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It’s Monday, 6:00 in the morning, a time when my generally restless, wound-up body is finally wedging itself into a dark and dreamy hollow of the night. Something causes me to stir. Is it my cell phone ringing, or did I dream it? Dread, it’s the phone. Only someone dialing a wrong number, or someone who doesn’t know I’m a night owl, or someone calling because of an emergency would be plunging a hand through the sticky web of my sleep.

Heart racing, I swing my feet to the floor and dash down the hallway to the kitchen where my phone is plugged into the charger. As I feared, my mother’s identification shows up on the lit window of my phone.

Her voice is strained, her words rusty at the edges. “Your father’s fallen again. They’ve taken him to the hospital. I don’t know how it happened. I couldn’t get a good answer. One person said he was asleep on the couch. Another person said he’d fallen out of the chair. They’re going to call you.”

“Mother, I’m on the way. I’ll be there shortly.”

The day before was my father’s ninety-second birthday. My mother and I planned a party, of sorts, at the facility where he and my mother are now residing, she in the assisted living section, my father in the Alzheimer’s unit. My mother’s had a ragged ride of life in the last several years, having been the sole caregiver for my father until he was placed in this facility in July of this year. For a time, she seemed to let go a bit, to accept that others would provide care for him. However, once she moved into the facility in September, she’s become increasingly involved with his care, resuming as much of her old script as her health and energy allow. Like a hawk, she keeps track of what he eats, when he sleeps, how often his clothes are changed. With every incident like this–the fall this morning–her anxiety rises, her vigilance expands.

“Daddy, your birthday is tomorrow,” I’d said to him on Saturday, when I’d dropped off the napkins, plates, and cups for his party. “You’ll be ninety-two.”

“Oh, really?” he said as he sat rocking in his chair. “I didn’t know it was my birthday.” He smiled when I told him we’d have cake and ice cream and give him a party the following day.

On Sunday I brought in the store-bought cake, equipped with big globs of butter cream frosting shaped like balloons. The caremanagers at the facility gathered the residents, some of whom were in wheelchairs, others ambulatory, none knowing what was happening other than they were being herded into the dining room to enjoy something sweet.

We sang “Happy Birthday,” I cut the cake, and used a knife as big as a machete to slice slabs of vanilla/chocolate/strawberry ice cream onto brightly colored paper plates. My father’s neighbors, like he, seemed to enjoy their sweets. Alzheimer’s and dementia do not diminish the taste for sugar! At the end of it all, my mother was pleased. “It went as well as we could have expected,” she said. “It was a good day.”

My mother’s days are defined by my father’s state of mind.

Today is another day. I find my father in room 17 of the emergency room. He’s alone on the gurney. I’m surprised no one has escorted him from the facility, but then, they knew I’d be coming. He’s surprisingly coherent. “What’s going on?” he asks.

“Daddy, you’re here because you fell. They have to check you out to be sure you don’t have broken bones.” He fiddles with the red plastic cap they’ve put on the index finger of his right hand to monitor his blood oxygen. He wants it removed. Repeatedly, in the next four hours, his attention returns to the plastic cap and he asks what it’s for and whether he can take it off.

It is clear to me that my father is okay. The staff at the facility had him taken here to protect him and themselves. I settle in, somewhat, knowing this will not be a short trip, but free of the anxiety that he has sustained a serious injury with his fall.

Ultimately, my father is x-rayed and my mother arrives in time to cajole him to be still while his blood is drawn. By 11:30 we are ready to leave, my father declared to be broken-bone free with no evidence of injury from the fall.

My mother has insisted on driving over to the hospital. “I’m just pacing back and forth, waiting to get word from you,” she’d said over the telephone. Knowing that I have a work appointment soon, she insists she will drive my father back to the facility where they reside. I follow them there. I’ve done what I can.

For years my mother has made of her life a blur in contrast to the sharp lines she has drawn around my father’s. But, then, devotion and many years bound together have a chemistry, a mystery that I, their eldest daughter, cannot possibly penetrate.

No matter how often I have tried.

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even old things bloom

by Ellen Hamilton

I am looking for the beauty in wrinkles, those maligned signs of aging. Peering into the mirror at my own fears and prejudices, I hope to write some new songs about living in the land of the wrinkled, the wobbly, and brave. I welcome your comments and input about your own experience with aging and your struggles and successes in finding beauty in your wrinkles.

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