Is there a magic formula, like the square-root-of–I-don’t-know that will make you feel good about the decision you make? Wouldn’t it be much easier if decision-making were objective, like trigonometry, or physics? But someone, or something, will not let us get off that easily. The decision I’m talking about has to do with our aging parents. You’re father has dementia and can no longer make simple decisions, like when to take a shower, or what to eat for breakfast (though sometimes I don’t even know). Your father’s brain has slowed to the point where he can’t recall seeing his son and grandchildren earlier in the day, or talking with his daughter on the phone an hour earlier. He can’t walk without assistance, or bathe independently. Years ago, when your father ran a business and traveled the world, he asked you to be his health care proxy. “Sure,” you said, not thinking about a decade or two later. My father is young, vibrant, and healthy. Nothing will ever happen to him.
Now, whenever you call your father, he desperately wants to tell you something, but can’t find the words to express what he’s feeling. So you guess: “Are you looking for a pen? Are you wondering what day it is?” You listen carefully, to every syllable slip from your father’s mouth. Finally, “Oh, you need to get to Florida.” Your father has spent the past 19 winters in Florida. He hates the cold, has told you, more than once, that it would “kill” him if he has to stay up north. You pause, because you don’t know how to answer his question. For the past six months, your father has been in and out of hospitals for various reasons. Even though you know he’ll have a caregiver with him 24/7, like he’s had for the past two years, you tell your father you don’t think it’s a good idea for him to go to Florida. But wouldn’t a warm climate make your father happy? Maybe a mega dose of Vitamin D would do him good. It’s not as if he’s pleading to go to another cold climate, like Woody in the film Nebraska (No spoilers here in case you have yet to see the film). But cold or warm, ice or sand, you still can’t be sure your father will be safe, or better off far from family and doctors who know him best. What if he falls and breaks a hip, or hits his head? What then? Of course, you’d fly south, but wouldn’t it be easier, for you that is, if your father were just a car’s drive away? Still, what if the caregivers in Florida forget to give him his medication? What if one of them fails to show up for her shift?
Your father doesn’t say anything when you tell him you don’t think it’s a good idea for him to travel to Florida. Instead, he gazes out the window, at the snowdrifts, at the ice forming on the glass. His eyelids twitch, he blinks, slowly, then falls asleep. But you know he’s not sleeping restfully because his breathing is labored, his forehead is crinkled, and his lips are tightly closed in a down-sloped curve. Fuck it, you whisper to yourself: I’ll fly with him to the Sunshine State. It might be the last time he’ll feel the sand between his toes, the last time he’ll hear the ocean lull him to sleep, the last time my father will absorb the sun and breathe in the salt-spritzed air.