I was all excited that afternoon! I was 5 years old, and Bubby was coming to our house. We didn’t see her often and I loved her so very much.
Finally I heard Mummy call: “Bubby is arriving. The airport taxi just pulled up to the driveway.”
“My Bubby is here! My Bubby is here!” I sang gleefully as I raced toward the car anticipating her beaming smile and huge hug. How I had missed Bubby.
And just then I noticed that they were carrying her out of the taxi. Her entire leg was bandaged. Her fur jacket was draped over most of her extended leg. She was leaning heavily on Daddy and the taxi driver as they carried her up our stairs and gently laid her on the sofa. She had caught her heel in the steps coming out of the airplane and fell down the stairs. By the pained look on her face I was sure she was dying! Instead of running up to my Bubby, I ran to hide in the tree house. It wasn’t until many hours later (or at least that’s what it felt like) that someone came to look for me (I think it was Daddy) and convinced me that Bubby was alive and intact.
Ever since that day, I’ve been “freaked out” by adults falling, especially adults who are related to me.
My Dad has been having difficulty walking lately. It is painful for me to watch his slow shuffling steps as he wends his way to shul, to learn, to shop, to visit friends. We used to see Dad briskly marching from one destination to another. In fact, just a few years ago Dad was asked to lead a daily seniors’ health walk in his neighborhood. Now a walk to shul, which used to take ten minutes, can take Dad over half an hour. (He asks the Gabbai why they keep moving the shul farther away?)
To celebrate Dad’s upcoming trip overseas, we went out to eat. As we got out of the car, I hurried to hold Dad’s door open. I situated myself, to be able to grab Dad just in case he totters. I handed Dad his walking stick (we don’t call it a cane) and stayed close by his side as we headed toward the restaurant door.
We were directed to the last vacant table, over in the far corner. Dad chose a seat against the back wall so he could see all the comings and goings. (Inevitably, there will be someone Dad recognizes passing through the door, and Dad likes to be the first to say “hello”). My husband and I sat across from him.
Our senses perked up from the aroma of fresh baked pita the waitress set on the table. As we prepared to wash our hands before making the blessing over the bread, I tensed as Dad struggled to push back his chair. I asked Dad if I should ask the waitress to bring a bowl of water and towels to the table. Dad exploded: “What am I, a cripple? What do I do at home? Let me do things my own way!”
“But Dad,” I defended myself, “when you go out with your friends you tell me how nice it is when the washing water is brought to the table.”
“That’s different,” retorted Dad. “Just let me do this my way. I know what I am doing.”
“But Dad,” I protested, “I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“I know you are. But you’re hovering.”
At this point I’m very upset. I go to the ladies’ room to collect myself. I feel rejected and most of all afraid that one day Dad will fall and get hurt. I’m confused about what he means when he says that I hover. I have never grabbed him when he wobbles (though I admit that my right hand shoots out in a reflex all of its own).
When I returned I noticed the atmosphere has changed and we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner. As we left, I hung far behind Dad and my husband.
My husband turned to me in the car after we took Dad home. “You know, Judith, when you left the table, Dad felt really bad. He knows you mean well and want to help, but he feels you are crowding him. He used the term ‘hover’ again. He doesn’t want to hurt your feelings and he does want his space. You can’t prevent Dad from falling, even if you were holding him, which he wouldn’t let you do.”
“A number of years ago,” he continued, “I, too, had to make some tough decisions. When Ima’s health started failing, I realized that either I can let her have quality of life by continuing all her regular activities or I can restrict her movements and keep her safe.” I was nodding my head, I understood. Years ago, Ima fainted while she was cooking and fell on the gas stove. She was in the hospital for months with serious burns. We wanted to shut the gas and buy prepared meals. Ima wanted to continue making us her blintzes and cabbage rolls.
Dad left for the airport from our house. As I walked ahead of him down the steps, I heard a whoosh. I turned around to see Dad clutching onto the railing, in a weird position, almost on the floor. Someone passing by just grasped Dad’s right arm, I took the other, and we supported Dad as he pulled himself up. I silently returned the walking stick back to Dad. We continued to the car.
“How did I do Dad?”
“You did just fine.”
Dad is right, my husband is right. All I can do now is to pray that Dad is safe, and to be available when he asks for help. It’s quite liberating for us all.
Random House dictionary: to keep lingering about
Webster’s dictionary: to hang about watchfully, to wait nearby
**written with Dad’s permission
Judith Berger, R.N., M.Sc. Family Therapy, is a professional nurse and life issues advisor. She is currently an advisor and fundraiser for the Ginat Eden Farm-School Project for Teenage Girls at Risk in Israel. Judith invites you to send your questions and comments to E-mail address: email@example.com.Judith Berger