This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a few weeks, but I’ve been putting it off.
Not because it’s hard to talk about, but moreso because there’s so much involved, it’s hard to know just what to say without this becoming a 2,000 word essay.
Earlier this month, my dad came to visit us in NY. It was his first time seeing our place, seeing our neighborhood, and getting a taste of what our lives are like in Harlem. While he was in town, we kept his favorite foods coming, which ranged from fancy sushi to Popeye’s chicken. We gave him dominion over the remote control. And he was content to watch Jameson do laps around our coffee table, swing at the park, and shove fists of food into his mouth. This was a good trip.
It was also a trip that marked the end of a really trying and life-altering year for us all.
Let’s start with going back to this time last year. I was pregnant. My family hosted a baby shower for me and Jordan in New Jersey. My father, who lives in Virginia, drove seven hours to be there. It was his first time seeing me during my pregnancy, and I had high hopes that the sight of me carrying his first grandchild would be really special.
He was ecstatic months earlier when we shared the news of our pregnancy via a dimly lit FaceTime session. He’d always talked about being the only person he knew who wasn’t a grandparent. At one point he looked off into space and let the idea sink in, “I’m going to be a granddad.”
A few months after sharing the big news, and four months prior to the baby shower, I noticed a change in my dad. He was no longer calling me for our weekly check-ins. Instead, I’d have to call him. And when I did call him, he’d no longer ask me how things were in my life and my opinion on the latest current events or roll out his usual dose of jokes and sarcasm. Instead, I’d have to initiate every question, and I struggled to keep a conversation going for even a few minutes. I mentioned it to Jordan. I prayed about it with people from our church. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.
So there we were last April at our baby shower. Our families ate and laughed and celebrated (a lot of my late husband Jarronn’s family was there too, which tells you how amazing they are). My dad was there, and happy, but still not quite himself. That evening, he geared up to drive home to Virginia. My mom, his sister, and I tried to persuade him to stay and leave the next day. He insisted that he wanted to get home.
Jordan and I packed up a car with baby loot and headed back to Manhattan. That night, I wondered how my dad was doing on his drive home.
In the morning, I was sitting in bed as Jordan took a phone call in the bathroom. When he came back into the bedroom, he steadied his voice and tried to start with the positive, “Your mom called. Your dad is alive, but he was in an accident last night.”
I cursed. Loudly. And started to cry. I’m sure Jordan was concerned about keeping me as calm as possible, given I was 37 weeks pregnant, and I focused on steadying myself.
From what we could gather from doctors and police reports, my dad had made it to Maryland, just outside of D.C., when he became confused and somehow ended up driving the wrong way down a highway. His car hit a guard rail and a wall, and miraculously no one else was hurt. Miraculously, he was alive. But he was in intensive care, unconscious. In the same hospital where my late husband had been taken and died. Not at all my favorite hospital, and him being there, of all places, dug up a whole additional set of bad feelings.
I wanted to rush down to MD, but being so close to my due date, I was worried about being far from my doctor. And I honestly didn’t know if I could even stand to be in a car for four hours without being really uncomfortable. So I had to rely on other people to visit for me. His sister, my godmother who lived close by, and even my mom (she made multiple visits and advocated on behalf of her ex-husband, and yes, she’s amazing too).
My dad was in and out of consciousness. Each day was met with highs and lows of his condition improving or worsening. Procedures and delays and phone calls trying to track down doctors. In the midst of all of this, I gave birth. And there was no way to call my dad and discuss the news with him.
One week after giving birth, and a month after my dad’s accident, we drove to Maryland with Jameson. While Jordan stayed in the car with Jameson, I was finally able to visit my dad. The look in his eyes, which were all he really had to communicate, was love, relief, and sadness all at the same time.
The next several months were a long journey, but a steady one, with my dad making incredible improvements to his physical health. Breathing on his own. Eating on his own. Walking on his own. Wearing his signature baseball caps (not sure where he got that gem that says ‘Hakuna Matata.’) And slowly coming out from a fog of delirium and confusion caused by a three-month stay in the hospital. At two months old, the moment I’d been holding onto in my mind happened — my dad got to hold Jameson, his grandson.In the months since that initial meeting, my dad has made even more progress. But the accident and the prior change in his behavior made it clear that we’re dealing with a new normal — that my dad has the first stages of dementia and his need to be cared for has increased.And I’ve found myself feeling what it means to be part of what’s called the “sandwich generation,” where you’re having to be concerned about the well-being of a parent and a child. It came much sooner than my dad or I ever anticipated. And it comes along with so many challenges. Me being far away from him. His not wanting to be a burden. My worry about his safety. His not wanting to be treated like a child. My fear of watching parts of him fade away. His shaken confidence in remembering and socializing. And for me, as much as I know my parents are humans, it’s just hard to come to that point when you see them really vulnerable.
All I can say is, we’re working on it.
And my heart overflows with gratitude for the moments when Jameson and my dad are together. I often look at that picture above of me pushing Jameson on the swing, and my dad looking on from the background, and I wonder what my dad was thinking? I think he was a bit inspired. I think he was a bit in awe of seeing his baby with a baby.
Before the end of his visit, he said to me, “You’re doing a wonderful job with that beautiful child. I’m proud of you.”