Hallelujah! I Remembered My Password

Well, now. I know you have wondered, if you have ever read my blog, if my blog just dropped off the face of the earth. The truth is this:

  1. I now consider 2016 the Year of the Blur. My dad died on October 28, and most of the year was consumed with managing his care, along with my “normal” life.
  2. When I was ready to write again, I couldn’t log into WordPress. It had been so long that I had forgotten my password. I tried and tried, and then decided “The hell with this. I’ll try again later.”
  3. I have been doing a lot of mental processing and writing in my journal instead of blogging.
  4. I have decided that I will take my time to grieve the loss of my dad. It was an immense loss to me. I told my husband before Daddy died, “I may not cry too much at the funeral. But rest assured, I will be hurting. I will always remember him. I will always grieve his loss, even if I put on a happy face.

So here we are, in February 2017. Much has happened since the last time I blogged (on my weird autoimmune disorders. See The Queen of Weird Diseases if you want to know more. If you would rather skip over that, I understand. Do what you wanna do.).

As  I write this, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about my dad. It was so obvious that he needed to go. I gave him permission to die; I told him on Tuesday, October 25, “Daddy, it’s okay if you go. I’ll be all right.” That was the last time I saw him conscious. He was in bad shape after a cardiac event on August 18. He spent 5 days in the hospital, and then we moved him to rehab at a nursing home about 2 miles from our house.

When we moved him to rehab, I thought, “This is only temporary. He’ll have physical therapy, and he’ll get better.” Now, I must tell you that I am the eternal optimist. My dad was 93, almost 94 (he would have been 94 on November 29), and his health had been declining for years.

Daddy’s cardiac event (in which he was short of breath; the night nurse at his assisted living called an ambulance and Daddy was taken to the ER) resulted in his being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and COPD. I had seen the latter two diagnoses on some of his medical records, but it seems that no one ever really treated his symptoms. I feel bad now that when he complained that he was having trouble breathing, I minimized his symptoms, thinking he was just anxious. After all, the nurses at his assisted living place had said every time they checked his oxygen levels when he complained of shortness of breath, his numbers were in the 90s, and that was good. But when his numbers dropped to the 80s, the night nurse, Pierre, took Daddy seriously and called the ambulance).

During Daddy’s hospital stay, he was completely out of his mind. Nothing he said made much sense. He asked funny questions, and uncharacteristically, he talked nonstop from the time I got to the hospital the morning of Aug. 19 until about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, when he finally fell asleep just as the medical staff were wheeling him away for a cardio-something-or-other. It’s all a blur. The social worker who came to Daddy’s room the second day of his hospitalization was someone who used to babysit my children. What a surprise! She was so kind as she pulled a list of possible places for Daddy to go for rehab. Clearly he would not be able to return to Morningside, his assisted living residence.

So there we were at Bethany Health & Rehab. Daddy started physical, occupational, and speech therapy. For a few days he made progress. Then he contracted 3 urinary tract infections in a row (he was catheterized while in the hospital), and things just went downhill from there. In one of the few times I saw him on his feet, assisted by two med techs, he said, “I’m going back to Morningside, and I’m going to start participating in more activities!” I had nagged him when he was at Morningside about getting to know people and the need for him to participate in activities there. He never was much interested in making the effort to get to know people. My dad is pretty shy, and I think he knew he didn’t have long to live when he moved to Morningside in August 2015…although I was unwilling to accept the idea of his death at that point.

I spent most of my visits with Daddy just holding his hand, talking to him about my day, things the kids (my adult children) were doing, the weather, what John was up to as manager of a pool & spa maintenance business. Some days his face would brighten up when I walked into his room. Some days he just lay there, looking at me with a tortured expression, like “How long do I have to endure this?” Many days he was sound asleep by the time I managed to get across town in rush hour traffic, and I hesitated to wake him, because he often was not comfortable while awake.

Toward the end (about the third week of September), the nurse from Bethany called me one day and said, “You know, your dad can’t seem to get a break. He is not making any progress in his therapy, although he tries hard. I think it may be time to focus on palliative care.” Sadly, I agreed. I met with the palliative care nurse one week, and a week later, she told me she thought Daddy was ready for hospice care. Again, I agreed. I felt better about hospice care because I thought Daddy would appreciate the spiritual aspect of it. I never got to talk to the primary chaplain on duty, but one chaplain who visited said his face lit up when she said the name of Jesus. That made me feel better.

During this time, when I normally would have sung hymns to Daddy, I had a bad cold that I couldn’t seem to shake. It affected my voice, and there were a couple of days I had laryngitis. So when music would have been a comfort to both me and Daddy, I was voiceless. Therefore, all I could do was sit beside his bed, hold his hand, rub his shoulder, and occasionally talk. Most of the time I was just quiet. He slept a lot. I played Words with Friends and chatted with everyone who came into Daddy’s room. Got to know some of the med techs and nurses quite well. One sweet med tech discovered after talking to me that Daddy didn’t normally have a mustache. She had shaved him and left a mustache, and I just thought it looked so funny on him. Almost Hitler-esque but it curved down around the corners of his mouth. After I told her that he didn’t usually have a mustache, she always shaved his face completely.

So then we came to the week that he died. I was there the night before he died. He was coughing and it was like waves every time he coughed…no productive cough. I was afraid he was going to choke. The nurse kept running into his room and giving him atropine drops to try to dry up some of his congestion. He was already dry from being on oxygen. The nurse had met me that night and told me Daddy’s baseline had changed drastically that day. He asked if there was anyone I needed to contact who might want to see him. He and I both knew that Daddy wouldn’t last much longer. After I was there for about an hour and a half, I decided to go home and try to rest a bit. I managed to sleep that night, and I went to work the next day. I got the phone call from the nursing home at 10:30 telling me that Daddy had just died.

It was the saddest day of my life. Even sadder than when my mom died on February 10, 1991 and I wasn’t there with her.

I am at peace with my dad’s death. He is no longer suffering. But oh, how I miss him. The other day I pulled out his billfold and looked at his driver’s license, renewed when he was 92, just before he came to Nashville to live with us for 13 months while undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I saw his picture and I cried. I find notes that he wrote (when he could write), and I cry. I refuse to get rid of some of his clothes, because I just want to wear them and remember Daddy. I know he is with Jesus. That thought consoles me. But oh, how my heart grieves.

Time will lessen my pain. I will get through this. But right now all I want to do is grieve, and I will let myself do that.

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Early Morning Prayers

The following song by Michael W. Smith is running through my mind this morning:

“Oh God, you are my God,
And I will ever praise you.

Oh God, you are my God,
And I will ever praise you.

I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in your ways,
And step by step you’ll lead me
And I will follow you all of my days …”

This song illustrates for me the essence of faith, trusting in God even when you are confused, afraid, wondering about what lies ahead.

Yesterday I received bad news regarding a couple of people I care very much about. One, a friend from church, Gabriel, had a brain biopsy and got word that a malignant tumor, removed a couple of years ago, had returned, and this time it’s probably a higher stage tumor. Yet in the face of this news, Gabriel displayed his typical sense of humor and deep courage. “Live from St. Thomas,” he wrote on Facebook, “it’s Tuesday niiiight!” and then he reported on the results of his biopsy.

Since I met him at an all-church retreat nearly two years ago, Gabe, age 43, has been the epitome of faith…a cheerful and positive spirit, grateful to God for each day he has been given. He finished his first year of teaching last year. (That in itself is evidence of his fortitude and faith.) He hiked joyfully with a group of us going to the Stone Door, near Beersheba Springs, a United Methodist camp/assembly. Joyful is the word that comes to mind when I think of Gabe. And trusting God every step of the way, even in the face of bad news. He mentioned that he had witnessed to 3 people yesterday. Always thinking of others, this man. Would that I could face the potential of my own demise with such courage and grace.

And Terrie, a Facebook friend and longtime acquaintance since high school, shared the news yesterday that her brother, Michael, age 53, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. Her family has been through so many losses. Her father died in the past couple of months, and she lost her mom to cancer a few years ago. Before that, her 22-year-old sister succumbed to cancer. Her family is on my mind this morning.

My heart is also heavy for a family in my former congregation as they are dealing with the loss of  their mother, also a wife and grandmother of two. Nancy was a sweet, quiet woman who trusted God despite many difficulties in her own life: the death of a teenage son, her daughter’s experience with breast cancer, and then her own struggle with cancer that invaded her life last fall and progressed quickly.

John and I attended the funeral and were so touched to see sides of Nancy we didn’t know, such as the fact that she was a gifted artist. We recall how she wrote sweet notes to our Daniel when he was in a 30-day residential 12-step program at the end of his senior year of high school. She gave him two fleece blankets, which came in handy during a cool snap in April…said she’d been saving them for a high school graduation present but felt like he probably needed them more just then.

Thoughts of these tragedies in the lives of others gives me perspective on the small stresses I face each day. I fall short, I get grumpy and snap at others,  I fail to appreciate the blessings that surround me every day. Love is a gift. Life is a gift.

Dear God, I thank you that as Martin Luther’s hymn says, you are our help in ages past and our hope for years to come. Please bless and surround these people I’ve mentioned with your love. Help me to follow their examples of trust during bad times. Thank you for your love for all the world, for each of us, though we do not deserve it. Your grace and love make life worth living. Help us all to get through this day and to appreciate the simple gifts in our lives. Amen.

And of course I want to close with a song:

“There is a balm in Gilead

to make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

to heal the sinsick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged

and think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again…”

(African-American spiritual)

Lord, revive our souls…give us strength for the day and hope for tomorrow. In your precious name I pray, Amen.

It Is What It Is

I was originally going to title this post “Why Is It So Hard to Accept Our Parents’ Aging?” but the thought that drove me to blog today came from another issue, brought up by a conversation with a friend.

I just discovered that my friend’s husband has Parkinson’s-related dementia. Boy, does that ever bring back memories. Memories of my mom and her Parkinson’s disease. She was diagnosed in 1985 and took early retirement from her vocation as a teacher, which she had dearly loved. Two of my aunts staged an intervention over Christmas break and convinced her that she needed to retire before it became obvious to her students’ parents that she was deteriorating mentally. I think her 7th-grade students already knew something was up, because she would get in the middle of demonstrating how to work a math problem and be unable to go any further.

Yesterday I was multitasking, taking a walk as I skimmed a chapter from a book on coping with transition and loss in aging. I mused on the following passage:

“Why is it so hard for us to accept our parents’ aging? The grief for me is wrapped in the knowledge that I no longer have parents, except in name. I have become Mother’s parent. I have her power of attorney. I write her checks, reconcile her bank statements, and make decisions concerning her finances. …

“At my father’s death Mother expected others to do for her what Daddy always did. Some of this was cultural. Southern women of my mother’s age learned to be helpless and let others do for them. It was unthinkable for my mother to open a door, carry her own packages, or put on her coat without help. This was the way it was when she grew up, and the way it was in her marriage. My father enabled this behavior. He felt big and strong, and she felt cared for and protected. My parents were a set. They belonged together. Clinically we would say they were enmeshed. My father was a pessimist, my mother an optimist. I have often wondered if they were this way at the time of their marriage, or if his pessimism created her optimism, or the reverse.”*

Reading this, I thought of my friend and how she is dealing with her spouse’s dementia. That has got to be a huge challenge, even harder than caring for a parent with dementia. My heart goes out to her and her husband.

And this leads me to think of my 90-year-old dad and the many adjustments he has been forced to make over the years, caring for not only my mom but his second wife, whom he married 3 years after my mom’s death. Now he is at the point where he needs someone to assist him, though he is still sharp-minded and fiercely independent.

I have no answers, only questions and ponderings. One thought has stuck with me about dementia: When you have a family member with dementia, it’s like losing that person twice. First you lose the person you knew, and you grieve over that. Then when death comes, you grieve again. I’m still working through my grief over losing my mom when she was still relatively young (69) and I was a young mother. It’s not an easy situation, though time has softened some of the pain.

*The above passage is from page 30 of And Not One Bird Stopped Singing: Coping with Transition and Loss in Aging by Doris Moreland Jones. Copyright © 1997 by Doris Moreland Jones. All rights reserved. This book was published by Upper Room Books and is now out of print but available through amazon.com: http://amzn.to/XTMbmA

The Shortest but Longest Month of the Year

Okay, I’m really ready for February to be over. Each year I go into the month thinking, “It’s going to be okay.” And at the end of the month, my tongue is hanging out and I feel almost suicidal (not really, just down).

I haven’t figured out whether I have seasonal affective disorder (SADD) or if February is just hard month for me because it brings back memories of my mother. My mom died on February 10, 1991. You’d think I’d be “over it” by now, but I’ve learned that grief has its own timetable.

Today while driving to work, I felt immensely sad. I thought about my mom and her funny sayings and how she always seemed to know just what to say to add levity to situations. I wish I had that same skill.

I am really ready for February to be over. We’ve had more snow than usual in January and February. Usually I like snow, but now I’m more than ready for spring. Was excited to see some daffodils popping up in our yard today, and I noticed a couple of forsythia bushes blooming on an adjacent street, so surely spring can’t be far behind.

In the meantime, I will try to concentrate on things that lift me up, like walks at lunchtime (somehow I feel like I’m getting out of prison when I go outside at lunch), turning my face toward the sunshine, keeping in touch with friends, and watching funny shows on TV or reading outrageous e-mail jokes (they’ve been rare lately…no one seems to have time to send any).

I’m stubborn enough to know that I WILL get through this. I just need to hang tough.