Saturday, March 20, 2010


Watching my fathers’ daily decline has been difficult.

Parkinson's disease demands courage beyond words.
I used to get angry with him when he'd ask me to button his pants or help him put on his vest, but we've moved far beyond that now.

Maltie, his home care aid from Trinidad, stepped into our lives just as my coping skills were spiraling out of control. It took some adjusting on all our parts, but she has evolved into so much more than an aid.  She has become my confidant, my counselor and most recently, my comedic relief.

My father will tell you that she’s too bossy and constantly reprimands her for trying to help him.

Because the only guidance I ever gave her was "don't baby him," Maltie quickly adapted a tough - drill sergeant approach.

Watching them bicker is a lot like watching an episode of the Honeymooners. Because of this, I often refer to my father as "Ralph" and Maltie as "Alice."

My father, unable to grasp the name Maltie, calls her "Doggie" and Maltie, with her rich Trinidadian accent calls my father "Rauja" her pronunciation of his middle name Roger.

During these past few months I have been studying Malties accent and will often imitate her heavy-handed tone and island expressions. This makes her laugh. It makes Dad laugh too.

Caring for the elderly is not an easy task. Maltie performs her duties with dignity and ease. Despite her dominant demeanor, she never belittles him or allows him to feel sorry for himself.

Because Dad takes an anti anxiety pill before going to bed, Medicare requires him to see a psychiatrist on an annual basis.

On our way into see the "head shrink" at the local hospital; we stop at the axillary gift shop were they had a rack full of children’s costumes hanging just outside the entrance.

One in particular catches my eye. A puffy red and black polka dot lady bug costume complete with matching wings, a bonnet and antennas.

I pick it up, hold it against Dad's frail frame and say, "PERFECT, let's get it!"

Dad's eyes open wide.

"You'll look great as a lady bug" I add.

"I don't know Shawnin,” says Maltie, “I really wanted him to be a laaamb."

We continue on down the hallway, debating which would suit him better. This is our way of warming him up before seeing the doctor. Typically Dad will not talk to the psychiatrist; all he'll do is stare at his sneakers, drool, and when he's had enough, yawn.

The doctor informed me that there is an unspoken awareness among the elderly - that  psychiatrists often recommend nursing homes as ideal living environments and therefore, most fear and or loath him, and will resist any sort of help.

Today’s visit is no different. My father sits expressionless, slumped over in his chair.

"How are things going Mr. Kennedy?" asks his doctor.

No reply.

"Is there anything I can do to help you. Anything at all?" prods his doctor.

Maltie and I look at each other and shake our heads.

"Dad’s going to be a lady bug for Halloween, isn't that right Maltie," I announce.

"Yes, but I want him to be a laaamb," adds Maltie.

Without hesitation, the doctor bends down as low as he can go in an attempt to make eye contact with my father and gently states, “that sounds great Mr. Kennedy."

When my attempt at humor fails to stir a reaction in him I add, "Is it okay if he wears his costume now or should I make him wait until Halloween?"

The doctor hesitates for just a moment before offering his professional opinion, “I think its okay if you start wearing it now Mr. Kennedy."

With half a grin my father replies “good.”

Eventually, Dad loosens up.

"How are you feeling otherwise Mr. Kennedy?"

"Okay," he sighs.

The doctor goes on to advocate Exelon and Aricept, two medications he believes will slow down the onset of alzheimer’s or dementia. Because my fathers’ future will most certainly include a wheelchair and a feeding tub, I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t be better off if his mental clarity deteriorates.

Do you ever see anything that doesn't make sense?” asks the doctor.

Dad is quick to answer “NO.”

The doctor continues, "Sometimes people see scary things, things that don't make sense."

"I was in Jersey the other day" admits Dad.

"Jersey, why Jersey?” I question.

The doctor leans in and quietly tells me, "they don't have any control over where they go.”

"Why didn't you take ME" asks Maltie.

"Were you watching the Giants again?" I ask

"Why else would I be in Jersey" says Dad.

"I thought you were going to take me to Florida" insists Maltie

Once gain, the doctor leaned in - this time telling Maltie, “they don't have any control over where they go."

"We're going to Florida don't you worry Doggie!" insists Dad.
"As long as you don't get married" I add.

“I'm not getting married”

"Then why are you two always holding hands"

"We're not holding hands, she's helping me balance."

"Are you having problems balancing Mr. Kennedy?”

Dad admitted he was having problems with his balance.  That it makes him feel unsure of himself and he doesn't like that.

"And I don't want the bag" Dad protests.

"What bag?” asks the doctor.

“Oh, Lord, Father” Maltie whines, “not THAT again!”

Shortly after seeing his younger brother Frank with a colostomy bag, Dad developed an unrealistic fixation on "The BAG"

"You don't need The Bag" challenges Maltie, "you do pee pee all the time."

The doctor patiently tries to reassure him that not being able to urinate is cause for "The Bag" but no reasoning seems to help - not from the urologist, his general practitioner, or from his psychiatrist.

Out of utter frustration I ask, "What color bag do you want?"

"Get him a red one" says Maltie

"No - he doesn't like red"

"Okay, then get him a green one"

"You can carry it around with you and everyone will admire how sharp you look with your bag" I tell him. "You can put your wallet and keys in it if you want to."

Dad will go nowhere without his wallet and keys. If his pants don't have pockets he'll tuck them into his sock.

When our group session is over, Dad turns to me and says, "I like him, he's very GI."

We didn't stop for the ladybug costume as we exited the hospital.

"Stand up straight Rauja. Come on, come on can walk to the car, don’t be getting all lazy on me."

For a man who was once a great high school athlete and then went on to complete over 100 marathons - the last at the age of 72, he accepts his circumstances with dignity and pride.

I know his days of walking are limited, so for now it is reassuring to watch him fight back with a slow, deliberate shuffle.

In the mist of the daily struggles we all endure as a result of his disease, we find humor.  And with that humor comes a remarkable gift - a memory.

Today, it was the memory of a day we all went to the hospital and looked at Halloween costumes. The day we conned the doctor into thinking we were nuttier than most.

Perhaps we are.


Green Monkey Tales © 2010 Shannon E. Kennedy


  1. sweet baby jesus shanno. fuck. this is beautiful. this is why
    i love you
    so much.

  2. YES, its true....this is a repost but its a story that I completed before I was a regular blogger and I didn't want it to be overlooked because it is about my father.

    Thanks for giving it a second chance!



Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

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Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison