I am up early to do yoga. After months of laziness, precipitated by a flare up of an old injury, I am recommitted. As motivation I meditate on the benefits of daily yoga practice. Through images of dancing with grandchildren and romping over meadows with my labrador, the real goal surfaces. I want to wipe my own butt.
I first thought about this when I was a nurses aid during my “what the hell am I going to be?” year. I was assigned an elderly woman with colon cancer. “Your job is to make her comfortable. She doesn’t have much time left.”
There was a brown trail from her bed to the toilet where she sat crying. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The mess seeped into body crevices she couldn't reach. “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” I said this too cheerfully while taking short breaths to force back the gag reflex. As I washed and scrubbed, we talked about the world series. Neither of us cared that Oakland won. She missed eating chocolate and was tired of broth. She had three children and seven grandchildren and a great grandchild she hoped to see next month. “Glad they didn’t come today!” We both laughed as I emptied the brown water in the toilet, rinsed out the basin to refill it, and found more washcloths.
I knew my father was beginning to die when he didn't mind that I saw him naked. He was sick and agreed to my mother’s demand he wear a diaper to bed. She sent me to the store with a ten dollar bill and it took twenty minutes to decide which ones to get. When the cashier asked if I needed a bag I gave her my “Are you stupid?” look.
I wanted to give her a lesson in customer service. “Pay attention. Note how uncomfortable I am. Look at what I am buying. I am buying adult diapers for my father. I just remembered it is Friday night. And when I was a kid we watched Gillette’s Friday Night Fights together and fell asleep with my head on his chest listening to heart beats and punches. So now I love a sport that I should philosophically hate. When I leave here I am going to help my mother put a diaper on my father and hope I picked the right size. So yes, I want some privacy. Give me a freakin’ bag.”
I am hopelessly polite and never said any of that. I nodded and she placed the Depends® in a clear plastic bag which concealed nothing. It made them appear larger.
My father recovered, but my parents couldn't do this on their own anymore. I found an Assisted Living facility near me. It cut my drive time from five hours to five minutes.
Before he died Dad had accidents while waiting in the doctor’s office and in the dining room waiting for dessert. He talked about it the same way he talked about the daily cross word. I thought his telling this was another sign of his decline. Now I think he wanted me to understand that even this becomes mundane.
One big difference between me at twenty and me at sixty, is knowing what I thought would never happen to me, most likely will. But not without a fight and a good fighter trains for the upcoming opponent.
Every day begins and ends with yoga. I place palms on the floor and stretch to the ceiling, reaching in every direction. I’ve created a series of poses I execute privately. It's called “Salute to the Swipe”.