dad: No, I’m 92. I was born in 1918…
Karen: And this is 2019.
Dad: (Thinking – doing mental computations.) Oh.
(Amanda has now brought the photo album from Dad’s 100th birthday celebration at Rainier. Dad and I go through the pictures together and talk about the people who came to his celebration.When we’re done looking at the album…)
Karen: Would you like to go for a drive? Or would you like to stay home and rest today?
Dad: (Thinking.) A drive would be nice.

Amanda helps me load Dad up in the car and buckle him in. Dad thanks her and she kisses him on the forehead. He thanks her for that, too.

We drive to the Sisters Espresso. I park and point to the stand…
Dad: (Nods.) Vanilla.
(I interpret this to mean “vanilla shake” and go up to order one for him, using the gift that was left for him there by David Waka.)

We continue on our adventure – heading down Allen West Road, up Farm to Market, down Josh Wilson, up Edison Bayview Road, left and back to Farm to Market. Dad’s head is turning from left to right, taking it all in. He periodically sucks through the straw on his vanilla shake. I park in front of his home.
Dad: Do I get out here?
Karen: Yup. This is your home.
(Dad thinks about this and then opens his door. I come around to help him out. Amanda comes to the top of the stairs and helps me get Dad up them. She leads Dad to a recliner in front of the TV.)
Karen: I really enjoyed our drive today, Daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you, too.

Are You Taking Me Home Now?

*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.

“This is my sister.”

Dad is sitting in the kitchen, ready to go, when we get there.
Karen: Hi, Daddy. You ready to go to the doctor?
Dad: The doctor? Is it bad?
Karen: No. It’s just your eye doctor appointment.
Dad: Are we going to Jo’s tonight?
(Amanda comes up to see if she can help.)
Dad to Amanda: (Pointing to me.) This is my sister.
Amanda to me: (Grinning.) Pleased to meet you!
Karen to Amanda: (Also grinning.) Pleased to meet YOU!

Scotty appears and Dad greets him, “Hi Scott!” Scott helps load Dad into the car. We buckle him in, and begin our adventure.
Dad: Is the doctor’s office here in Tacoma?
Scott: It’s in Burlington.
Dad: That’s a long way to go for a doctor’s appointment.
Scott: We’re in Burlington right now.
Dad: (Looks around.) Oh.

Dad reaches his hand back from the front seat. I clasp it and we hold hands companionably for a while.
Dad to Scott: Are you enjoying your job?
Scott: I’m loving my job. I’m retired!

Soon we arrive at the doctor’s office. We help Dad out of the car and into the building, and Dad and I go into the waiting room. It’s packed today. Dad and I find seats in the back.
Karen: Dad, your doctor is a mountain climber, too. He’s climbed Mount Rainier.
(Dad nods and takes this in. Another patient comes in and finds a seat in the back.)
New patient: This is where the rowdy crowd sits – in the back of the bus.
(I start chuckling.)
Karen: Dad is a rowdy 101 years old.
New patient: He’s 101?! You must be his granddaughter then? Or his great-granddaughter?)
Karen: No. I’m his daughter. Dad started a little late…
New patient: How old are you…?
Karen: I’m 62.
(I am happily surprised when the new patient’s mouth opens in astonishment.)
New patient: You don’t look 62! I would never have guessed…
Karen: Really?! Wow, thank you! (This kind of makes up for Dad calling me his sister.)
(There’s another pair there – an older woman and I’m guessing her daughter – the daughter perks up when she hears Dad’s age.)
Daughter: My mom is 101, too! She’ll be 102 in December. (She turns to her mom and explains that Dad is six months younger than her. The mother looks at Dad and calls him “a kid.”)
Karen: (Laughing.) Dad, she is six months older than you. She thinks you’re a youngster. (Dad grins.)
(We talk for a while with the mother and daughter and share histories – they learn Dad was born in Los Angeles and I find out they lived in Los Angeles, too. The mother spent the early part of her life in NYC, though, and reminisces for a while about New York.)

We get called back into the office where Dad will have his blood pressure taken and read the eye chart. Dad is watching the technician…)
Dad: Is she the mountain climber?
(The technician looks at Dad…)
Karen to the technician: Are you a mountain climber?
The technician: (Smiling.) I like to hike.
Karen to Dad: She likes to hike. Your doctor is the mountain climber – she’s not your doctor. She’s going to check your eyes and take your blood pressure.
The technician: (Surprised.) Dr. Saperstein is a mountain climber?!
Karen: (Smiling.) Yeah. He’s climbed Mount Rainier.
The technician: I didn’t know that!
(Dad does really well with the eye charts today. He knows exactly what to do. When we’re done there we go down to the room where he’ll have his eyes photographed. Again, he knows the routine and he’s remembering what to do.When we’re done there we go back into the waiting room to wait to be called back to Dr. Saperstein’s office. The daughter and mother pass us on their way out and we say how nice it was to meet each other. The daughter says that Dr. Saperstein was telling them all about Dad being in Wikipedia and dangling on the end of a rope on K2 – she’s impressed with all of this.)
The mother: Give my regards to Broadway…
The daughter: (Smiling.) Mom is thinking about New York now.

Final stop: Dr. Saperstein’s room. I let Dad know that THIS is the man who’s the mountain climber, and when Dr. Saperstein comes in they do the Dee Molenaar handshake – clasp hands and then turn the hands so it looks like they might start arm wrestling. Dr. Saperstein is grinning. Things happen quickly now – it’s determined that Dad will need an injection in his eye today and I explain to him what that will look like.)
Karen to Dad: They’re going to put some drops in your eye to numb it and then you’re going to have some medicine injected in your eye. It’s very quick. You’re almost done!
Karen to Dr. Saperstein: How’d I do?
Dr. Saperstein: (Smiling.) You did great!

The medicine is injected quickly into Dad’s eyeball and then we make our way back to the car, where Scott is waiting for us.
Dad: Thank you for taking me on all these drives to doctors.
Scott: No problem! You’re welcome!

Now it’s time to get Dad a root beer float from Sisters Espresso. He has earned it, for sure. We get Dad his float and then take him on a short drive. He perks up when he sees Mount Baker peeking out of the clouds. When we pull in front of Dad’s door…
Dad: I’ve been here before.
Karen: Yeah! You have!

We help him out of the car, into the house, and up the stairs. He settles into a comfy chair in front of the television.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.