Friday, June 11, 2010


I usually call my 93-year-old father “Grandpa” or sometimes “Dad.” Mary gets to call him “honey.” Or “sweetheart.” Or "buddy."

When my father reminded Mary that she missed a spot while she was shaving him yesterday morning, Mary just laughed and punched him gently in the shoulder. “You like to give orders, don’t you, buddy?” she teased as she re-shaved the offending spot in a gentle, rotating motion.

My father’s voice is barely above a raspy whisper these days. But when my father gives me orders, I still bristle a little, even though he is 93 and I am 61. ‘Why,’ I think in annoyance as I jump to follow his directive, ‘is it so gosh-darn imperative that the Kleenex box is at a 90-degree angle to the telephone book?’

Mary squeezes her considerable bulk past my father’s chair as she is working to tape a half-moon-shaped sponge underneath the silver-dollar-sized melanoma that weeps and drips on his left cheek. “You keep getting more handsome every day,” she teases him. My dad, who started getting Hospice services a couple of weeks ago, actually smiled for the first time since I had come into my parents’ room at the assisted living facility that morning.

“Cutie,” she grins at him. He grins back. His eyes even twinkle a little, just like they used when he felt well.

I envy Mary and her easy way with my father. I wouldn’t dream of calling him ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ or ‘cutie.’ I just couldn’t punch him teasingly on the shoulder or tweak him under the chin or rub his head like he’s six years old. I just couldn’t. He’s my father.

But sometimes when I see Mary do it and catch a weak smile and faint twinkle reminiscent of old times, I wish I could do it.

Mary once told me that she works a lot of double shifts and holidays because her husband has a bi-polar disorder that prevents him from holding a full-time job. Mary is the sole support of her family. That’s why she’s on duty on Christmas Day—and Mother’s Day—and most other holidays. She didn’t tell me so that I would feel sorry for her. She told me in exactly the same tone of voice that she would use to tell me she needed to go grocery shopping. Matter of fact, no self-pity.

My dad loves Mary. God bless the people like Mary who are willing to mop up drool and clean weepy melanomas and help old people in the bathroom. Cheerfully. Like it’s fun. Like she has nothing she would rather be doing. Like she loves the people she’s doing it for.


Anonymous said...

Good story! ejb

Anonymous said...

I always marvel at the good people I have met in the past years helping Mom and Dad--Mary is obviously one of them. Papa-at 93-and barely in control of ANYTHING loves it when I cut his hair (yes, folks that skinhead look is my doing) and he can tell me how to do it and not to miss a spot and which direction I should shave his hair and where I should shake the cape when I'm done and even how to oil and clean the shaver when it is all over. And I too,like Rachel, am glad to obey his every command if that makes this part of his life any easier for him. Grandma Nettie

Dana @ Bungalow'56 said...

A wonderful post. I see these women every day with my Nana and am amazed at their ability to make her feel so special. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

As for your not seeing your grandbabies, did you happen to see the post about my Nana skyping? It is a wonderful way to visit. It makes the distance disappear. My sister was able to walk throughout her whole house and show her around with the laptop. It is truly amazing.

2to4aday said...

Dana: Yes, we Skype. It' an absolutely wonderful technology. We first used it when my Air Force son was stationed in Korea for a year, and then we continued to use it when my granddaughter was born. (She doesn't sit still long enough to Skype these days, but we can still see her dash by occasionally.)It's a great invention for us long-distance grandparents.

Pr Mark said...

Rachel-I pretty sure you introduced me to Mary as I was on my way out the door of your parents apartment. God bless Mary and all those who serve so lovingly. Your parents are a delight.