The life that is

I’m not sure any of us knew what to expect and really still don’t. It’s one of those day to day, some good, some bad, kind of situations. Dementia? Alzheimers? It doesn’t even matter anymore. This thing that has pillaged the small tribe that is our family is The Boss.

It is so much.

It is loss, tears, and attempts to remember. It is frustration, denial, acceptance, and anger. It is fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and exasperation. It is unfair.

Today my mom will spend her day with my dad. He’s there but she’s alone. She will wake early and climb out of the king size bed they shared for 45 years to go check on him in the living room where he now sleeps in the hospital bed hospice has provided. Her sleep wasn’t restful because she has to listen for him on the monitor on her nightstand in case he coughs or chokes. Sometimes she sleeps in a chair next to his bed if he’s anxious or afraid. His only comfort is her. She’ll check on him to see if he’s taken his oxygen off, which he usually has, and change the bedding he’s soiled. He’ll be happy to see her but won’t want to get out of bed yet. He likes to sleep late – he likes to sleep period! Several hours later she’ll get him up to move him to his chair which is only a few feet away, yet it is a monumental workout for both of them. As soon as he’s seated she brings him his protein shake. His morning routine no longer includes the newspaper or the crossword puzzle. Instead of staring at the paper, now he just stares.

As difficult and miserable as that all sounds, and it is, it is so much more.

It’s an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity for his famiy to tell him we love him as many times a day as it can be said. It’s an opportunity to shake the hand of the man who was your friend, your coach, your teacher, your mentor. To watch him smile that crooked grin.

It’s an opportunity to be the friend to him that you say you are. Besides family, few have actually shown up. But there have been a few former football players, a neighbor or two, the pastor and a couple of church members. While the food that’s dropped off is appreciated, you’re missing the bigger blessing by taking one minute to step in and speak to him.

It’s an opportunity to possibly catch a glimpse of the orneriness he still possesses. Recently, he looked at me and said he wanted to borrow $25. I gave him what I had and then asked him when he was going to repay the loan. He said, “I never said anything about paying you back.” Ha!

This devastating thing I refer to as The Boss has taken my big, strong, proud Dad and made him physically weak and dependent. Currently, 95% of the time he’s like a 3 year old. And it’s been fascinating getting to know what he was probably like 80 years ago. He laughs at the most inappropriate times, he doesn’t listen, and No is his favorite word.

Football seems to be the memory that he still holds on to. Perhaps because it’s so deeply embedded in his identity. Sadly, that too will be gone eventually.

Around 6 or 7 in the evening, he will ask to go to bed. My mom will try to convince him to stay up longer, but his favorite activity these days is sleeping. She will help him get out of his chair and walk him the few feet to his bed. She’ll cover him up and tuck him in and he may stay awake and watch a ballgame but usually he goes to sleep. And then my mom is alone again, left to spend another quiet evening at home. Tomorrow will be a repeat of today and yesterday and the day before.

The last time I was with him, he called me Pat, his sister’s name. He knew I was his daughter but had to be reminded of my name. At some point, and it’s already begun, my Dad will look at me and I will have no place in his mind anymore.

I can still hold my Dad’s hand, but I miss him everyday.

Do-overs

In my last post I told you how much I missed my kids.  Nothing’s changed, but I wanted to share a few tips with you so that you wouldn’t have to experience 1,500 miles of distance between you and your children like I have to.

First of all, I always told my kids that they could go anywhere.  I told them not to limit their college selections based on close proximity to home but rather to use that time to go out and see the world.

What was I thinking?

When Stephen was a senior in high school we took him to Los Angeles and it was during that trip that he decided he wanted to live on the beach and go to college at UCLA.  Courtney’s junior year we took a trip to New York and that’s all it took to convince her that she was destined to attend New York University.  What were we thinking?

The summer of 2006 was horrible.  Courtney graduated from high school and was headed to NYU and Stephen, after 2 years at the University of Oklahoma, had been accepted at UCLA.  In August, we rented a U-Haul and drove Stephen’s belongings to California, then boarded a plane to New York to get Courtney situated in the Big Apple.

In a one week time frame, my kids were bi-coastal.

I cried the ugly cry all the way home from New York.  Then I spent several months drowning my sorrows with double stuffed Oreos.

It was awful. I gained 30 pounds and slept with my cell phone in case they called.

I thought that raising my kids to think for themselves was the right thing to do.  I figured that the worst that could happen would be that they would vote for a Democrat.  Boy was I wrong.

Now Stephen is working and living in Houston, and in a few months he will be transferring to Denver.  Courtney has decided that pursuing a career in screenwriting will mean that she will move to Canada after she graduates.

If you don’t want to end up like me, with an empty nest, here are my suggestions:

1.  Never take your kids to vacation spots that are also college towns.

2.  Aside from the geography that they study in 8th grade, don’t tell them that life exists outside a 50 mile radius.

3.  When they question the existence of  cities like New York City or Los Angeles, LIE.  Tell them those aren’t real places, just Hollywood fantasy.

4.  Most importantly, lay on the guilt.  Tell them how sad you will be if they move away. And,

5.  If all else fails, bribe them.  Or lock them in their rooms, whichever comes easier.

I am proud of my kids.  I live my life vicariously through them.  Stephen spends every third or fourth weekend in Mexico or Italy vacationing.  Courtney is being mentored by the best writers and moguls in the media world.  Stephen makes more money than his dad does and Courtney is becoming a very sought-after entertainment graphic designer.

I don’t know whether to be jealous of them or excited that when they put us out to pasture, they’ll be able to afford designer Mu Mu’s for me and a room with a view for their dad.

Important things I learned from my dad

Dear Dad,

I just wanted you to know that the things you taught me and the example you set for me made me the woman, wife, and mother that I am today.  In spite of all the times I slammed my door, argued with you, and pouted when I got mad – I was listening.  At least most of the time.

You taught me how to remove stitches when I was 10 – who needs a doctor when you can do it yourself?

You taught me that coconut cream pie and a Coke is the REAL breakfast of champions

You taught me that Christmas trees don’t have to be purchased – there are plenty available off the side of the road, over the fence and through the woods – you just have to bring your own saw and HURRY!

You taught me that “IT’S NOT TO REASON WHY, IT’S TO DO OR DIE”

You taught me how to drive a stick shift – or, rather, you frowned and yelled a lot and I cried – but I learned and I’m the one who taught my kids

You taught me that when you disciplined me it was hurting you worse than it was hurting me – hmmm, still not quite sure about that one

You taught me not to do as you DID, but to do as you SAID – I’ve used that one a few times myself

You never swore, except to Pete, whoever that was

And most importantly, you continue to teach me that I can count on you and you will always, always be there for me.

That was proven first in 1972 when our life became just the two of us.  I can never thank you enough for taking on the responsibility of raising a 9-year-old me.  That was not easy, I’m certain.

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Sigmund Freud

Freud was right, but not just in childhood, forever.

Love,

Your daughter