Seems as though I’ve done it again, taken an unintended long break from writing. Things got a little complicated at the beginning of the year as I found myself once again in caregiver mode.
For two years my Dad has been treated for metastasized prostate cancer. It had already moved from his prostate into his bones before the doctors discovered it. All they could do is slow it down for a couple of years. Last October the oncologist called a halt to treatments, saying they had done all they could for Dad, and sent him home to make the best of his time and life. The doctors had done a great job and got Dad within reach of his goal of reaching his 90th birthday.
It became the job of my siblings and me to get him there somehow. After the new year with a lot of support from Hospice we took on the tasks necessary to keep him active and healthy. Every week became a little more of an effort and required a little more time to help keep him on schedule, medicated, fed, and get him to activities he still wanted to do. Gradually he became weaker and less able to get around on his own. March slipped into April and he became house bound except for teaching his woodcarvers class. With a driver and some help with his walker it was the last activity he was able to maintain until, by June it just wasn’t to be any more.
By then it was more intensive care on our part, medication, personal care, 24/7 presence in the home he had built himself, 58 years ago. He hated being a burden to his children, hated being the child instead of the Dad, but he loved life more and struggled mightily to keep things as normal as he could. Finally, that day arrived when he couldn’t get out of bed, wouldn’t eat, refused his meds. He was so close to his 90th birthday, was he giving up? He said no, the party was still on, even if he couldn’t actually participate. Then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; the days slipped by, his strength disappeared, but his resolve never failed. Still want that party Dad? Absolutely, bring it on!
Friday arrived, his birthday. About two in the morning he awoke, and his granddaughter wished him a Happy Birthday! He smiled and went back to sleep. Later that morning the briefest little flash of energy returned, and at 1:00 the open house began. He saw photos of the cakes, and asked to see the visitors and well wishers. He was in really rough shape and we were so concerned that people would be uncomfortable with him, but he was able to recognize, smile and speak briefly with most everyone who came into his room.
As the last visitors left and close family settled in his last struggle began, he drifted in and out of awareness, his breathing eased and, about ten o’clock in the evening, he slipped away. The long struggle finally ended, and he joined his Savior in the glory of new life, on his ninetieth birthday; he made it!
All of his children, their spouses, and a very special granddaughter were exhausted, humbled, and numbed by the efforts over all those months to get Dad home. But we still weren’t finished taking care of Dad and his business. After another three weeks of services and estate management all of us hit the proverbial wall. It was time for a desperately needed vacation.
And that’s where I find myself right now, just outside of a national park in my camper cooling off in the evening air after two days of visiting waterfalls and riding trains, classical music playing and my wife quietly knitting next to me as I write for the first time in at least eight months. I haven’t felt like writing, or wanted to write at all, until now, until I could actually start to get my own life back.
I’ve been through caregiving before, my siblings not so much, except for one brother who is a former EMT. It’s almost harder to share that responsibility than to take it all on yourself, especially when you are also caring for some of the other caregivers who are unprepared for and not expecting the demands of full time caregiving. It’s enough to tear a family apart, and we were painfully close to that point. I struggle daily to remember the words of Dad’s pastor at his committal service, that now we’re all we have and it will be hard work to keep us together. But I know Dad would never want his passing to break us apart, he’d want it to bring us together.
I can’t do that unless I find me again. Today, this week, I’m beginning to rediscover myself. Part of that is sharing my journey with you, as I have in the past. It’s a journey that’s taken more twists and turns than I expected over the past three years, but these are the passages of just another sixty-something baby boomer, not so different from many of you. Whether you find help, inspiration, empathy, or just commiseration in my thoughts and experiences, I hope you find comfort as you travel with me through new passages of time, place, and life.
Finding my way back home…Pops