Wednesday, July 23, 2014
My husband is performing in Henry IV, part 1 at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival this month, and it has been all Shakespeare all the time for a few weeks now. So it wasn’t surprising that when I went to the bookstore the other day to find something new to read to Dad, I thought of picking up a collection of the Bard’s plays, a greatest hits, if I could find it, or his Sonnets. Reading to Dad has been so rewarding, lately, but I’m getting tired of the Bible, although the Psalms are always a good standby.
In the end, the bookstore didn’t have a good complete collection, only the plays individually, but I ended up getting a book of poetry instead. Poetry for Hard Times, a collection edited by Garrison Keillor, one I’ve looked at before briefly and thought might be good for Dad. I also bought a copy of Thoreau’s Walden, which I have read before and thought Dad might enjoy hearing since he was something of a nature lover (and was big on simple living.)
The poetry collection turned out to be a winner; I knelt by Dad’s chair and leafed through it, picking out poems I liked or had seen before and reading them out. Surprisingly, Dad was very alert and seemed interested. He kept his eyes focused on my face, and I looked up often to smile at him. At times, I caught a faint smile on his face as he looked at me. I’m not sure if he was trying to figure out what I was doing or saying, or just happy to have company, but it was just so nice for me to have him so engaged. As I’ve said before, I doubt he knows who I am – if he does, he’s not saying – and while I came to terms with that a long time ago, it’s still nice to imagine he enjoys my presence.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a caregiver a few days before. This person was describing how their sibling wouldn’t go see their parent with dementia because she “didn’t like seeing him like this – it’s too hard.” I know that people deal with the difficulty of having a loved one with dementia in their own way, so I won’t criticize, but being there with my Dad just made me realize once again; we don’t visit for us, we visit for them. In the end, it’s not about us, it’s about making our loved one feel connected to the world; giving them companionship and love; and affirming the invisible connection between us.
I had my issues with Dad in the past, and I would never judge other’s decisions to be part of a loved one’s life or not. I can only say it made me happy to read to my Dad and have him look me in the eyes and be present, if only briefly. I didn’t get to the Shakespeare, but I’m sure my husband will have a collection I can bring from home next time. But we did pretty well with a collection of poems – ultimately, it’s not the words that matter – it’s the reader saying them, and the listener receiving them.