A few years after my father’s stroke (which left him unable to walk or speak), he let my brother Carl know he wanted to go Christmas shopping. Shopping was not Dad’s ‘thing’ and generally he showed no interest. Carl figured he wanted to purchase a small gift for our mother. They went to a local mall and instead, Dad picked out a beautiful diamond tennis bracelet with a steep price tag he could not afford.
Carl called me. I had financial Power of Attorney and we knew they didn’t have this kind of money. Besides, Mom wasn’t a diamond bracelet kind of girl. She wouldn’t appreciate the gesture, would probably tell Dad so and hurt his feelings.
I suggested they look at silver charms to go on a necklace she sometimes wore, less expensive and more her style. Carl put Dad on the phone and I said, “Dad, you don’t have the money for diamonds and Mom doesn’t have the taste.”
Carl called back a few minutes later, “He won’t leave the store until we buy the bracelet.” My brother is a big guy and I laughed, “Just push the wheelchair out the door. He’ll have to come with you.”
“I tried that. He’s dragging his foot and won’t let me move the chair without making a scene.”
Obviously something more was going on and we were missing it. We decided they would purchase the bracelet, put it on my brother’s charge card and we’d all pitch in to cover the cost.
Again, my cell phone rang. “Okay,” my brother said. “Now he also wants to buy a diamond necklace.”
“Get him out of that store!”
“He won’t budge.”
“You’re a big guy.”
“And just so you know,” Carl said and paused. “The necklace is for Mom. The bracelet is for you.”
Now, we were both quiet.
For me? Like my mother, I’m not the diamond bracelet type. Though knowing my dad wanted me to have the bracelet, made it hard for me to be objective. In the end, he bought both items.
I did not want or need diamonds, but we also didn’t want to take the moment from him. There seemed so little he actually had control over at this point in his life. And many of us will ‘there’ someday. And when you are, you can only hope someone like my brother, Carl is pushing your wheelchair.
There is an after-story:
About three months later my parents received a small amount of money from a few stock shares that were closing out. We had told Dad about this ‘windfall’ many months before, so he’d been aware there was extra cash coming in. We thought he’d probably forgotten.
The day they cashed the check, Mom wanted to buy a new vacuum cleaner (typical). I asked Dad if there was anything he wanted – new TV, recliner, eyeglasses?
He became very animated and wanted to ‘talk’. While my mother looked at vacuum cleaners, I went through the twenty or so yes/no questions that began any conversation with him: Is it about a person? Is it about something you need, something you want? Is it a question? An opinion? And so on.
In the end, he knew exactly what he had been doing. The money was coming and it was probably his last opportunity to spend it the way he wanted to spend it…Not on a vacuum cleaner (though my mother did get one) but on two items which will become more valuable as they are passed on through the family.
And when I finally understood, his face lit up like the Christmas tree the gifts once lay beneath. With his many limitations, it astounds me how infinite he was…