We worked hard to get used to the new routine. Feeding him, washing him, even shaving him. These are the duties that daughters perform when an aging father can no longer care for himself.

A series of strokes had left my 70-year-old father dependent on my two sisters and me. Then a bout of pneumonia led to a long hospital stay. It became clear that he was going to need 24-hour skilled nursing care. We were not nurses, so we swiftly and thoroughly researched every facility within a 35-mile radius.

I remember the day we moved my father in. It was Halloween, and all of the nurse's aides were in costume. The three of us decorated the walls of his small, standard-issue room with family photos and watercolors from his apartment. He had started a jazz club long ago, so we put a CD player on his nightstand.

As we prepared to leave, I perched on the edge of his bed the way I always had when visiting him at the hospital -- close enough to exchange knowing glances but distant enough to restrain my emotions. His left side was mostly paralyzed, so I always sat to his right.

This time, however, I leaned down and rested my head on his chest. Instinctively, his right hand rose, cupping the back of my head, then stroking my hair.

I was his little girl again.

Andrea Pearson Howe, Washington

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