A father losing his mind

Every night, when I was in my early forties I went to my parents’ house to argue with my infantilized father until he would give up the fight and move from the recliner (from which he wasn’t even watching TV any more, just lost in a Bartlebyian dead-screen reverie) to the hospital bed installed in our old family room, an incongruous presence in a room that hadn’t changed much since the early Seventies.

The hospice nurses insisted he sleep in the bed because recliner life was giving him terrible sores, sores like geological features, chasms, fluvial landforms. It was never an easy negotiation. That bed meant something to him. I wonder what?

He would sometimes point to it and say, at great physical and cognitive expense, “I don’t want to go there.”


By this time, he was no longer listening to Bach, even. He had lost all the codices.

We had some good times in those months, some moments of levity and sudden clarity and connection, after days or weeks of silence. One time, out of a literal nowhere that none of us understands just yet, he said, “John, you don’t know what it’s like to have had a half-way decent mind and then lose it.” Then another week of silence.

Another time, after an even longer interval of apparent stasis, he said, “John, I want you to go to the hardware package store and get a new silver turner for the TV.”

I said, “Okay, I will.”

What do you say to an instruction like that?

I had figured out several years earlier, after a spate of irresponsible and entirely uncharacteristic computer purchases, that technology had become a metaphor for my father’s own broken equipment. That recliner was the last instrument he knew how to operate.


Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.