My Dad

Before 1993, my dad was immortal. A superhero. When my car broke down, I didn’t call my husband or the auto club. I called Dad. That spring morning when my mare tried to give birth to her first foal while standing up, it was my dad who helped me get her down and who assisted her while I sat on her head.

Less than a month later, he was lying in a hospital emergency room on the verge of a massive heart attack.

Thanks to modern medicine, the heart attack was diverted, but from that point on, life as I knew it was forever changed. A series of illnesses and surgeries followed. About three years ago, he started flunking the Alzheimer’s tests given to him at the VA hospital’s neurology clinic. About two years ago, an MRI revealed a brain that looked like Swiss cheese. His weakness and tremors were determined to be the result of small, previously undetected strokes. And a little more than a year ago, my mother and I made the hardest decision of our lives. We admitted Dad into a skilled nursing facility.

The staff there is wonderful even while frequently short-handed. They care about my dad and about Mom and me.

Every day, either Mom or I or both of us drive the twenty minutes to the Health Center to feed him his lunch. It’s all we’ve been able to do for him since he needs more physical assistance than we can handle to get in and out of bed or even to reposition himself in his wheelchair. He feels useless. Mom and I feel helpless.

In the last week, life has taken another major turn. We thought at first that Dad had come down with one of the assorted bugs going around. Now I know the change in Dad was much more drastic than that.

Saturday, I attempted to take a day off from Dad Duty and made plans with my husband to go into the city to the home remodeling show at the convention center. We never made it. The nurse at the Health Center phoned me and without actually saying that Dad was dying, let me know that I should round up the family and get in there. Mom was already at Dad’s bedside, so I called my brother and my cousin/pseudo-sister (Mom and Dad raised her) and instead of Pittsburgh, my husband drove me to the nursing facility instead.

By the time we got there, they had put him on oxygen. Dad had improved somewhat and was no longer “at death’s door.” Still, we sat with him for several more hours before coming home.

Sunday, Mom and I were back there. We try to get him to eat. He refuses. Who would have thought that the day would come when we had to beg him to take a tiny spoonful of ice cream. Mostly he sleeps. When he’s not sleeping, he rarely acknowledges our presence except to protest our constant efforts to get him to eat and drink. When we leave, I kiss his cheek and whisper “I love you” into his ear. He whispers something that I can’t quite make out, but I know what it is. He’s saying, “I love you, too.”

We’ll be back at his side later this morning. And we’ll continue to try to coax him to drink some water, drink some of the protein shake, drink some ginger ale.

It’s all we can do.


Joyce said…
Beautiful tribute!
kathie said…
Hey Annette,
sounds like a powerful mix of pain and great joy. Those memories--there's a memoir waiting to be told there. All that sitting there by his side--that's such a gift to both of you even though it must exhaust you and make you sad, it's a tremendous time of awareness that you might not have without that chance. Hang in there.
Kristine said…
Annette, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.
Arkansas Cyndi said…
Wandered over from Nancy Martin's yahoo group. Always interested to see who else is a member there.

I have to tell you this is a touching tribute to your dad. I hope you read it to him, even if you think he won't understand because he will...maybe not the words, but certainly the emotion.
Annette said…
Thanks, everyone. And welcome, Cyndi.

I don't know about reading him this piece...I'd probably break down half way through and I can see how sad he gets when Mom or I show our grief. I have been whispering in his ear the words to a song he used to sing to me when I was little: I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck...

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