Monday, October 21, 2013

My Father's Melody

My father has been in something of a haze. He's is experiencing dementia, as I mentioned before. He is often confused. Sometimes, he can't tell TV from reality.

Yesterday, as I do every few days, I visited him. When I got there, his roommate -- he's in a "home" now -- was trying to help my dad put a T-shirt on over his coat. I was informed that my father was complaining about being cold. I thanked the roommate (a nice fellow who is pretty mobile but who is obviously slipping mentally, too) and helped my dad to settle under the covers (coat and all). He warmed up fast.

Frederic Edwin Church
We sat for a few minutes and watched the Eagles game. I watched him more than I did the game. My father's eyes were not focused. He turned to me and started to complain, as he usually does, about the place; I would if I were in his shoes.

I tried, yet again, to move onto pleasant topics; told him what his grandsons were up to -- that sort of thing. After a few minutes of watching the game, I asked if he wanted to go outside for a little bit. He resisted, but finally caved-in.

Rolling through the hall prompted him to mutter about wondering how he got "here." We navigated through old people in wheelchairs, some of them muttering to themselves; some of them smiling pleasantly; some of them glowering; some of them spitting taunts.

"You think it's funny?" barked one woman as I went by her, looking me dead in the eye.

"No, ma'am," I responded, stopping and looking her straight in the eye. "I do not."

"Okay, then," she said, smoothing the blanket on her lap and enjoying a second's worth of long-lost dignity.

"How'd I wind up in this nutty place?" my dad asked over his shoulder.

I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I just kept rolling him until we got to the courtyard door.

We sat in the sun, he in his chair and I on a weathered wooden bench. The first dead leaves of autumn sat in piles made by tiny cyclones in the courtyard winds. We went through the same old conversational patterns; hit the same dead ends. Finally, I changed the subject to music.

He hasn't composed in a few years, really. He seems, in fact, to have started losing interest in music, altogether, even before having started to lose his wits.

"Guess what I'm doing, now," I said, loudly, so he could hear. (He raised his eyebrows.) "I'm writing some variations on that melody of yours," I went on,  "-- the one I used to love so much when you played it; the one I always bugged you to finish."

He looked blankly at me.

"The one," I went on, mimicking the chord forms in my left and right hands, "that started with the C minor chord, on the bottom, against the D minor chord on top."

He looked at me, and it was like watching clouds move past the moon; clouds that you knew were just a break -- that offered only a moment's brightness before more crept by. He started to sing, and he sang the entire melody, through, to the end -- to the point, anyway, where he had not gone any further in composing it.

"That's as far as I got," he said, his eyes a little wet.

"I know," I said. "I ought to slug you for that. I started asking you to finish that when I was fifteen. I'm forty-five now."

Beethoven, reflecting the burden of the blessing.
"Well," he laughed. "You can finish it for me."

"I will," I said. "And I'll bring it for you to hear when it is done. I'm almost there."

"Great," he said, sincerely. He almost sounded relieved.

We sat in the courtyard in silence for awhile, listening to the leaves scratch the concrete.

"I just want to know one thing," he asked, his jaw going forward and his right hand raising in a half-pointing gesture like they always did when he was trying to make an important point back in his days of clarity.

"What's that?"

"Why am I in the Eagles' training camp?"

"You're not, Dad."

"Oh," he said, humoring me.


  1. Going through the same thing with my mom, Chris. It is heartbreaking how they try to hold onto reality by some connection to the past such as a picture or story. Sadly, most of the time my mom doesn't remember if any of us visited her the night before and then when we tell her we were just there, she thinks we are lying. The nursing home environment is the worse and the only way we can comfort ourselves is to saythat at least she is safe. Ugh!! Know exactly where you are cause you see their brain dying right in front of you, cell by cell. Got to be another way. Hope you finish the melody, at least it is a tangible memory of his life.

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I guess there is no easy way through this stage. The good thing about being the son of a musician/composer is that, in the end, you really are left with a part of him. I;ll finish the melody, for sure -- almost done. You hang in there, too!

  2. Tragic and beautiful

    There's no doubt, though, that you inspire countless people in your life as your father clearly inspires you. Your boys are lucky to have a father who clearly understands what a gift that relationship is.