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.