Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Zooming through

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

"Maureen, would you go and get me a cranberry cocktail?," my father asked me. Cranberry 'cocktail' is non-alcoholic and a nursing home favorite - half cranberry juice and half ginger ale; at age 90, he's earned the right to drink as many of these as he wants.

The only problem was, I was on a video call with him when he asked for one! 

Dad is isolated in a nursing home in Maine, and I am sheltering-in-place in Maryland. It is really hard not to be able to visit him, and each passing week of this pandemic makes me a little more depressed, as I think, realistically, will I see him again? How will it ever feel 'safe' enough to enter his nursing home, before a vaccine is made? Will it ever feel fair to his caregivers and their families, to have visitors entering the facility on a regular basis? How long will it take to make a vaccine? 

About three weeks ago, the Activities Director at Dad's home arranged for families to make video calls to their loved ones. What a blessing this has been! Although it had been many weeks since I had seen him, that first video chat revealed my Dad in much the condition as he was when I saw him last: sleepy, his face set in a frown (always!), yet good color, healthy, clean, and relaxed. 

Dad has some vision impairment, he's hard of hearing, plus he has a little dementia (as a result of Parkinson's). He can be very confused about some things (for example, he often talks about my Mom as if she is still alive). I wondered how successful video calls would be, against these odds, but, honestly, they are a very good way to connect. When he asked me to get him a cranberry cocktail, I realized he was mistaking my image for the real thing - how great is that? The Activities Director immediately said, "I'll go get you that drink; we'll let you talk to your daughter. You don't get to see her much!" I loved how he took Dad's request seriously and in stride. 

The Activities Director is quick to make technical adjustments with each call - when Dad had trouble hearing, he got head phones; when Dad rejected these, he connected speakers to the tablet. The speakers are phenomenal, giving such great sound, and making him think I am right there with him.

One call, Dad asked me very seriously: 
"What's your evaluation of Mom?"

He had slipped back in time. 

Background story - Mom suffered from mental illness and Dad spent years asking me this same question, as if to get reassurance that she was doing well. Often, I think, he was seeking a 'pat on the back' because she always refused any and all medical help; Dad didn't fight her about this, and simply took care of her himself. If I responded, "she seems great," then I was effectively saying he was doing well by her.

Mom died a year and a half ago, so "What's your evaluation of Mom?" is a very odd question these days.

I responded gently, "I think she's calm. I think she's missing you."

He nodded his head, resignedly...perhaps, understanding.

Then I said, "What's your evaluation of you?"

He said, "What?"

I repeated the question.

He said, "I'm sad." 

Ah, isn't that the truth? Aren't we all? Isn't this hard? How are we supposed to feel anything other than sad these days?

I decided to be silly and give him a taste of his own medicine - 

"Well then, my Dad always says, you have to stand on your head and turn your frown upside down." 

This made him chuckle. 
Which I call a win.

Just like I do with my preschoolers, I have to take Dad exactly as he is, in whatever mood I find him. The Activities Director does a great job "transitioning" Dad to the call, getting him ready a few minutes beforehand, trying to get him excited and alert. It doesn't always work out. Our last video chat, he had absolutely zero interest in talking to me. He looked off to the side, not acknowledging my voice at all; I asked question after question, trying to joke with him, compliment him, using up pretty much everything in my "bag of tricks." Then I said, "Gee, Dad, you are really making me 'up' my entertainment game, today; I guess you really aren't in the mood to talk." Dad turned his face right to the screen and said, "Would you allow me to go downstairs and get a cup of coffee? Bye, Maureen."


That's called, 'being shown the door.'

Every call brings an anecdote, some surprising little nugget, a shared moment together. I am truly thankful to have the ability to video chat. 

It is so good to see him.

Tony and I "zooming" with Dad.


  1. This is precious in every way. As difficult as they are, I love the ups and downs you recount as part of virtual connection. My mom suffered from dementia too, and whether I was with her or not, our interactions fluctuated. You capture that so vividly. When phone calls were the only medium, I was too disembodied, so her caregiver would say, "Ah, Trish, your mom just can't picture you." This takes me back, and makes me glad you have Zoom. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I am glad I have Zoom; certainly, it provides that picture, that concrete look at someone, which is so helpful.

  2. Oh Maureen, this is just a precious slice of your life with such rich details. I just basked in every word getting to know you and your father. The activities director sounds like a gem too. I pray you will get to see him again for a hug and a cranberry cocktail.


    1. Thank you, Denise! Yes, these weekly video chats are becoming another 'artifact' for me during this pandemic.

  3. It looks as though your making the virtual visits work well. That your dad thinks you’re in the room surely lifts the burden I know you feel from not being with him.

    BTW: Live the new profile pic.

    1. Thanks, Glenda! Yes, the fact that he thinks I'm in the room makes me realize he's not at all aware of how isolated he really is, how far away I am.