I only met Glenda once. “I really want you to meet my mom before we get married.” It was a request from my fiancé to be fully known, fully accepted. As Tiffanni and I walked through the doors of the nursing home, the bleached, putrid smell tidal waved my senses. They say that the sense of smell is most closely tied to the memory. We entered her single room, pictures adorning the walls, and I spotted this tiny, broken woman lying on a bed low to the ground. Tiffanni skipped over to her mom, sat down on the bed beside her and began stroking her mother’s hand. “Hi momma, I’m here. It’s Tiffanni.” She talked to her. Sang to her. Asked her questions that she would simply answer herself. It was a one-sided interaction as far as I could tell, but oh the feels.
We left the room, walked through the exit doors, and I broke. Not a quiet, solemn cry. Tears streamed down my face and Tiffanni intuitively grabbed me and consoled me. The wounded healer. “Are you ok?” she asked.
“No. How do you do that?”
“I guess it’s all I’ve ever known.” When you watch the slow progression of aging and disease, I suppose it’s not such a shock to a system. But to be thrown into the middle of the end was more than I could take. Nursing homes are brutal.
* * *
Tiffanni doesn’t do well with details anymore. The truth is that sometimes her memory is sharp and her cognition at least follows a basic train of thought, but she regularly misses the details. She talks to her dad most every day. In fact, I checked her phone and she calls him between 10-20 times a day. She has no idea. I secretly get a kick out of it. Most Thursdays she goes out with her parents. It’s clockwork in her mind, but Sunday night she told me that her dad was coming by the next day, Monday. I asked her why he was coming by and she didn’t know.
* * *
Ron told me about five years ago that the hardest battle that he remembered fighting with Glenda, was getting her to stop driving. So, when Tiffanni had her final accident, forgetting to put the minivan in park and chasing it into the neighbors garage where it rolled unmanned, I called her dad. “I can’t let her drive anymore. It’s not safe for her, the kids, or anyone else. Please come help me tell her.” Four and a half years ago, Ron and I sat on the back deck of the house that Tiffanni and I built together and took away her independence. It wouldn’t be the last thing that I would take, but I remember it the most. We all cried. It was the first thing that her disease would steal. A sign of a selfish interchange that is ongoing in our house- this disease takes only what is good and gives only what is evil. A one-sided devil.
* * *
At 5am on Monday morning Tiffanni woke me. My coherence is limited at that particular 5 o’clock. She was in a panic. “Jerm. Jerm. Wake up.” I grunted and pleaded with her to go back to bed. She doesn’t compromise well. “Jerm, wake up.” Realizing that there was no chance in going back to sleep, I sat up and gave her my best passive aggressive death stare. She is either impervious to those reactions or just stubborn. Regardless of the concoction, she won. “Why is dad coming over today?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why is dad coming over? He said that he was coming over but didn’t tell me why.”
“I have no idea. You probably misheard him.” And her eyes welled up with tears. Even in my REM-arrested stupor, I spotted them. “What is wrong?”
“Are you putting me into a nursing home?”
I could tell you that that’s never crossed my mind, but you know better. But the unlived possibilities of the future, that lurk in the back corners of my mind, discussed only in half-conversations of deep confidence with my closest relationships have never felt real. Surreal sure, but never real. This question stabbed me in the heart. It’s one thing to catalogue every possibility in an attempt to find sanity, it’s a whole other thing to voice the trajectory of decline. To give it life and breath, a semblance of plausibility.
My mind raced to figure out how we had gotten here. What dots had she connected? What trail of feasibilities had she wondered down, alone, and been left to sink into a darkness of worry? She connected the wrong dots. Sure, dots that all add up to fear, but dots that should have never been placed in a line to begin with.
* * *
One year ago today we began moving into the new house that my parents and I built together. The home that we would redeem my family in. Where we would bring stability, life, love, and hope. Where we would face the faceless future with a certainty of togetherness. This home, our home, that fits us and no one else. Designed with every need we could imagine in mind. A safe place to live our unique lives in wholeness.
* * *
“No Tiff. No one is moving you into a nursing home. We built this house for you. This is your house. We all moved here so that we could live with you. Everyone of us. You’re not going anywhere and I’m so sorry that you have worried all day and night about that. You’re loved here, and nothing is changing that.”
“I was so scared,” she told me.
“I bet. Don’t keep those worries from me anymore.”
And I connected the right dots. Tossed aside the ones that didn’t belong in a line, today. The ones that smeared the painting. These dots that we live create a picture that wasn’t what any of us planned, but it’s a beautiful picture nonetheless. And sometimes that picture gets blurred and we just have to realign the right dots.