August 18, 2014

The Summer Series - Paula Kliger

Paula Kiger lives in Tallahassee, FL, and believes her Twitter bio almost says it all: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. And it is Twitter where I first connected with her.

Throughout the years, reading and writing have always been a thread running through her life. In New York, she proofread professionally for Ballantine Books. She is a voracious reader who actually still communicates via snail mail with some people. And the “go to” girl for friends who need “one more eye” to tighten up and clarify their writing.

She spent the past 20 years in the non-profit health care insurance environment as an administrator for Florida’s State Child Health Insurance Program. She also writes, and enjoys being an extra in Florida State University Film School productions.

There are other things she likes to give her energy to: acting, running, being with my church family, and mobilizing volunteers.

The Ride

For almost 20 years, my father-in-law was the primary driver for himself as well as for my mother-in-law, Barb, who was blind. After his stroke in October 2012, he stopped driving. After Barb’s death in November 2013, he continued to live alone and my husband picked him up daily for the short trip from his house to Corner Pocket, a bar where he has been meeting up with the same group of men for more than a decade. After his worsening balance resulted in head injuries from falls, he moved in with us. We do not live a short trip from his bar.

The 20-minute ride from my house to the Corner Pocket bar covers eleven miles. Since I quit my job shortly before he moved in with us, the job of transporting him to the bar has fallen to me.

For him, “the ride” is a means to an end. For me, it sends my mind on a different route every time.

He needs to get to the bar. I need to get to a place of acceptance.

Acceptance of the behaviors that are more “child” than “adult”

I can count on him being ready to go 15 minutes before the departure time, a lot like a young child knowing he has a playdate scheduled. I have finally learned to tell him a departure time that is a bit of a white lie (4:45 when I know I plan to leave at 4:30).

Acceptance that silence is not a punishment or failure

As the ride continues, the car remains eerily quiet. Although I like my silence (usually) and listening to an audiobook when I am alone, being in a car with someone who is saying nothing is unnerving. It’s not unusual for him. It is his way.

Acceptance that “home” is a faded memory

About three quarters into the trip, we pass within a few hundred yards of his currently unoccupied house. He never says anything about that. After he moved in with us, there was a period of time where we would drop him off there at his request to spend a few hours every day but that didn’t last long. Maybe all he needed was to say goodbye to the life he had. Maybe he doesn’t remember.

Acceptance that he needs to be needed

Dad has always taken a somewhat less than direct route to Corner Pocket because he believes the traffic lights are better timed with his favorite route, so we turn where he wants, which leads us to a particular three-way stop. Each and every time, he says something he has uttered to us in traffic for decades: “clear on the right.” I love him having a job to do. (But I also check myself!).

Acceptance that it doesn’t take much to make him happy

After the three-way stop, we are in a race to make the green light to get to the bar’s parking lot. He has an entire pattern he assesses as we approach the light. “You might make it,” or “there’s a countdown (of the ‘walk light’).” If we do make it, I can tell he is excited. I love how something so small can make his day!

Acceptance that I can’t do this alone

When we arrive at the bar, my husband usually meets us outside. My father-in-law often has difficulty walking in on his own power and needs a stable adult to provide support. Occasionally if my husband isn’t available and I’m obviously struggling, one of his friends meets him, takes over, and provides that support.

“The ride.” Twenty minutes. Eleven miles.

He gets to the bar.

I only wish MapQuest would help me figure out how to get to my destination: acceptance.

This post really touched me. Perhaps due to the journey I recently traveled with my own father. Or the one we are on now with my mother-in-law. Acceptance of the changes our parents go through as they age, and the way our roles/lives changes as a result is not easy. I think your last point, Paula, is the most important to remember.

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