Big Changes: Dad Edition

Well. Some things have happened since last I wrote.

My father died 6 weeks ago. He hadn’t been feeling well but perked up just as I was about to take him to the doctor. We went for a haircut, then out for an omelet, which he ate with enthusiasm. Gusto, even. He was content and ready for a nap when I left him at home after lunch.

That night he had chest pain and was unable to get a breath. He was admitted to the hospital and found to have severe congestive heart failure. After several days he was discharged to hospice care at home, which I scrambled to supplement with 24-hour private care because my mother was in no way capable of managing things between hospice nurse visits.

Omelet day was a Tuesday; he came home the following Monday, and died that Friday. My brother and I and Mom, of course, were there.

It has been a blur of first doctors and nurses and health aides, then phone calls and emails, arrangements and announcements. We had a small service and I was so stressed the week before because I had to write and deliver a remembrance, and all I had was phrases and scraps of thoughts that wouldn’t complete. It came together eventually and I’m told it went over well.

Now there is the estate to settle and so many forms to fill out. So. Many. Forms.

In the meantime, my mother still has dementia… and now has lost her husband of 52 years. She’s heartbroken, lonely, incredibly needy, and increasingly frantic and forgetful. I increased the frequency of my own visits and outside care in her home, and called her many times a day on top of it. Still, she managed to flood a bathroom, and I had to call a disaster restoration company (which I already had in my contacts due to her kitchen fire incident a few years back) to dry things up and take away sodden carpets, etc. That was the week of my Dad’s funeral, so at least I had nothing else to do. Har.

Anyway. I have had to compartmentalize grief for my Dad to handle care for my Mom. It hits at strange times out of the blue, but as long as I keep moving, I am OK.

Sometimes as I’m managing one or another of the thousand-and-one things there are to manage, I say “I’m doing it, Dad. I’m doing it. It’s all OK.” He was so worried about dying and leaving me to deal with all the stuff in the house. But the stuff is the least of it. Stuff is just stuff. It’s nothing. Mom, unhappy and unsafe alone in the house, is the bigger issue.

Advertisements

Summertime — and the living is… different.

Our first week of summer was sort of disorienting, with no particular reason to know what day it was and no specific time to have to get up or go to bed. We had a holiday weekend, a full moon, a sleepless night with Dad in the emergency room (he is fine, and more about that later), and an intense storm complete with tornado warning thrown in just to keep things feeling weird.

Robin’s first week at “nerd camp” coincided with Josie’s interlude between school and musical theater camp (lord help me), and my time between work projects. A few days adrift hasn’t been a bad thing, but now I need a new rhythm. For one thing, my nascent exercise routine will have to be nascent all over again.

While Robin had a terrific week living in a dorm, piloting an ROV, and studying “Strength of Materials” and other things, Josie had a terrific week being an only child at home. We had a shopping day and got her sneakers, socks, shorts, a new watch, and a new bike helmet. As usual, she chose “boys” sneakers and “boys” socks. She used to get all pissed off that the stuff she likes best usually says it’s for boys. If a salesperson asked if we needed help, she’d tell them exactly what she thought of it. Now resigned to society’s stupidity about gendering stuff, she just goes for the colors she wants without much grumbling. However, if there is ever a price difference between “boy” socks and “girl” socks, I have a feeling we’ll be speaking to the store manager.

We also stopped in a store called Five Below (like the Dollar Store, only everything below $5). I had never been in and was curious. Josie was up for checking it out. We went in, and each drifted around to whatever caught our eye. Pretty soon Josie was back at my elbow. “Mommy, we need to get out of here. What kind of store sells fake poop?!”

On the way home from our errands, I looked over at her in the passenger seat and thought, OK, a 6th grader. Not little anymore. Right. It’s not like I just realized how old she is, but she just did one of those jumps that kids do. Same kid… same kid… same kid… new kid. All of a sudden her little-kid-ness isn’t on the surface anymore. She’s big.

Robin just did the same thing – the teenager emerging where the big kid used to be. Not just in the sighing, in the way she says “…okayyyyyyyy…” when asked to do any little thing around the house, but in her long limbs, her posture, and the way she hugs me. She’s giving those hugs, not reaching up to indulge them. We went to the beach for July 4th fireworks. I told the girls to put on long pants and a sweatshirt. Robin came downstairs in a panic: “Mommy! All my pants are too small!” She’s grown two inches. When? When did this happen? These pants fit her a month ago. I guess that explains where the pancakes go.

I know I’m boring you. Every parent says the same stuff. But still.

In case you are still reading, I shall close with a rant about social media:

People have been Tweeting and Facebooking about Cape Cod summer holiday weekend traffic as if it is some kind of horrifying new and unforeseen phenomenon. Some of these people have brains in their heads, but they are acting like morons. It is July 4 weekend. Yes, westbound traffic on Sunday is terrible. Remember Thursday and Friday, when eastbound traffic was terrible? That was your clue that westbound traffic would be terrible Sunday and Monday.

You might as well be surprised when the sun rises every day. “OMG, look at this giant ball of fire in the sky! This picture was taken facing EAST at 5:30 AM.” Comments following: “OMG. Awful.” “When I looked, the fireball was getting HIGHER!!!” “Someone should do something about that. Giant balls of fire in the sky are just stupid.” “Thanks, Obama.” For the love of Pete, Cape Codders, knock it off. You are smarter than this.

And now to the summer schedule. Jumpstart that exercise routine, hit the lake for swimming and sailing, get in some campfires at the beach, avoid left turns when possible, lie low on weekends. Life is good!

In which Dad has a mini-stroke, and we go to the hospital.

We had a bit of Emergency Room excitement in the family last Saturday.

My brother Rick was up for a visit, and we were with friends at a comedy night to benefit the terrific After Prom event that the high school PTA puts on here in Sandwich. The comedian had just wrapped up his set of relatable, parent-friendly jokes and I was just about to enjoy a rare second drink when my phone buzzed: Mom and Dad. I missed the call but hustled out to catch the voicemail, by which time Robin, my 12 year-old, was rapid-fire texting from home:

u need 2 call grandma

she thinks grandad had stroke

he can’t talk and can’t get up

i don’t know what to do

i told her call ambulance

I called Mom and we got the ambulance on its way. Headed back into the building and signaled Rick we had to leave immediately – some quick words to friends, and we were off. Called Robin to say we’d be home late, and that she was so, so right and smart for telling Grandma to call 911. (My god, I’m proud of that kid. She took a frightening call, but she’s as level-headed as any grownup and significantly more so than her poor Grandma.)

When we caught up with Dad at the hospital, his symptoms had somewhat abated. He had tests, and we waited around, unable to keep our eyes open, unable to sleep. Saturday night in the emergency room is eventful. I couldn’t help wondering what was up with the terrified young couple clinging to each other in the space next to Dad’s. Then there was an urgent call for Narcan.

At some point, my mother, fed up of waiting for news and getting ready to start snapping at nurses and aides, turned to Rick and said “this is the worst part.” “No, Mom,” he said. “The worst part is that Dad is suffering.” I wish I could say it is dementia that makes her lose perspective, but her own status has always been front and center for her.

Eventually Dad was admitted for observation and further testing. We returned Mom home and got to bed about 4:00 Sunday morning.

Dad spent a couple days being examined. It is especially frustrating for him to be in hospital, because he is almost totally blind, and his hearing isn’t great. I’ve observed over the years that there are some people who intuitively do well interacting with a blind person, and many more that don’t seem to have a sense of how to be helpful (or an inclination to be). The proportion appears to be about the same among nurses as in the general population. I’m always very grateful when someone is assigned to him who really understands that activities need to be narrated, and clearly, because it’s so frustrating for him to know something’s happening around him and not be told what it is. That said, everyone was pretty great this time around.

Discharge day was sort of a comedy of errors. The hospital had lost his pants, which had somehow never made it up from the ER. I called Mom, who by noon had bothered neither to dress nor have breakfast, so couldn’t leave to come get him for at least an hour later than we’d hoped. His pants turned up and we waited for her. Then she drained her car battery to zero by sitting at the wrong hospital entrance for another hour with everything running but the engine (where was her cell phone? at home, on the counter).

Anyway, he’s home again. It turns out that neither the CT scan nor the MRI showed evidence of stroke; yet, classic stroke symptoms did occur. Doctors conclude that he likely had a “mini-stroke,” but that even so, there’s nothing different that would be recommended medically to address it. I wish I could say he’s himself again, but whatever this episode was has taken a toll. He seems disoriented and foggy and confused.

On the other hand, he has resumed his obsession with light bulbs, so maybe all is not lost.