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Friday, May 8, 2015

The dying years


The past few years have been hard.  There has been a reset of my relationship with my dad.   After many years in his shadow, I'd finally utterly developed the ability to talk to him and say thing that bothered me.  Losing everything helped this process along.  I'd always been the closest to him, but he's never been the warmest fuzziest father.  Perhaps he didn't know how and I didn't know how to take him as I am very different.  He's a bit distant, I'm very connected, very emotive.

I heard the song "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics and on some level I understood it.  My dad's health was failing, but on some level, he was a tough old bird and there was a part of me that in some way just kept expecting him to live through it. He was gradually getting less able, but yet he was unwilling to accept it.  But, then again maybe he was accepting it but I didn't really see it.  I saw him "wanting to go home", even past the point of absurdity.

A little over two years ago, after 10 times or more of him falling down at home, sometimes breaking ribs, sometimes just bruising them, and sometimes sustaining cuts, I realized taking him back home like he wanted would be a death sentence sooner than it should be.  Even if I had moved in with him, I'd be leaving him at home for 12 hours or more at a time and my daughter would be subjected to these stresses when I had her.  His limitations were getting worse all the time.  He was going through spells of confusion--sundowners.  He was falling prey to sales pitches from fast talking "but wait, there is more" types, etc.  He was having issues taking his meds regularly.  In short, he need 24/7 coverage, preferably with someone or someones who was trained to take care of the elderly.   I had taken him home a few times from the ER and watched him for a while and then had to leave eventually.  Gradually, the guilt of having to leave him by himself at all, was eating me.  I felt like I was doing him a disservice.  The last time he fell and got injured before permanently moving to a nursing home, he tried to pressure me into taking him home, but I refused and said to the social worker at Christian Northeast, I can't do this anymore.  In short, I left the hospital and let the system handle the issue for once.  Eventually, he agreed to go in a nursing home.   They had told me at the hospital that he couldn't be left alone for an extended length of time.

I felt guilty about it, but I had to temporarily walk away for my own sanity as well as my dad's safety.  He kept on 'wanting to go home' and we did humor outing back to the house, to steak and shake, etc. to get him at least a break from the nursing home.  His last outing was around his birthday last November.  We took him over a friend's house and celebrated his birthday.   Later, around Christmas while I was recovering from my own surgery, he aspirated and got pneumonia.  He recovered from that, but it left him to a GI tube as he was a swallow risk.   For a time he was able to go back to regular food, but ultimately, he could not.  After a 3-4 week stay in the hospital which weakened him dramatically.  He made it out back to the nursing home and then I put him on hospice.  Making life and death type decisions for a parent isn't easy.

I watched him last Friday take some of his last few breaths and he passed away shortly after I left, almost as if he was waiting for me to leave.

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In the song, The Living Years, the singer regrets the bitterness and frustration of not seeing eye to eye with his dad, the estrangement, the separation and just not coming to terms with his dad before he died.

I had issues with my dad.  I had disappointments with him.  I had frustrations.  I was sad that he never truly seemed to get me and that he wouldn't truly open up about himself.  I wanted a go for beers relationship with the old man, but settled for well I guess we are family so I guess we need to act like it.  He was very hard to talk to.  He'd shut down conversation, he left few real avenues of discussion.  It was almost like he had difficulties in engaging too much more than surface conversation.   Though I tried.  He often seemed more of a judge than my advocate.  But, you know I came to realize you can't wish a relationship is what it isn't  I had other frustrations about the matter, but will not go into it.  I guess at times, I felt like I had a person who called himself my dad, but had trouble being a father.  I think he meant well at times, but didn't necessarily get me.

As I realized that he was dying, my anger/frustration turned to empathy.  I looked in his eyes and I did not see this hard man, but I saw my own flesh and blood, suffering, sometimes frightened, just pathetic.  How the hell can anyone with a conscience turn their back on that?   I may not have had much to give as I've dealt with a lot in the past few years, but I had to at least try.  I mouthed to him the last time I saw him conscience, "I love you".  He mouthed back, "I love you too".  I really was looking into the heart of a hurting soul.  I tried to do my best at the end to make sure he had an opportunity to make peace with his maker.  I protected him from those whom I considered a threat to him (including a family member and a nurse).   It didn't matter who in his life had turned their back on him.  I saw him as 'my person'.  I couldn't face myself knowing that I didn't do all that I could.  Nor could I face God having refused to honor my father.  I spent his last few hours with him as his soul was encased in the shell that we call a body.  It wasn't easy, but I know I had to be there for him, if not for me.

I do miss him.   I am disappointed that having a closer relationship, a more full one, a more hallmark card one wasn't in the cards.  I do know that no matter what, he was my dad and even with his flaws he ultimately was there.  Even though his sense of honor wasn't exactly mine, I did respect it when he showed it.   I think he tried, but was hampered by less than a less than perfect environment growing up.  Besides, having an imperfect relationship with a father is better than none at all.   I got to see one way of fatherly parenting and where I disagreed, I had a basis to go in the opposite direction.  Had I not had a father, I probably would have been more aimless.

I did know that I forgave him and loved him in "The Dying Years".