By a ‘good death’ I mean that he was almost 93 and he died in his sleep. The last thing I did was to tuck him into bed and tell him I love him. Now, I would have wanted him young and healthy again, but since people have to die, it can’t get much better than that.
Dad loved life to the end. I often think of the song, “Old Man River” where the dock worker mournfully in a very deep baritone, “I’m tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’, But old man river, he just keeps rolling along.” Great song, but Dad was the opposite.
Dad never tired of living. In the last few weeks, as a life long Republican, he stated that he didn’t think health care reform would work, but he’d like to be around to see if it does. He never lost his interest in the world. At the same time, he wasn’t afraid of dying, nor did he regret its approach. 8 years ago, at 85 when he was awaiting his quintuple bi pass, he was nervous. I asked if he was afraid of dying. No, he wasn’t, but he was worried about who could take care of Mom the way he does. And while he enjoyed Rose and he and I loved to watch games together, I think he was looking forward to being back with Mom.
The night before he died, he had planned to sleep in his lift chair. He had been doing that more as it was getting harder for him to get out of bed and make it to the bathroom. He didn’t want to tell me that, but I knew. A few hours later he called me down and asked me to help him talk his long sleeved shirt off. Standing in the hallway, he said he just decided he wanted to stretch out. Now I wonder if on some level he knew.
I helped him out of the shirt without knowing that I was going to wear that flannel shirt jacket over my blouses for the next few weeks. I walked him to his bedroom, lifted his feet onto the bed, kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.
The next morning I woke up at 5, as usual and hung out upstairs for a couple of hours catching up on the DVR. It was Saturday and my plan was to spend the day watching football with Dad. Iowa was playing Indiana later to end a very successful season. But I was in the habit of waiting to go down, knowing that I needed this time to myself. About seven I went down, went into Dad’s room and saw him so still.
There had been many days when I did that and went over to make sure that he was alive. How many times did I go over and put my hand on his quiet chest to make sure he was still breathing? But that day, I didn’t have to. I knew he was gone. Funny how after all the wondering, you just know. “Oh, Daddy”, I said. I went over and touched his cold face. He was definitely gone.
I called Rose who left work immediately and spent the day with me. She and I watched the Iowa game, but we really spent more time talking about Dad. There were tears, but I appreciated that Rose knew how to grieve this wonderful man. There were a few tears, but mostly celebration of the life of this great man.
One of the saving things of the day is that Dad and Mom had prepaid their own cremations years before. That helped Dad when Mom died and it certainly helped me that day.
My chief goal that day was that it not be a circus and it could have been. There were 5 police officers, the EMT people, three I believe and the two people from the cremation service. But I have to hand it to them all, there was a lot of concern and respect.
Dad died a good death.
However, my first idea was to stop this blog as I was no longer going to be dealing with the day to day challenges of careing for my elderly parent. In the two and a half months since he has died, I have rethought that. I still care deeply about the issue and know that a community for caretakers is very important. I know I have a lot to offer both personally and from a professional perspective to that community. I am continuing.
A year or so ago, sitting in the Newark airport I saw a sign about Nola Ochs, a 95 year old woman who had just earned her college degree. Well, I had to do a lens about her, the link is above, and also found more wonderful really old people who were still doing amazing things. There was a 109 year old blogger! 100 year old who were sky diving (no thank you).
And I just found this picture with an article about a 102 year old Harley ‘biker chick’.
Ya, Dad isn’t going to make this list, and maybe not your parent. But we can do it! (Note to do the Pilattes machine again tomorrow!)
When I was a kid I read an essay that said that pessimists are the lucky people. The theory was that most things are disappointing which gave away the author. He went on to say that optimists are continually disappointed. If the plane lands a half an hour late, the optimist is disappointed. If it lands safely, the pessimist is delighted. Since it is late much more often than it doesn’t land, the pessimist is set up for a lot of happy times.
However, I tend towards optimism. That is not to say that I don’t have the normal amount of anxiety and fear, or days of just wondering how I am going to do it: but I am an optimist.
I have feared that we wouldn’t get the right help for Dad, but I really knew that we would. I worry about money, but know we will find it.
Optimism has worked for me. Yesterday, I had a great day planned. My appointments were lined up perfectly, five of them and I would be able to be home early. Yea! Then after #3 I couldn’t get my car out of park. This had happened a few times, but I messed with it and I went. Not this time. I had to call a tow truck, glad that I had renewed by AAA. He got it started so that I could drive to my mechanic, it took an hour and $40. So what’s to be optimistic about? Well, it didn’t happen when I was in the middle of no where. The two missed appointments could be resceduled. The truck came quick and while I was waiting to fix it, I went to Third Place for lunch and met someoneI hadn’t seen in months.
There! I was right. Now, I could have looked at this from a pessimisitc perpectic. Would I have been better off?
What do you think? Is it possible to become more optimisstic, assuming you want that.
Me? I think that it helps me with the task at hand. Even if I’m wrong.
Tara, Dad’s nurse, was sent to Dad by his Doctor’s Making House Calls doc.
She was a God send. Dad, didn’t think it was necessary 21 months ago, but went along. He was sick then so at first she came daily, then three times, then two and one a week. She takes his vitals, fills his pills boxes and then calls in meds and reports to the doctor.
That’s on the surface. She has become a friend and a highlight of Dad’s week. She has said that she loves him almost as much as her own grandpa. The tears she shed on her last day here shows that that is true.
Dad has always encouraged her to call him Fritz, but she has explained why she can’t call him anything but Mr Arrowsmith. It actually has more to do with her having been raised in Alabama.
The third to last time, Queen, the certified aid we hired to come three times a day, five days a week, had just given him a plate of homemade food, and watching him eat with such zest made Tara cry. Then Dad and I got teary. Queen got teary. Dad broke the tear fest by saying, “Maybe now you will call me Fritz”. We all laughed, even though Dad was serious. She should call him Fritz.
We had it down. Tara would leave me messages about what meds to pick up, I would get them. I would tell her about concerns, although I didn’t have to do that much, because she was really on top of it. In fact, Dad would tell her things about his condition that he didn’t tell me.
I was, of course, ambivalent about that. In the first place he wouldn’t have told me even if she wasn’t in the picture. But it was nice to have someone else dealing with this. I also felt left out, a little jealous of her relationship with them. Human beings are nothing if not complex.
When the medical team decided that he needed to be in assisted living, no, to be fair, thought Dad wanted that, suddenly Tara seemed threatening to me. She wasn’t, she was advocating for him. He didn’t want to be a burden to me AND he couldn’t think of other possibilities. I felt threatened, there was some sibling rivalry to make it even more complex. It was getting messy.
But Tara managed to shake me out of the daze that I had been in when I didn’t want to see that he was getting more frail and more open to help. It took a few weeks, some hard feelings probably all on my part. But my complacency was shaken and my mind got to working. I thought of all the ways he could stay home, Tara got that moving and here we are with a great nurse who comes in 3 times a day and some new equipment. BTW, it turns out that Dad asked for the hospital bed before he decided he didn’t like it. We are still working on that one.
But I was right about one thing. He would be miserable in Assisted Living and only wanted to be there because he thought it would be better for me. Dad doesn’t like old people.
Oh, and Tara, please call him Fritz now.
You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on the kids. You have take care of yourself to take care of an elderly parent. I have an additional reason.
Dad has always been a hard working guy, never content to sit for too long without finding some work to do*. But he’s a man of his generation and ‘working out’ is silly. He never did it. I can’t say for sure that it would have made a difference, but his two big problems today are his balance and that he can’t lift his feet high enough to walk safely. I hate seeing him this way. He is frustrated, he could fall and it is why he can’t be left alone for long. My heart breaks for him.
And it terrifies me because I know I will live a long time and I don’t want it to be like that. So I have started back on my Pilattes. This is a system that focuses on the core (abdominal) area, but is also great for Michelle Obama arms and other areas. I find that I can build up a relatively decent heart rate. You can go to a gym 3 times a week and pay a lot of money. You can get tapes and do it without a machine (waaaay too hard for me) or you can buy a relatively inexspensive home machine, like I did, two years ago. I was doing it daily, until I stopped. The rub, huh?
The first time I found that about a week and a half into it my shoulders naturally pulled back into a straighter posture as I walked. I gave it no effort, it just happened. Now, I have a good posture, one of the many gifts from my Dad. Dad insisted that I walk straight and tall from an early age. The involuntary straightening reminded me of Dad’s touching my shoulders showing me how to walk.
So I start again, with Dad and his current problems as a motive.
I find that one piece of wisdom from the fitness gurus isn’t true. I have always heard them say that once you stop exercising you quickly lose all the gains. Well, I have found its not true. It took me weeks to do the ‘elephant’ advanced, but now I am ok. Not as good as when I stopped, but much better than when I started the first time. After a year and a half, I am still carrying benefits. This is not a reason to quit, but a reason to do it, knowing that whatever you do, if you get good enough, will have long lasting effects. Its just so much better when you continue.
BTW, there is lots we can do to stay healthier longer and even younger. Is 60 the New 40?
* When Dad was 85 he had quintupal bipass surgery. They sent him home after 5 days with strick instructions, one of which was to not lift anything heavier than a milk carton. A week after he got home, I walk through the guest house to find him turning my mother’s mattress over. Hmmm…. “Dad, is that heavier than a milk carton”? … “Well, I can’t sit around being lazy forever!” Dad was a hard worker, but not the kind that helped make him stronger in his old age.
- Honoring Dad’s Birthday on January 27, 2011
- Dad Died on November 21. 2009; It Was a ‘Good Death’
- Dad Fell Again
- Some Cheer
- What to Do?
- 25 Item To-Do List EVERYONE Should Be Doing
- Are You An Optimist or a Pessimist?
- Every One Needs a Rose
- “Maybe Now You Will Call Me Fritz”
- Cutting Dad’s Meat
- The Bed Is Gone, Dad 1 Health Establishment 0
- The Equipment Arrives