By Shelley Tincher Buonaiuto

Dad was sitting up in the facility’s recliner, awake. His round head on the spindly neck was lifted off the pillow. Unusual.  Mom was sitting beside him. It was in the big day room and the TV was on. I looked into his face. He looked back.  The eyes were dull – there was no recognition.

Do you know who I am, Dad?  “Sure I know”, but I don’t think he did. “I’m Shelley, your daughter”…  he seemed to remember he had a daughter, but no change of expression. “you were a great father and a wonderful man and everyone loves and respects you.” No change of expression, but he said something like “Is that right?” A snack cart came by and I chose a pudding, unwrapped it, and was just about to spoon some into his mouth, when a sudden urgency seized him. He had to go to the bathroom.  I found Deana – kudos to Deana – the most affable and capable nurse in the place. She came, we wheeled Dad to his room, and she ran off to find a wheelchair since the recliner is too big to fit in the small  bathroom.

While we are waiting, I look at Dad and he looks at me and says, with complete clarity, “I’m almost there”….I wondered, to the bathroom, or there?  I asked “to Where Dad?” He laughed, a deep laugh. He reached up his bony arm,  and rubbed my arm and then he put his arm around me. “Its ok, girl,” he said.  “I love you, Dad”, and I stood a long time hugging him.

 Deana came back with the wheel chair and they began to perform the bathroom dance. Deana was wonderful and loved Dad, and liked the idea of dancing with him.  She gets him into the wheel chair, then from the chair to the toilet. “Put your arms around me, Darlin’, give me a hug, that’s right, up you go, trust me, now turn around here”, and skillfully holding him up over the toilet, she lowers his pants and Depends, and gently seats him on the toilet. He has diaper rash. She calls to Melda, whose last name happens to be Rash, to bring ointment. She attends to the whole bathroom routine then dances him again into his recliner.  He immediately closes his eyes and is asleep. We kiss him on the forehead on the way out.

I put my dad in a nursing home in 2010, where he lived for 2 weeks. Then he was gone…Parkinson’s.  I wrote this piece immediately after he died.

My dad was called Red, because of his hair. His last name was Tincher.  Dad had always been a great dancer.  He was also an avid paleontologist, though that was never his career.

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 I love these photos, especially the one where he’s smiling. His passion was paleontology, though it was a hobby for him. He looks so enthusiastic and inspired with that bone…sorry I can’t identify it. It wasn’t my passion. The one in the field is of him teaching a group of school children about digging fossils. The young person on the right is my daughter, Mia…this was about 16 years ago. He led these groups while in his 80s.   

The photo of two people is Dad and me, and the photo with three people is Dad, his sister Helen (the taller one) and the shorter one is Mom. They look like a jolly bunch here but it took a lot of effort to get this photo…Aunt Helen hated to be photographed and thought she didn’t have a good smile….while they were in this mood I took several. Aunt Helen adored Dad, her little brother.She died, at 95, six months after he did.Image 2

Dad was blind in one eye, lost it when a chip flew into his eye while chopping wood when he was sixteen. Could have saved his life since I imagine it helped to keep him from going to war during WWII, as badly as he wanted to go.  I don’t have any photos of him dancing, unfortunately. Mom was not a dancer. She told me when they went to the clubs all the girls wanted to dance with Dad and she sat at the table. But they were married 66 years…they seemed to have very little in common, but something worked.

I have not done pieces with their faces….I keep wanting to do an urn for the few ashes that I’ve kept. Haven’t decided what to do yet…but I think someone dancing.

Shelley Buonaiuto is an artist and a writer currently living in Arkansas. Her work may may be viewed here.

Article and photos Copyright © Shelley Buonaiuto
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