Sunday, September 30, 2012

Poppa at 90

Poppa made it to 90.  For weeks leading up to his birthday, he often seemed anxious about the date and when I asked him why, he replied that he didn't want to miss his birthday! My sister, Kacy, flew in late Thursday night and surprised him by waking him up the next morning. He was a little confused but when she told him she had come to celebrate his birthday with him, he was pleased. Poppa seemed to feel well and was mentally in the moment most of the time, slipping into fuzziness now and then, as was his custom.

Because Kacy had to leave on his actual birthday, Sunday, August 5, we planned his party for Saturday. Not wanting to buy gifts for the man who had at least one of everything, we bought a half-dozen silly musical cards, streamers, balloons, confetti, party beads and a helium fish balloon as well as party plates and napkins. We comisioned two dozen gourmet cupcakes from a friend and Tim cooked Pop's favorite dinner of corned beef and cabbage.

The meal was festive and Poppa ate a lot of everything.  Afterwards, we gave him the cards to open.  He couldn't actually hear the silly songs in the cards so he missed the humor but he smiled graciously.  Everyone was later shooed into the living room while we tidied up and got the cupcakes ready by placing a couple dozen skinny party candles in them and setting them ablaze. Poppa's face was alight with joy as well as from the candle glow.  It was a precious time.  I think we watched a movie but Pop tired early and went to bed.

The next day, Sunday, he slept all morning, as he had been doing more and more often. When I told him that Kacy was going to be leaving soon he finally got up and sat in his chair.  Kacy hugged him and cried, Pop telling her how much it meant that she had come for his special day.  We drove her to the airport and sent her on her way, knowing that she would most likely never see Pop again.

Poppa fell back to sleep in his chair.  It was later in the day when he finally woke up enough to receive his birthday phone calls.  I overheard him saying something to my brother, Bud, like, "Oh, I guess I'm 91. I don't know where the time has gone...."  I think he was confused that Bud was wishing him a happy birthday again, and he figured a year must have slipped by somehow.

The week following his birthday Poppa passed in and out of dementia.  One day he would sleep, the next he would seem fine.  His pain didn't seem to be unmanageable.  He would be better by bedtime and would invariable ask me what adventures lay before us the next day.  After Friday, though, he never really came back into the present.  He became increasingly confused.  Even though he still knew us, he couldn't reconcile that he was in his own home.  His thought we were in a hotel and it concerned him that all of the "people out there" needed looking after and he couldn't decide what needed to be done about it.

His last week was not an easy one.  He lost contact with reality and became fretful.  Finally he deteriorated to the point where he was upset and angry that someone had placed all of his things "here."  But he was adamant that it was not his home and that made him very unhappy.  By the following Thursday he was slipping into total dementia and needed round the clock care.  Thinking that this was the way things were going to be for some time to come, we hired Angels on Duty to fill in the hours between 11 PM and 7 AM and also on Saturday to help with bathing and his personal needs. The hospital bed was installed on Friday.  About the only thing that would wake him was the urge to go to the toilet but by Saturday he was too weak, even with assistance, to make it into the bathroom. The visiting nurse and I cleaned and changed Pop around 11:30 PM and I left her with instructions to call me if there were any changes, no matter what the time.

Sunday morning I tossed and turned from two o'clock onward.  I finally woke up enough around six to realize that I needed to get up and check on Dad.  When I got in the room his breath had deteriorated into a rattle and I was so shocked that the "nurse" hadn't realized that it was a sign of impending death.  I woke Tim and Ben immediately and called hospice. The on-call nurse came until our nurse, Anita, arrived. I called Cara in Springfield and she drove down as quickly as possible.

I spent most of the day on vigil by the bedside, holding Poppa's hand and cooing to him, telling him it was okay to leave us, that we would be fine.  People passed mugs of steaming coffee to me and hugged my shoulders but, except for a few moments, I don't think I left the room.  Poppa passed away early in the afternoon. I cried, selfishly in my grief, "what will I do with myself now?" because caring for my father had become my full-time employment, my sole focus in life.

He was so much more ill than we had known.  The cancer had gone crazy in his body and done terrible damage in just a very short time.  Had he known or was it God's mercy that he had increasing dementia so that he wouldn't understand?   We will never know.  The end came so amazingly quickly.  Just when I was feeling like this part of my life was interminable, he was gone.  And right up until almost the very end he was still wanting to go out for some adventures, he and I, shopping, going to lunch, messing around.

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to serve my dad.  Thanks for the time to get to know him in this special way, to love on him and spoil him.  And I am grateful for every day that I had to call upon Your strength to get through it because it has made me stronger.  Nothing else would have stretched me to such a degree that I, coming to the end of myself ten times an hour, would gasp and grasp the hand that sustained me.  So that when all was said and done, I'd know that it was He in me and not myself that gets the glory. But Poppa made it to 90.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How Not to Win Friends

There are plenty of instruction manuals on how to win friends so I thought I would write one on how NOT to make friends.  I speak from years of research so I feel as if I am quite an authority on the subject.  It certainly helps to be an introvert.  People may laugh when they hear me say that I am one because I am a compulsive talker.  The two are not mutually exclusive:  I am a communicative, overly-analytical, cerebral, closet introvert.  I have always been taught, and know from life's experience, that one must be a friend to make a friend.  But, if you are sure you want to go to the next level, just follow these simple steps.

 1. Make sure your life and work are completely consumed with people in the public sphere. For instance, until last year, my life consisted of working in retail and teaching and, as such, I received all the social stimuli that I could process (and then some) from my work.  Also, make sure that you spend most of your evenings involved in these activities so that you can't even imagine "going out" or inviting folks "in".  Instead, you stumble home at 9:30 or 10 PM on average, four nights a week, satisfied but exhausted.

2. Ensure that your life is so busy that you LITERALLY (and I do mean "literally" literally) find yourself running from task to task.

3. Invite your aged parents to live with you.  Spending "quality not quantity" time with one's parents uses up any "spare time" you may have.

4. Slowly disengage yourself from your work, becoming more and more involved in the caregiving of your aging, ill parents, until it is all you do.  This is a useful tool in that you always have an excuse for not being able to go out or have friends in.

5.  Nurse your parents in your home as they die.  This is the best way to lose touch with the few acquaintances you have and makes it almost impossible to stay in touch with former students or associates.

There you have it!  Simple, isn't it?  I know not everyone has the advantages that I have had but I am confident that with a few modifications, you TOO can learn how to not make friends in five easy steps.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Life with Poppa

It was a year ago, to the day, when Poppa's radiation was began. Today we found out that not only is the cancer growing again but it is very active.  

It had been bothering Pop for a long time, but being a typical male of his generation, he didn't mention it to anyone. Well, actually, he DID complain of chest pains that, it turns out, were radiating from this mas. Several times over the last two years Poppa has been rushed to the hospital with these symptoms which were mimicking heart attack symptoms.  When the connection was finally made, we were sent scurrying to a surgeon who removed as much of the mass as he could, but left what was attached to the chest wall.  The biopsy resulted in the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma.

41 trips to the radiologist.  Eight and a half weeks (one half week off for rest) of daily trips to the cancer clinic. Pop and I would head out in all types of weather, enjoying the time together in the car, stopping to do errands on the way, called it our "adventures."

O my, what a year!  So many life-altering events have taken place in the last 12 months.  So many, in fact, that I had to write it down, fearing that no one would believe me.  I don't know how many trips we made to the hospital.  Starting with Pop's lumpectomy, followed by radiation, weeks of kitchen remodeling, Mom's emergency surgery which caused her heart failure and move into hospice care, closing our studio (Tim packed it all up by himself as I was caring for Momma) and emptying it with no place to move it to, Mom and Pop's ranch in Alabama selling and Tim and I going to get their stuff, moving our renter out of the cottage, renovating the cottage into our studio and moving into it, waves of relatives coming to spend time with Momma during her last days, Mom's passing July 26, and after her cremation we hurried to Alabama for the memorial before my brother Bud moved to Arizona, Poppa had cataracts removed from both eyes and a cancer removed from his left eyebrow (turned out to be squamous cell also) and extensive repair to his brow, and lastly, during a follow up for that procedure, the cancer on his right eyelid was found, biopsied and the basal cell carcinoma that was removed was even larger than the cancer on his eyebrow and required extensive skin grafting and reconstruction.  

Pop has endured it all with grace.  He misses Momma, his life partner of 68 years, but hasn't grieved inordinately or fallen into despair.  It has aged him, changed him and worn him out.  At least when Momma was alive he had a purpose which was to look after her and spoil her, as he always had done. Now he lacks purpose. The once formidable, robust man is frail.  He is still mostly independent but needs me to make sure he gets his meds and checks his blood sugar and injects his insulin.  I make his meals and encourage him to eat because he has so little appetite. He leans on me when we walk and depends on me for his companionship. Recently I've noticed that he's made the cognitive leap from being the man in charge to the one being cared for.  In all of this he says he is as happy as can be expected, given the circumstances.  He says he could never have gone through it all if he hadn't been here with us.  We still see flashes of his lightning wit. 

In the morning we take Pop to the oncologist to decide what, if any, treatment he will pursue in regards the tumor growing under his arm.  As it is, it presses on nerves which cause him intense pain that radiates from under the arm across the chest, mimicking heart pain.  We manage the pain now, but know not what will be required when the tumor grows.  The plastic surgeon has tried to repair the damage caused by the cancer on his face, but his appearance is drastically altered.  What will be required to stop the outrage of cancer growing in this 89 year old body?  How does one make the choice to poison the cancer with drugs,knowing that the side effects might potentially sicken him to death but at the same time, how can one choose to not fight back, knowing that if he doesn't he will surely die of it, not to mention the increasing pain? 

More and more often I find Pop sitting alone in his living room without the television on, no newspaper in his lap, head down.  I think he is praying.  He doesn't talk about his faith but he is calm and prepared.  I know he is battling despair, as am I, come to think of it. Yesterday I read in Psalm 46 that "God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble."   We need your help, Lord, this day. Bless my Poppa.