Changing The Guard: Caretaking Your Parents

Dad Died on November 21. 2009; It Was a ‘Good Death’

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.

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February 13, 2010 Posted by | Blessings | , , , , , | Leave a comment