My late father had a great beard, grown for the Bala Trek. He looked so good with it. Having lost his hair due to the dang radiation treatments, which were contraindicated, I tried to look after what was left.
Brian popped in one morning to visit Dad. We both thought he needed a beard trim. Dad didn’t like anyone touching him anymore and hired outside staff were unable to do this for him. We hired a hairdresser, someone to do foot care, and a massage therapist, it helped keep him more comfortable.
Brian had a wicked cordless electric beard trimmer with an attachment that gathered up the clippings. He took it in to work on Dad, but the batteries died. I needed to give it a go. I was not used to this trimmer, but I did have a hair trimmer I had used on my children’s hair. How hard could this be?
I popped in early to do our evening dinner ritual and routine, trimmer in hand.
Dad spoke as if there were marbles in his mouth. I was looking at his beard. “I think we need to trim it!"
“I don’t know. Pieces, suspended on the--”
“Yeah. Brian did his beard this morning. “
“I had three oh packages of it.” He sounded drugged, which was okay. I still suspected that he was in pain, hence his vocalizations. I was not sure. This inability to converse was one of the symptoms of both dementia and his progressing brain tumour.
I could hear Marjorie across the hall, yelling “Help!” as she did continually, in her state of dementia. “Help me! Help me!” Sometimes she would sing the words.
Dad was lying in his bed. Dad seemed calm as I cleaned him up and prepared to trim his beard.
“Do you have any bacon?”
“Yup,” I say, knowing he means scissors. His inability to retrieve nouns did not faze me anymore. I did not correct him. “I’ll get a towel.”
“You want to know. Not what you left. A get back to get up.” I sat him up, cranking the head of the bed. He gave a big yawn.
“I did not have any relax.”
I started trimming. It was quite long, with his mustache growing into his mouth. I was tickling him, and he moved away. “It’s okay. Sorry, I’m tickling. I’m doing my best, but not giving up my day job, though.” (Oops. Actually, I had.)
I kept working at the beard project and I was relatively successful. It was a bit crooked, but better than it had been. He tended to get so much food into his beard and mustache that it helped if we kept it short. He had always been so meticulous with his appearance. He and Mom had made regular visits to the hairdresser. Dad always got dressed every day in a shirt and pants.
As I worked at his beard, the PSWs came in and asked if I wanted them to get him up. I told them that he would be ready shortly. Off we went to dinner again.
This is an excerpt from my book: Living and Dying in Dignity, published in Nov., 2008.