“NOT normal.”

My brother Joel eased himself down on the couch beside Daddy. He’s the tallest one in the family and he looks even taller next to our father. I guess people really do kind of shrink as they get older, and also Dad seems to have lost a little weight over the course of the surgery and radiation. The TV was on, probably CNN, and we had all just finished eating so Mom and I were kind of milling around in and out of the kitchen. Daddy reached over and took Joel’s hand in his and sat there silently holding it, his eyes on the television. They stayed that way for a long time: very still, side by side, not talking, just the sound of  the newscaster droning on and on. Joel said later that was the first time he ever remembers anything like that happening. Daddy is affectionate, but his physical demonstrations (especially with his sons) tend to be more of the hug-and-release or pat-pat-patting of the arm variety. Sitting on a couch holding hands with a grown man is a little out of character for guys of his generation. The intimacy of the gesture surprised and moved Joel, and after a while he slightly shifted his position, leaned his head on the back of the couch and turned to Daddy. Gently, hesitantly, he started asking him questions. “Dad, we’ve been talking a little about how it sometimes seems like it’s hard for you to… process things. Mentally, I mean. You know, after all the medical stuff you’ve gone through.” He waited. Dad nodded. Joel said, “What does that feel like?” Daddy just shook his head, sadly. Joel said, “When we’re all together and talking, it seems as if you are following everything that’s going on. You laugh at all the jokes, and you look like you’re taking it all in. Is that pretty accurate?” “Yes,” Dad said. Joel carefully pressed on. “But sometimes when we ask you a direct question it seems like it’s hard for you to get the thoughts in your head to come out in words.” Dad nodded again.

I walked by just then and overheard what they were saying. I slid out of the room and stood around the corner, out of sight and unabashedly eavesdropping. These were the very questions I had been dying to ask, but had repeatedly chickened out from doing so. Daddy’s increasing ‘fogginess’ has been the subject of lots of emails and phone calls among the siblings, and we have worried, whispered and discussed it thoroughly among ourselves; but what I really wondered about was what it felt like to Daddy. How aware was he that his thinking processes were cloudy? Did he know what was happening to him? But I couldn’t bring myself to ask. I was afraid I’d put him on the spot, or embarrass him, or worse– that he wouldn’t be able to formulate an answer for me at all, and I’d feel horrible.  I’m kind of a coward that way.

The thing is, there are any number of valid reasons that could explain his obvious struggle with cognizant reasoning– the guy is 93 years old with a heart rate that routinely dips down to 48, for crying out loud. Add to that his history of two, possibly three heart attacks and the onset of a rare, very aggressive cancer and his subsequent surgery including skin grafts for that cancer and the 30 radiation treatments all aimed at the scalp area that also happens to cover his frontal lobes and there’s always dementia and the possibility that he may have suffered some small silent strokes… I mean seriously, pick one. We may never know exactly what’s causing it, and despite my Mom’s most fervent hopes– she can only bring herself to call it “Don’s memory problem”–  the situation may not be reversible. (I have now typed the last part of that sentence three times. I have changed it from “may not be reversible” to “is probably not reversible” and back to “may not…” again. Apparently Mom is not the only one fervently hoping.) But even if a cause is determined and some kind of therapy is recommended, my real concern is how it is affecting Daddy inside. It’s funny, throughout all of his medical problems the first questions almost all of us have asked when notified of the latest development are, “Is he scared? Is he sad?” It’s like we can all stand anything but that. The thought of Daddy being lost and frightened inside a mind or body that’s not working properly just undoes me. I have watched him tolerate the physical pain and indignities that come with all of  his medical procedures with such grace, faith and good humor. But seeing the look on his face when he struggles to complete a thought, or grasps for words that don’t come, or has to be told three times where the coat closet is– that’s a gut shot.

So when I heard my courageous brother, bless him, lovingly and sensitively giving Daddy a chance to express his feelings about what is happening to him, it stopped me in my tracks. From my hiding place around the corner I listened to Dad haltingly try to explain what it was like to know that your brain isn’t working right, but not be able to correct it. Yes, he understood what was being said to him and around him, apparently even to the point of anticipating the punch line to a joke or grasping the nuances of our family’s insulting kind of humor– not that there are any nuances to be found there, really. But when his brain needed to sort information in order to make a choice between two things, or turn the answer in his head into a verbal response, he couldn’t seem to connect those dots.  (Daddy didn’t articulate all of these things, but he was able to answer yes or no to Joel’s carefully worded questions– this is my best recollection of how the conversation went.) Joel asked him if it was frustrating, and he emphatically said, “Yes! I just can’t…. It doesn’t…” Daddy’s voice trailed off. Joel said, “Are you OK with it? Do you just kind of accept that this is the way it is, and try to make the best of it?” Pause. “Yes.” Of COURSE  he would say that! That’s what my “Greatest Generation”/child of the Depression/stoic Midwesterner father has always done. Then came the hardest part.  Joel gently asked, “Dad, is it scary?” He was quiet for a minute then Daddy said softly, “I don’t know.” And my heart broke a little.

The next morning the girls, Joel, Kri and I were already sitting down at the breakfast table when Daddy joined us. He smiled and greeted us and then glanced over at the TV and remarked on something the newscaster said. He leaned down and ruffled his beloved Pandy’s fur and said, “Hello there, Pandy girl– do you need to go out?” His eyes were clear, and though his words were few he spoke them naturally and effortlessly. Joel and I exchanged slightly startled glances. He seemed so much sharper, so much more like the ‘old Daddy’ that it was kind of disorienting for a minute. These days he usually doesn’t initiate a lot of talking, though he answers when he is spoken to– there’s usually just a lot of sitting quietly and staring going on, so this was definitely different behavior. Mom brought him a plate of pancakes and he slowly but enthusiastically started eating them, glancing at the paper as he drank his coffee. I walked in and out of the room, gathering up odds and ends we had strewn about as I started packing up for our trip home. Within the hour I could tell that Daddy seemed to be tiring a little, and by the time we were almost ready to go he had moved over to the couch and was silently watching television again. Joel turned in his chair to face Daddy and said with a smile, “Dad, today you seemed kind of different when you came in, more like your old self. Were you aware of that?” “Well,” he said. Then he smiled, and looked a little uncomfortable–  the way he looks when he’s having trouble formulating an answer. He shrugged, still smiling. Joel said, “Do you feel any different, do you feel more… normal?” Dad’s smile faded. “No,” he said, sadly and firmly. “NOT normal.”

As we walked out to the car to leave, I heard Mom say, “Don, they’re leaving, we need to go say goodbye.” Dad started to reach for the edge of the sofa to help him stand and I hurriedly said, “No, you don’t need to come outside Daddy, we can say our goodbyes in here.” But he and Mom wouldn’t hear of it. Slowly, carefully the two of them made their way to the front door, Mom guiding him with her arm when she needed to, standing back and letting him go it alone when he could. It took a while, but they got there. After we had all hugged everyone and piled the girls and the dogs into the car, I slid into the passenger seat as Russ started to pull out of the driveway. And then I looked up and there it was, that picture I’ve seen so many other times before, two small white-haired figures freeze-framed in front of their house waving goodbye. Against all odds we’ve managed to have another Thanksgiving with both of them, here in their own home surrounded by all six of their children, assorted grands and great-grands. It’s more than anyone has any right to expect, and I’m incredibly grateful. It should be enough, but if I’m honest? It’s not. I want Christmas, too. And if they have to go– and yes, I know they do– I also want some kind of written guarantee from God that death will come gently and peacefully in the middle of a deep sleep as they lay side by side holding hands.

Because Mom told me that’s how they fall asleep every night.

And I really wish she hadn’t, because just like the driveway snapshot, that image is now in my mind forever and the exquisitely painful sweetness of it is damn near unbearable.


I wrote this for all of you kind friends who have been asking me how Daddy is doing. There’s not an easy answer, really. Please keep them both in your prayers.


37 Responses

  1. grfdave

    You ALL are in my prayers.

  2. tori

    grfdave– Thank you.

  3. jonny

    You’re dad is such an inspiration for me. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Silver Hair Fans

    What a bittersweet and touching story…Keeping all of you in our prayers…Treasure this Christmas with your parents and hold tight all your Precious Memories!! Thank You for sharing your thoughts with us!!

    Blessings and Merry Christmas from “Silver”

  5. DonnaMariePatterson

    I love to read your blogs. God’s given you a wonderful way with words. This brought back memories of my dad. He liked to wear hats too. He and mom would always walk us out the door and stand there and we would all wave at each other until we were out of sight. I miss my daddy but I’m glad he’s home. God let ME be with him when he passed. I told him he was the ‘best daddy in the world’ and that I loved him. His last words were ‘I love you’. My biggest dread – my whole life – was my daddy dying. But, thank God, because of His promises and His Spirit, it was somewhat ‘bearable’ (well … after falling apart in the shower … crying and screaming to God that I COULD NOT DO THIS!). I know with everything in me that I will see him again. Maybe we’ll all sit together one day (in heaven), with our cups of coffee, and see what else they have in common. My dad had a quick wit and was always whistling or humming. Sweet. :)

    I will continue to pray for your mom & dad. Thanks for sharing them with us!

  6. LindaB

    OMG! You have made us all fall madly in love with your Mom and Dad……..and your brother Joel……..your devoted and caring sisters…….and the whole family. But especially Mom and Dad! They must have been extraordinary human beings to evoke such love and tenderness from their children as you have expressed in this blog entry…….. and past ones too. When I was reading your entry above, I felt like I might cry myself. Then I scrolled down and saw that picture, and it was all over. There is not a sweeter, more beautiful sight in all the world, is there? And you have opened up your heart and let us see them as you do. Thank you so much—-it must have been a hard and painful thing to do. ((((Tori)))) I won’t forget to pray for you all.

  7. bettyrwoodward

    Tori – Thank you. That must have been so hard to write. Yes, it made me cry but made praying easier. Our love to you all and have a great Christmas together.

  8. bettyrwoodward

    Stuart just read this and it gave him a funny turn because your Dad looks so much like his Dad(87) except your’s is much more upright.

  9. JnnfrSr

    My prayers are with you. Seeing a parent struggle is so very difficult – you want to protect them from harm and hurting just like they have done for you through the years.

  10. rachelbaker

    Thanks Tori. That must have been hard, but thank you. Now that Mum mentions it I’ve just seen the resemblance between your Dad and my Grandad. We are both blessed to come from such loving, Godly familes. I will be praying for you all over Christmas.

  11. swerchon


    Continually praying for you and your sweet family. Wow thanks for going that deep and sharing your parents with us, they are truly SPECIAL.

  12. Bloomfield Farm

    Tori, what a beautiful story! It answers the question “how is your dad?” in such a lovely way and gives us all a poignant glimpse into your wonderful family, so different from the coffee cooking scene from last year! Both let us know love is there.

  13. ShowMeStGirl

    Gosh Tori, tears running down my cheeks at 7;00am. Your emotions are so real to me.. your comments, questions. Thank you for sharing…

  14. auburn60

    I think you know what’s in my heart.I wish I knew your parents personally. I wish I could help in some way. I wish I could do more than pray for strength for all of you. I’m here in whatever way you need me.

  15. MostlySunny

    Well, I’m a mess! Excuse me, please…

  16. GRITSinNC

    Tori, you have me in tears. You write so beautifully, it makes me love your Mom & Dad & siblings through you. I’ll be praying for your Mom & Dad (and you)that when the time comes, God will answer your request.


    It took a few minutes for my eyes to clear in order to leave a response. I remember asking my Dad the same sort of questions as I watched AIDS slowly, but at the same time rapidly – eat him alive.
    More than anything else, your comments made me grateful all over again that I stil have my MS-diagnosed mother alive, that God restored our severed relationship of many years, & that we now talk once a day, & email several times a day, & will hopefully be visiting in the next several days to come.
    Its hard to put those thoughts and feelings into words. Thanks, Tori. The pic was beautiful.

  18. Sheena

    This brought tears to my eyes.

    “And then I looked up and there it was, that picture I’ve seen so many other times before, two small white-haired figures freeze-framed in front of their house waving goodbye.” – This is just what it was like for me when I was growing up, leaving my grandparents house every year.

    Beautifully written post. God bless you and your family, Tori.

  19. dijea

    I was fine until I got to the picture then tears just flowed. This reminded me of all the questions in my mind about how my grandfather felt – he had Alzheimer’s, my mother-in-law suffered a stroke that left her a quadriplegic and not good communications skills.

    Bless you and your family. I’m off to pray right this moment.

  20. themema


  21. meb

    Through the tears I am sending hugs to all of you and keeping your entire family in my prayers.

  22. rockin robyn

    Somewhere in life our lives turn and our parents aren’t those same two figures that reared us up to be who we are today… those figures that really didn’t ‘know what they were talking about” when we were teenagers. Now, we see them as so wise beyond their years and we can only wish/hope that they could teach us more of what they know with time running out… but now the love for them changes to almost so caring as one would of their own children. It’s almost like our parents turn into our children in that regard.

    I can’t stress it enough to my siblings that mom and dad aren’t the same people any more and you almost have to love them a different way now. A more appreciated kind of love. You do things for them because you want to, not because you have to.

    Tori! your writing nails it and paints the most beautiful picture for those of us who are so fortunate to still have our parents with us for a little longer. Thank you for this and may God continue to bless your family and your parents. I know they have shaped who you are today!

  23. LOpitz

    Killing me again with posts about grandpa. Of course, as usual, I cried. Mainly about grandma and grandpa holding hands each night as they go to sleep. We are so very lucky to have had them this long, but thinking of life without them, especially holidays and getting all the family together, about makes me cry every time. Every year grandma says jokingly that it may be their last but then another year rolls around and they are both still with us. I just hate seeing grandma the way he is as well and not “himself.” Thanks for the beautiful post. Can’t wait to see you guys next week!

  24. tori

    jonny: He inspires me, too. Such a good, decent man.

    Silver Hair Fans: We WILL treasure our time together, thank you for the prayers.

    DonnaMariePatterson: What a sacred honor, to be with your dad when he passed. He sounds like a darling.

    LindaB: You WOULD love them all, Linda– you have the same sense of humor!

    bettyrwoodward: Wow, Stuart’s dad resembles mine? Well, Daddy does look like a bit of a toff in his new hat…!

    JnnfrSr: So true. I feel as protective towards them as I do my girls.

    rachelbaker: You are right, we are both so blessed.

    swerchon: Thank you so much for those prayers.

    Bloomfield Farm: Aw, Peggy, it was different from last year, in so many ways. But still so good.

    ShowMeStGirl: Thank you for reading… and caring.

    auburn60: You have been so incredibly loving towards my parents, I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

    MostlySunny: Girl, you should have seen me when I was writing it!

    GRITSinNC: I do not take those prayers for granted– thank you.

    DELIVEREDJEPARKER63: What a difficult, difficult thing you’ve been through with your dad. I love hearing about the renewed relationship with your mom! Another miracle.

    Sheena: Thank you, Sheena, that is a lovely thing to hear about something that means so much to me.

    dijea: The picture kills me, too. Especially Daddy’s little wave.

    themema: And I love you too.

    meb: I will take those hugs– and the prayers, too.

    rockin robyn: You said it beautifully–we are indeed “loving them in a different way” now.

    L Opitz: Leah honey, I know. It hurts, and yet I’m still so grateful they are here, even though it’s not the same. Can’t wait to see you, Craig and the little sock monkey soon!

  25. jonny

    I still wanna sock monkey for Christmas, though!! ; )

    Thanks for all the responding Tori. I wonder, in part, if the reason I experienced so much anguish when first reading the blog entry, the tears all that pain produced, and how so many here are also deeply touched by what is happening with your father, parents, how it’s effecting others of your family, is because of how precious and valued you, yourself, have become to us, your girls, your loves to sing man, this place, as well.


  26. LindaB

    I think you’re right, Jonny.

  27. jonny

    I have my moments, I guess, but still no sock monkey = /

    Oh, and this is one of those times I REALLY would appreciate being able to edit what’s been Said!. Embarrassing punctuation at the end of that last one…

  28. delightedabroad

    Tori, this is truly and deeply moving !! That’s a situation where I wish I had just a bit of your talent of expressing/describing with words. As I only got to know my paternal grandpa and maternal grandma I couldn’t see how they lived together as a couple, how they cared for each other. In another post I mentioned (at least I think so…)that the relationship with my parents is … difficult – but I still hope for God’s miracle. Anyway, I’m so grateful that you, Tori, and your family show so much love and respect for each other (which is NOT a contradiction to a good sense of humor !).
    A second thought after reading was that this is what I’d like my partnership to be like when growing old.

  29. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Beautifully said, sweet Tori. I would imagine that one of two things might be going on with daddy: if he is not confused he may be in denial; otherwise, he may be confused himself as to what is going on and he is just talomg pme dau at a time. Either way, he is still that sweet daddy who made you feel loved and secure all of those years when you were growing up. And, as much as it hurts you to see him this way, imagine for one moment how it makes your mom feel. Her husband, her sweetheart, her protector is but a shell of the man he once was. No longer the strong man with whom she fell in love. But still and forever, the love of her life. Sometimes she understands that he is not thinking clearly and she is concerned…how much longer? But most of the time, I would imagine that she pushes it in the back of her mind and wills there to be no real change in her husband….not wanting to face it until there is no way to escape facing it. For now, it’s enough for her that she still has him…to see him sitting in his chair, to listen to her talk about something or somebody with shared interest, and to hold her hand at night when they go to sleep.

    Tori, your mom and dad have accomplished a lot in their years on this earth. They have produced and nurtured their children and grandchildren not only by feeding and clothing and educating them….but by being examples for their children as well as for their friends and neighbors. After all, isn’t that what God expects of us…more than becoming famous or creating a beautifulwork of art.In God’s eyes, they have produced all of that…their job has been well done.

  30. Barbara M. Lloyd

    I meant to tell you….they are beautiful….and I love them becaue they gave me you.


    And, ya know somethin else, Tori – (3 DAYS LATER….) THEY LOOK FANTASTIC TO BE THEIR AGE! I mean, they are really up there – and look GREAT! (isnt that encouraging to you?) hehehehehe!

  32. jonny

    I hope everyone has a supremely blessed Christmas!! We’ll all have to share fave gifts, or moments, in a couple days = )




    Jonny – you were the only one up here? Everyone else must be recovering from Christmas! I had a GREAT CHRISTMAS! STILL HAVING A GREAT CHRISTMAS!

    So, Tori – I think Jonny was dropping a hint, or two!

  34. jonny

    … and, Happy New Year everyone!! Thanks so much to each of you, especially our wonderful, loving and much appreciated hostess, for being used to richly bless my life last year. Yep, already the New Year over here!

    Peace, and MUCH love,


  35. delightedabroad

    Happy New Year !!!
    I hope you all had a blessed Christmas and a good start into the new year ?!

  36. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Happy New Year to my little Taff Family…..and to all those who read Tori’s blog.

  37. bettyrwoodward

    Happy New Year to everyone and of course the Taff family

Leave a comment

If you have already registered an account with us, log in to post a comment.

If you do not have an account, please setup a username to confirm you aren't a devil-spammer-from-Hell. A password will be sent to the email address you provide.