She came with a sterling recommendation, my brother says. She feeds my father super-healthy food and keeps him impeccably clean. Soon after I arrived, this caregiver (an older Jamaican woman I will hereafter refer to as the Voodoo Priestess) handed him his sunglasses. Frustrated, my dad tossed them on the floor, where they disappeared under a cabinet. Before we could stop him, he got down on his hands and knees to look for them; and, of course, he couldn't get back up. I ran to help him, while the caregiver stayed where she was and scolded him. "What are you doing down there? What are you thinking? Don't do that again!"
Me: "Could give me a hand here? He's stuck. I need help lifting him."
VP: "He shouldn't be doing that! Who does he think he is? He is not to throw his sunglasses!" She walked over to him and bent over, in order to berate him more effectively. "Stop that!"
Me: "I think we need to pick him up. You can yell at him later, okay?"
Later, referring to his birthday, I mentioned to her my dad's advanced age. "Stop that!" the voodoo priestess yelled, at me this time. "Time - it is a human construct. It means NOTHING. He is not old. You are making him old. It is all in his MIND."
As the weekend progressed, it turned out that a lot of things were all in his mind: his age, his spreading cancer, his allergies that were making his eyes swell and his nose run constantly - all constructs of the mind. "Look," I told her. "He needs antihistamines. He has some here, so he must have taken them before."
She looked askance at the proffered bottle. "These - these pills are POISON. They are no good. I can make him better. These pills - they CANNOT."
Words fail me at describing the weekend. The caregiver's arrogance, her bullying, her anger - and my brother sitting there, saying, "Yeah, but she cooks really well." I left for the train home, sick at heart. The voodoo priestess had no interest in learning who my father was - no interest in hearing that he was a Depression-era child, raised on a farm and - later - in Brooklyn; a young man drafted into the US Army to fight WWII; a soldier who helped liberate the camps that were full of his Old World relatives; a father who had lived in this same house for over 60 years, who worked hard to pay for it and to raise his children in it. A man who used to have friends, friends that are all now long gone.
My father is a person stranded in time, left behind, as it were, an old man burdened with half a memory -- and a caregiver lacking even a modicum of humility in the face of a long life bravely lived.
[Fun fact - Jerry Garcia is playing steel guitar in this version of "Teach Your Children."]