Wednesday, August 28, 2013


“Don’t make me choose.”

It was something of a showdown between my father and me. In his very old age he had come to live with us to recover and even thrive for just a little while. He had fallen down an escalator in a department store and shortly afterwards got up in the night in his small apartment and his hip had collapsed, broken.

I was in California then and he was in Missouri, far away from any of his children and doggedly stubborn, something that must surely be a genetic trait within our family. I could not fly out fast enough and spoke to his surgeon who expressed doubts about Daddy making it through the surgery.
Off-Center Lenormand
(c) Copyright 2012 Marcia McCord

“I know he’s 90 or whatever and I know he has heart problems and other issues, but, with all due respect, doctor, you don’t know my father. He will live if only to prove all of you wrong.” And he did. The doctor was dumbfounded.

As Daddy recovered in a nursing home, we kids took turns spending a week with him until vacations ran out and it was clear that without family presence he was not going to be well-cared for.

It was part of our initiation into the world of elder care, the various interpretations of advanced directives, etc. Daddy had a DNR order and had created a Power of Attorney naming me as the person to make decisions should something devastating happen. What we found was that instead of the folks caring for him and consulting me on major decisions, they interpreted DNR “do not resuscitate” as “do not care for.”

When we scooped him out of the nursing home to airlift him to California, he had bedsores, edema, pneumonia and other things that displayed a lack of care. Nothing keeps your loved one alive, I found, more than your presence and attention attracting the notice of the caregivers.

Daddy recovered from all those things likely to kill older people and moved into my first floor apartment, what I call the “basement” although it is not underground. He thrived in a way. He got well enough to become, instead of the “pet father” I had hoped for, truly a troll in my basement. His old age, in his defense, was not necessarily happy for him. His beloved third wife had died after a short and dreadful battle with small-cell lung cancer. He could not see why he was still alive and was constantly angry at everyone from me to Hilary Clinton whom he blamed irrationally for Noni’s death.

I gave him a break though. He was 90 and had alienated just about everyone who might have cared about him, alienated or outlived. And it’s hard for someone who lives only for the attention from others when the audience has left the theatre.

At some point, he picked a fight and demanded that I choose between him and all I held dear.

In Lenormand, the card that signals “loyalty, regard, friendship and enduring kindness” is the Dog. Dogs forgive. Dogs stand by you. Dogs don’t care if you wear good clothes or bad. Dogs will put up with a lot to remain in your pack if they have bonded with you. Dogs stay.

When someone asks you to choose between loyalties, they likely do not realize that they have just revealed their lack of loyalty to you. If they were loyal, they would say, “I need to do this and I know it’s something that you can’t agree with, but I would like to remain your friend.” But by saying, it’s me or them, their regard is revealed as conditional and their loyalty limited; yet, by the demand for choice, it is as if you are the one whose loyalty is in question.

I’ve had that kind of situation lately among some friends. It is heartache for me. Unlike the temporary motto of my family crest (now abandoned with better DNA testing), I don’t identify with “My way or the highway.” It’s a type of loyalty that is divisive, not building.

If your friends and loved ones really care for you, they love you in spite of what they do not agree with. They are strong enough to acknowledge a different point of view, a different choice, without calling it evil or sick or deluded or, of course, disloyal.

When my father presented me with the choice between himself and the rest of my world, I was very clear to him.

Do not try to make me choose. You will lose.

The attempt to force my choice demonstrates your weakened bond to me and signals the danger in my placing my complete loyalty with you. Allowing me to remain loyal to myself will earn you my undying friendship. And then this cat will be the dog.

Best wishes.

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