10 August 2007

Strangely intimate...

Today I performed a strangely intimate task for my father - I brushed and cleaned his dentures. At first it made me a bit queasy. I do not know why - it was not gross (although he thought it might seem so to me so that when he asked me he said it was a nasty job and that I did not have to if I did not want to...) but it felt way too personal. I did not even know that his upper teeth were dentures. Whoever made that plate for him made them look just like his original teeth, right down to the gold capped bicuspid he has always had (when I was young and would loose a tooth he would tell me if I could keep from putting my tongue in empty socket my new tooth would grow in gold like his) and the uneven bite that makes his smile so memorable.
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I do not mind using my physical strength to help my father. It is not a big deal to help him move from a prone to a sitting position (although since they gave him a trapeze above his hospice bed he can do it for himself). I do not mind lifting him into his pickup truck. It makes me feel both helpful and powerful to do those things - like a good daughter. Those are things that do not intrude on my comfort level. They cost me nothing, in fact, if I am honest with myself, I think I feed off of them. They make me feel good when I do them.

Cleaning his dentures was different. He hated to ask, but he cannot stand without keeping both hands on his walker. So cleaning his dentures at the bathroom sink is not possible for him to do. Cleaning them in his bed would be a messy, daunting task. He does not want to use the wheel chair inside the house, not yet anyway. I suppose someday he might have to...

Anyway, while cleaning his dentures I felt uneasy, kind of fluttery and odd. It seemed so deeply personal. For years I brushed my kid's teeth every morning and evening. But this was so different, cleaning the disembodied teeth of my father.

I was not sure how to go about cleaning the dentures, so I just slathered them with toothpaste and scrubbed them with his toothbrush. I know I keep going on about how strange it was, but I cannot think of another word to describe it. Anyway, as I scrubbed the teeth and gums it became sort of a meditative exercise (maybe zen, although I do not know exactly what constitutes "zen") and it became supremely important to do this task perfectly for my father.


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2 comments:

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

Beautiful writing. Beautiful impulse.

monta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.