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Chapter 182: Forget Me Not

December 3, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Forget-me-nots. Source: Jörg Hempel.

Yeah, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything for Emmett Wilson. No, I haven’t given up on telling Emmett’s story; to be honest, he is never far from my thoughts; and it isn’t because I don’t have anything else to write about him in terms of research or his developing story. What happened was that the writing mojo left me at about the same time that life got lifey.

I would sit down and try to start into Emmett’s next chapter; although the information and research were right in front me, the words didn’t come. It was a painful effort just to get moving, to write a simple sentence. I’d tell myself, “just write for 30 minutes, no more, no less,” and I could not get it done.

I was distracted by several things going on on the home front; the main one being a health crisis with my father, who lives 900 miles away. Because I have my Dad’s Power of Attorney, I had to drop everything here (teaching, family and other responsibilities) and go to Mississippi to handle several things in person, one of which was to move my father into a nursing home with memory care facilities. It took a few weeks to get things settled in Mississippi; and still, another two weeks from a distance managing his affairs.

The visit to Mississippi took a lot out of my psychologically than I thought it would; I didn’t have a breakdown over it this time because I went prepared: I took my Lexapro prescription, I attended regular meetings with my AA home group, I stayed with supportive and loving friends who gave me a key to the house, and let me do what I needed to do. These were simple blessings that kept me somewhat serene during this time.

Still, the scope of the move was exhausting; it included official closing of safe deposit boxes, post office boxes, and even more downsizing as Dad’s studio apartment at the nursing home was even smaller than his assisted living apartment. The last time my sister and I moved him from independent living, we believed we’d downsized most of Dad’s stuff — we did — but we didn’t pare down his stored papers, and Dad saved EVERYTHING. The positive: I knew what was going on re Dad’s business activities. The negative: Dad’s clinical paranoia meant he saved everything.

Old bills? Yes, complete with the marketing literature and original envelopes, most of which contained notes he’d take of conversations with representatives of various utilities, or companies he did business with.

And the tax returns? Dad kept every single copy going all back to 1972, and in the safe deposit box, “just in case,” he told me.

(Why don’t I have the same kind of Emmett Wilson paperwork to read through? Goodness knows I’ve looked for it pretty much everywhere, but realistically, I know his personal letters and other ephemera wound up in a trash barrel not long after his death. But I digress.)

Dad was a prolific note taker on all of his business correspondence, but his notes mostly included comments about how he hated the specific utility or organization (AT&T got the brunt of his ire; second place went to Blue Cross), and what assholes they were. On one envelope, he spelled out phonetically in a kind of transcript what the call center person was saying (for example, on one envelope he wrote “can-shure” [cancer], and then in quotes, Dad wrote “obviously southern.” Ironic, given Dad has lived almost his entire life in Mississippi.

My sister and I marveled at how pissed off he remained towards so many utilities and businesses he worked with, and yet, he remained a customer of all of them for decades. Even if the service was crap, he’d not go to a competitor. And he would never share his thoughts with customer service for any company he did business with (even if it was in the spirit of constructive feedback), because “they’d be out to get me afterwards.”

The other thing about this visit to resettle my Dad has to do with his dementia; i.e., that it is a reality and has become more pronounced as he’s gotten older. He’s probably had it for awhile, according to his doctors. Seeing my Dad decline like this is sad, but it is also a relief of sorts because now I understand better why he acted the way he did for years.

For example: My sister and I found evidence in the safe deposit box of his separation papers from the last job he held. The exit interview included comments from his boss about Dad’s extreme paranoia, how it impacted his work and collegial relationships, and Dad’s refusal to do anything about it (which included counseling or whatever else he needed). Dad also wrote his own reply to the separation papers (that he never sent to the former employer, naturally), painting himself as a victim of circumstance the whole time he worked there, and that the real problem was with his asshole director.

It was hard to read the narratives. WHY didn’t he take the help when it was offered? WHY didn’t he think about the comments as constructive, because he was basically being given a road map out of psychosis?

But we (people in general) tend to only accept help once we realize we need to accept the help. Knowing my Dad, his pride kept him from it. I told my sister that had he taken the help as it was offered, it could have made a huge difference for all of us back then. Perhaps he would have learned a way to become less angry at the world, and not take it out on the furniture, or the car, as he used to….

….so, that’s why I said going through all of his papers — as huge a pain in the ass as it was — was a relief.

We wound up shredding nine large garbage bags worth of paper. Oh sure, we kept a few of the things (such as the 1972 tax returns, because they were a novelty, as well as the separation narratives from Dad’s last employer), but the majority of papers weren’t critical.

====

I saw Dad again during Thanksgiving week. He seems to be doing OK; everything is stabilized, but the reality is that his health isn’t good and he may not be around much longer. For now, he’s in the best possible place he can be at the moment; there’s resources at his new apartment, and good people around 24/7. He’s cared for, and I plan to see him more often, as will my sister. I sleep better at night knowing he’s checked on regularly, and there’s medical staff on hand at all hours.

One of the silver linings I didn’t expect to come out of Dad’s dementia he’s turned into a nicer guy. He’s forgotten a lot of the stuff that happened when we were growing up; he’s still stubborn, but maybe, as time goes by, he’ll be more receptive to things like participating in social activities, or talking to a counselor as needed, and the like.

Also, going through Dad’s papers showed my sister and me that she and I weren’t as “broken” as we thought we were (or, as we were “programmed”) growing up. There’s a lot she and I have to work on, with our own therapists, but this new information is valuable.

Finally, all of this has made me feel more understanding about my Dad, more forgiving too, though I don’t think I’ll ever forget, if that makes sense. What I learned from the past has brought me to this point in my life, and that’s instructive/valuable.

I wonder if Emmett’s family, as they went through his papers after his death, had similar epiphanies? Felt similar understanding and forgiveness?

They probably did.

But I doubt anyone talked to a therapist about it back then.

===

I’ll be back with Emmett chapters soon.

Categories: The Writing Life

jsmith532

Professor,
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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