I looked at him and cocked my head. I knew it was a test. My father didn't like lasagna. It was difficult to make, and he just wanted to put Lu through the ringer.
"Sure thing," she said cheerily, giving me a knowing wink.
Each time I visited, I witnessed their strengthening bond. They watched the Cardinals games together. They did crosswords. She showed him how to use apps on her cellphone, he taught her how to understand the stock market. An amateur photographer, she took photos of us constantly.
Eventually, my dad got weaker and his dementia worsened. He began to call Lu by my mother's name. I cried the first time it happened, and then I realized he saw, in the throes of his dementia, my mom reflected in her.
It was the ultimate compliment.
I was visiting one autumn week, and my father was exhausted and said he wanted to go to bed. We had made the decision to keep him in his routine as long as possible, but he was failing.
The sun was shining over the Ozarks hills and into his bedroom. Lu was getting ready to clean him up and put him to bed.
"I got this," she said, leading me out of the bedroom and beginning to close the door.
"I want to help," I said.
"You don't need to," she insisted. "It's my job."
"I need to help," I said.
"There are some things a child shouldn't see or do," Lu said.
"There are some things a child needs to do," I said. "Please."
She smiled. "Okay, then," she said, before we moved him from his wheelchair to the bed. "Watch his skin. It's very fragile, like paper."
Wade Rouse and his father, Ted, at their last Christmas together in Missouri.
Courtesy of Wade Rouse
And then I helped Lu change my father and clean him, as if he were a baby. She watched me, tears filling her eyes. It was the first time I'd seen her grow so emotional. When we had finished, my father looked at Lu and, calling her by my mother's name, said, "Thank you, Geri." Then he looked at me and said, "Thank you, son. We make a great team, don't we?"
Lu exited the room, and I joined her on the back porch, where we watched the sun ease behind the hillside, rays splaying from behind it, making the world look sparkly, magical, hopeful.
"I finally understand," I said.
"Understand what, sweetheart?" she asked.
"What you do – what my mom did … it's such hard work, emotionally and physically."
"It's not only a calling, it's a privilege," I said.
She burst into tears and sat on the porch swing, the air instantly cooling now that the sun was gone. "We come into this world needing care, and we leave the world the same way," she said. "And both ends of the spectrum are filled with love, beauty, guilt, exhaustion and learning."
A few weeks later, my father died at home. Just as he wanted.
Rouse's father in his final days.
Courtesy of Wade Rouse
All of his caregivers attended his funeral. We cried, we laughed, we mourned and we celebrated. When the service ended, Lu approached me and asked if she could spend a few moments alone with my father. She asked if I would join her.
When everyone had left, she pulled a small bag from her purse. It was filled with tiny mementoes: A miniature-sized baseball with a Cardinals logo, the little pencil they used to fill in the crosswords, a photo of me and my father on which she had written "Family."
"Do you mind if I leave these with him?" she asked.
My tears were my answer.
She placed the items next to him, said a prayer, grasped his hand and wept.
"I'll miss you, Ted," she whispered, her voice hoarse. "You were like a father to me, too."
Wade Rouse is the author of The Hope Chest (on sale March 21), which he wrote under the pen name Viola Shipman, a tribute to his grandmother, whose heirlooms, life and lessons inspired him to write it.
My Father's Life Essay
My Father's Life
“The truth is that the life of an individual is not more interesting than the life of a whole nation. And another truth is that not everyone is able to describe his/her life the way great writers do.” This was my father’s first response to my request of knowing more about his past life.
My father, Ruben Aslanian, was born on April 12 the year 1951 in a small village of Abkhazia called Mteesoubanee. Abkhazia was part of the Georgia republic during the mid nineteenth century and Georgia was one of the fourteen republics of the outdated Soviet Union. The village my father lived in does not have anything in common with the villages of the present time. One of the main differences is that those villages were extremely far away from the main cities. Another major distinctions is the fact that the roads of those villages were not clean and covered up with asphalt and the houses were not provided with electrician, phone or water supply system. Villagers had to get water from either a river or a well that they had built and for light at nights, they had the candles. There was one store for the whole village, which was selling casual items such as soap, candles, matches, canned food and so on.
Each village had a kolkhoz which where large fields owned by the government. Villagers were working on these fields and selling the product to the government in a low price almost without charge. Except working on the kolkhoz, every villager had a field of his individual, which was about as big as 3000 square meters that needed care. The government owed these fields as well, which belonged to the villagers for as long as they lived in the same area. The difference between those fields and the kolkhoz was the villager’s chose of either selling the product or keeping it to themselves.
Villagers did not even have passports. The government would not give them passports on purpose because they did not want them to leave the villages and try to go live in cities. Without a passport, one could not get a visa of a city and without visa; one could not find a job. This system forced people who were born in villages to either live their whole life in the same village or move to another village. In any case, villagers were not able to survive in cities. In other words, if someone had the luck to be born as a villager he had to die one too.
“ I have my own rules and ideas about how life should be. That was the main reason I had so many problems and difficult situations to deal with in my life.” Since his youngest age, my father was in love with justice. He did not follow the canon of weak and powerful and he treated all people equally. Once when he was about five years old, he was playing in the yard of his grandfather with the three-year-old cousin of his.
Suddenly the neighbor’s kid, same age as my father, came over with a stick and started hitting the little one. My father got another stick and began hitting the neighbor’s son until the...
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