How to Pack for the Move to Assisted Living
Feel once more the weight
of the little brass elephant
with the missing tusks.
Run your fingers along
the banister, the bedroom curtains. Listen
for the ticking of the antique clock
at the end of the hall.
At the parting edge
of ninety-four, my father
wonders what’s the point,
this accumulation of life
unspooling in Assisted Living,
while his home, so close,
a mere two streets away—
its wooded yard, its rooms
lined with books
and treasures—his home
is packed full
of people this very day, strangers
browsing shelves and closets,
burrowing in drawers, finding
the antique clocks and pewter mugs,
the Nikon camera he bought
in 1969, the Navy blanket
and hammock, boxed
in the basement, saved
for who knows what
but saved, nonetheless, a part
of his passing through
this life, and he wonders
how he got here—his past
now stickered with yellow tags.
My Father Helps My Mother with Her Compression Socks
He asks if she’s ready.
She sets her wheelchair brakes.
He kneels and she extends one leg.
He guides her foot to his knee, slides
the cuff of nylon over her heel, then yanks, hard.
The wheelchair wobbles.
Extra material hangs over her toes.
She does not offer her expertise
from years of putting on panty hose: how to
gather the nylon, pull gently, doling out fabric
through delicate fingers.
She thanks him.
He pats her leg, asks if the sock is too tight
below her knee. She always says it’s just fine.
Then they switch—her left foot on his right leg.
Sometimes he helps slide her feet into shoes,
the boxy, wide-mouthed pair with space
for swelling, before putting his hands on her
wheelchair arms, using them to tug himself back
up to standing. She pats his shirt into place
around his belt, makes sure he’s not dizzy
from rising too fast. Then he turns right, to the desk
with his computer, and she wheels herself left, to gaze
out the window while listening to the news.
My father, now 96—still spry, bright, quick-witted,
still learning yoga, climbing stairs, using his computer
to find etymologies, stock prices, names
of temples in ancient Greece—now
he asks me if—and this is not an urgent
request, he adds—but if, as my husband and I pack up
our home of 21 years, we should happen upon
the spare remote control for my parents’ TV,
which, my father explains, I would have found in the drawer
of the hutch by the den door of the house my parents left
two years ago, the house I emptied for them
when they moved into assisted living—
if I should come across that remote control now (I might not
have known it worked, my father says,
since it shared that drawer with other, outdated
remotes and garage door openers), or if I find it
in a few weeks, when my husband and I are unpacking
our lives in new, downsized rooms, then
could I please bring it next time I visit,
since the remote they’ve been using till now
isn’t responding anymore when he presses the buttons,
and he doesn’t think it’s the batteries, but
he’s ordering new batteries on-line, in case that’s all
Cutting My Father’s Hair
He’s still tough as leather, but so much shorter now.
He wobbles when he stands too quickly.
Why didn’t I realize sooner?
When I comment on his fringe of hair—a little fluffy,
I say—he waves a crooked hand
toward my mother, now maneuvering from wheelchair
to couch: She likes it that way.
Then, The damned clipper. Can’t get it to work right anyway.
And so I offer.
Why am I surprised that he agrees
so readily? That he brings out the electric clipper
almost immediately? He hands it over,
small and black with its little pronged comb, asks
if I know how to use it, then warns,
You might find it hard though.
It doesn’t cut as well as it used to.
And you can’t even find the damn power button.
Of course. The worsening neuropathy
in his fingers. His failing eyes.
They have the hairdresser here, but
I don’t know her, and why would I pay
all that money? I don’t even have that much hair.
He glances over at my mother, who catches my eye,
and winks. Your Mum always did it, he says. Before
So I sit him in the living room, under the light,
and he lets me turn his head this way and that.
I trim the patchy beard along his jaw, the grey scruff
brushing the back of his collar. He asks me
to thin his moustache, says the hair
curls into his mouth. I use a tiny scissors
for this, my fingers humming along smoothly
between nostril and lip. I think of the fine tuning
of my muscles, joints, nerves. How much
I have not yet lost. My mother
lies on the couch, watching us, smiling. My dead brother
hovers in my father’s face. My father’s eyes close
as I snip the long hairs of his eyebrows,
the fine whisps crowning his skull.
Jennifer L Freed’s full-length collection When Light Shifts (finalist, 2022 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize) explores the aftermath of her mother’s cerebral hemorrhage and the altered relationships that emerge in a family crisis. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Orison Anthology. Other awards include the 2022 Frank O’Hara prize (Worcester County Poetry Association), the 2020 Samuel Washington Allen Prize (New England Poetry Club), and honorable mention for the 2022 Connecticut Poetry Award. Please visit jfreed.weebly.com to learn more.