On evenings and weekends Dad would do construction projects around the house, watch the Ed Sullivan Show with us, work on our car, or take us on weekend trips: to the beach, the mountains, the desert, national parks, and hiking.
Fishing, dancing, teaching us how to paint the house and how to make a perfect pancake, along with a helping hand with our homework were just a few of the ways Dad interacted with us. Everyone in the family participated and communicated as a cohesive unit.
Dad loved Mom with a passion. We saw frequent public displays of affection (PDAs). I think their relationship formed a good example for us.
I was the oldest daughter and did not always see eye to eye with Dad. We had some loud yelling arguments when I reached my teens. Mom and Dad were very protective of us.
At age 18 I went away to college, and then a couple of years later was married to a fellow college student. They were against that marriage and they were right. It was not a good match and I was divorced by age 23.
On trips home to Oregon, I usually stayed with my parents. Loving arms always welcomed me. As life went on, Mom and Dad were there for all of us as we found our way in life.
When I brought Bob home to "meet the parents," Mom and Dad were thrilled. They loved him from the very beginning.
Over the years, I grew closer to Dad as I came to understand the relationship between children and parents in my own relationship with our kids.
|2007: Dad at Cheesecake Factory|
|2007: Michael, Bob, Susan, Dad, Mom, Jan|
|2007 photo -- Back: Janyce, Michael, Susan. Front: Dad|
|Back: Jan, Michael, Mom. Front: Dad|
|2007 photo -- Back: Janyce, Mom, Susan. Front: Dad|
My dad made the decision to stop his dialysis on February 10, 2008. He had been on kidney dialysis three times per week for six-and-a-half years. Once his decision was made, Hospice could then help my parents because Dad was considered “terminally ill.”
Hospice said they didn’t know how much longer Dad would live, maybe one to four weeks. This news came as a shock to my mom who thought once Dad went off dialysis, they would have four to six months together.
|Back: Jan, Mom, Susan, Frank. Front: Dad|
Mixed feelings in me. Dad is dying. His mind is sharp, his physical body is weak. Blessing? Curse? Should I feel sorry for him? How does he feel knowing his physical end is near?
Emotions creep up to the surface when I least expect them and tears flow down my cheeks. Fathers are a personal experience--good and bad. The tears come because I don’t know if Dad truly was happy in his life. To me, his oldest daughter, it seemed he worked to earn a living but did not live his passion. I cry because he shows me the first paragraph to a Western novel he had always wanted to write, but never wrote.
Dad is lying in his Hospice hospital bed next to me as I type. His bed is in the middle of the living room where he can see the TV, visit with guests, and look out the window to the golf course and side yard. He loves to watch the hummingbirds at the feeder. Mom is out running errands. She likes to have a break.
“Where are you?” Dad asks.
“Right behind you,” I reply.
He barks out commands for me to get him a pen, put away important papers, bring him a can of his protein drink.
“Where did Mom go?” he wants to know. “Out grocery shopping,” I reply.
Sometimes he is perfectly lucid and knows everything that’s happening. Other times, he hasn’t a clue as to what day it is. He sleeps most of the time; awake only a couple of hours per day. It surprises me that he keeps up with what’s going on.
Recent developments (in a man we thought couldn’t hear):
- the happy chirps of his beloved parakeet, Prince, are driving him batty. He asks us to “move the damn bird to the back bedroom.”
- the cabinet doors in the kitchen have magnets to hold them closed. He is annoyed and asks why we keep slamming the cupboard doors; we’re making too much noise (even though to us it’s little more than a clack).
- he is irascible, yelling at mom and I for minor infractions...he doesn’t want to put the head of his bed back up to take his medicine; when we don’t hear his call quickly enough he yells to my Mom, “Margaret, get your fanny out here!”
- he makes statements that are hurtful; we let them roll off us as much as possible. He is in a different place, removing himself from his physical frailty.
Tuesday, February 26 (two weeks after stopping dialysis):
This morning dad is looking gray in his face. The veins in his forehead are becoming more prominent and his eyes are sunken into his skull. He is very weak and gets out of bed with help from Mom and me only to get on the commode which is next to the hospital bed.
This morning he wants to reminisce about his youth at Whitmore Lake, Michigan. Springtime is his favorite time of year. He used to wander the meadows and streams, loves trillium, bluebells, snowdrops; they had trillium in Michigan just as they do in springtime Oregon.
He talks about the time his father took him and his brother, Chuck, ice fishing for the first time. They caught 400 perch in an afternoon through that hole in the ice. I guess the fish were pretty darn hungry!
More time was spent remembering their childhood home on Main St. in Whitmore Lake--how the windows in their bedroom didn’t close all the way and the wind blew snow in around the sashes in winter. They didn’t have many blankets, had cold hardwood floors with no rugs on them.
During the depression his dad lost his job and they had to live in a tent during the summer on a piece of property by the lake. In the winter, they rented a cottage by the lake with an outhouse in back. The boards in the outhouse didn’t meet completely and the freezing wind would howl in around them while they did their business.
Even younger, age three, in Marquette, Michigan, his grandfather lived at the local fairground. In the winter, his grandfather would let them pitch their tent inside one of the fairground buildings. The family was thankful for relief from the snow and wind. Outhouses were the only restrooms. On particularly cold nights, his grandmother and grandfather -- who lived in the fairground’s house -- invited the family into their home.
“Dad,” I asked, “Do you have any regrets about your life? If so, what are they?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I have some regrets.”
“I guess that’s pretty normal,” I reply. “What do you regret or wish you’d done differently?”
“Well, I regret taking the job at Chrysler. It would have been better if I had taken the job with the post office as a mail carrier. The benefits would have been better and I could have retired in 20 years.”
“What else,” I coaxed.
“I would have put away a lot more for retirement.”
“I think we all think that,” I laughed, encouraging him to go on.
“I would have fixed up the houses we were living in while we lived in them, especially the 100-year-old farmhouse in Newberg [Oregon]. It needed a new cross brace under the house. The floors sagged and we couldn’t put new aluminum windows in the house.”
Still curious, I asked him of what he was most proud. He replied, “My children. My loving sweetheart wife. And I was proud to be president of Kiwanis for one year.”
I can’t write this without mentioning Hospice. Hospice is wonderful. On the Friday after Dad went off dialysis, Hospice sent a nurse and social worker to Mom and Dad’s home to meet with Mom, Dad, my sister, brother and me. They brought a small booklet titled, “Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience,” by Barbara Karnes, R.N. In a compassionate visit they explained to all of us what we can expect in these last weeks. Our questions were also answered. We were told we could call Hospice anytime, 24 hours a day, with questions, or if anything happened.
Over the course of these past two weeks, Hospice has sent a nurse twice a week, a bath aide to give Dad sponge baths in his bed two times per week, a physical therapist came out to show Mom and me how to transfer Dad from bed to the commode, a chaplain has visited twice, and a trained sitter comes four hours per week, so Mom and I can get out of the house for errands, lunch, movie, walks; whatever we need to refresh ourselves a bit.
My story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the non-stop care-giving of my mother. She has a tendency to be selfless to a fault and a proud German woman who thinks she can do everything herself. This has led to an emotional breakdown, back pain from stress, sleeplessness and a loss of appetite. What bothers her most, though, is the knowledge that she is losing half of herself. Mom and Dad have been together almost 57 years.
My mom is a close friend. For me to see her like this breaks my heart. I want to remove some of that burden from her.
Mom insists on going, going, going and doing. She rarely sits down. Our Hospice nurse tells me this is Mom’s way of dealing with her emotions. Wow! What a paradigm shift for me. When I get stressed out, I fiercely do household chores to get some of my frustrations out. Mom has stress fifty-fold compared to my small stressors back home. She vacuums, dusts, washes laundry, gets things out of the attic. I wash dishes, do yard work, dry and fold the laundry, mop the kitchen floor, and clean out her linen closet to make it more accessible for what she needs at this time. It is a competition between us to see who can do the chores first. Mom is able to get some sleep which helps make her less emotional.
My sister, Janyce, comes to visit frequently and brings food. I cook too. We make sure Mom is eating.
Friends and neighbors bring food which provides variety and a break from cooking. We’ve had egg rolls, clam linguine with salad and home-made lemon-filled cookies. One friend of the family goes to the store and asks if she can buy us anything while she’s there. This weekend, she is bringing tortilla soup for dinner.
My brother, Frank, and sister in law, Gina, come to visit. We chat and reminisce. Mark, a childhood friend of my brother’s, wrote a short story called “Frankie’s Front Porch” for possible publication in an inspirational magazine. The story comes to us at a time when we can read it aloud and talk about the fun times we had on our childhood home front porch.
My nephew, Scott, his girlfriend, Molly, and their son, Oliver (five months old), come to visit. I am able to get pictures of Mom & Dad with their great-grandson. Awesome!
One of the biggest annoyances of care-giving is the telephone. It wakes Dad up, interrupts at the most inconvenient times, and many calls come at once. Half the time we can’t find where we left the portable handheld unit and it rings and rings until we track it down.
Another frustration is not writing down scheduled appointments, or getting them wrong, or mix-ups in communication. It’s unbelievable how many people come and go in this house: relatives, friends, neighbors, repair people, delivery people, nurses, the chaplain, physical therapist, and on and on. It’s hard to keep everything straight. We write it down, but find out later that’s not the actuality. We hurry to get dad ready for company only to find out we made a mistake on when someone was coming or, an appointment got changed and we weren’t notified.
Wednesday, February 27: Dad sleeps most of the morning and wakes up for a chaplain visit at 10 am, then immediately goes back to sleep until about 12:30 pm.
When he wakes up, I clarify a couple of details about his reminiscences from yesterday. Dad also says he remembers seeing his grandfather’s Coast Guard captain’s uniform hanging in his house. His grandfather, Captain Charles Augustus Tucker, was a captain on Lake Superior and a hero in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for rescuing people from shipwrecks on the lake. His grandfather started out his Coast Guard career as a lighthousekeeper.
Dad asked me to read to him. I read him a couple of fascinating magazine articles: one about Three Ring Ranch on the Big Island, Hawaii, from the Hana Hou! magazine; the other about “The World’s Smartest Cow,” by Jon Katz printed in the Animal Affairs Journal. Dad loves stories about animals and nature.
Today Mom makes homemade zucchini soup for lunch. As Dad eats it he says he doesn’t have much taste for food anymore. Mom and I exchange glances; we know it’s another sign of impending demise.
Whirlwind of activity with people coming and going...dinners for eight people on a couple of different nights. In going back to write this two weeks later, I find I can’t remember many of the details and I didn’t take the time to write them then because we spent most of our waking hours caring for dad.
As the end of dad's life neared, we called his brother and sister to come and visit. They arrived a day or two later and Dad was able to say his good-byes. We were so happy they could make it on such short notice.
|2008: Dad's brother, Chuck, and Dad|
|March 2008: Dad and his sister, Flora.|