3 times a day - sometimes 4 - my 81 year old Mother sits across the table from my Father and reminds him to turn his head while he swallows and wait 5 seconds between the end of the swallow and the beginning of a new spoonful. My father aspirates. The food goes down his windpipe instead of his esophagus and contaminates his lungs until he has pneumonia. At 85 he sometimes forgets between bites to turn his head. So with each bite my Mother gently places her palm on his forearm and says, “now turn your head. Swallow. 1,2,3,4,5.” Every day. Each meal. Every time he drinks.
Always. Patiently. Kindly. Lovingly.
Every night before he goes to bed, my 85 year old father takes three tissues out of the Kleenex box, folds them, and puts them on the nightstand beside my mother’s side of their bed. And then he bends over and arranges her bedroom slippers so that the toes point away from the bed and my mother can slide into them. My father uses a walker and he walks in sort of a shuffle/slide/sigh rhythm. Moving is difficult for him. But we have hand rails on the bed and he negotiates around a double bed in the middle of a 9x10 bedroom. He puts his oxygen on and lays down holding a flashlight. He holds the flashlight in case my mother needs to get up in the middle of the night. He lights the bathroom door so she can see in the dark. Even when my father was in the hospital, he would remind us about the slippers and the Kleenex.
Marriage. Exquisite and heartbreaking. Family.