Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Road: The 15th Round

I've always loved the early morning and just came back from a short bike ride on my fathers' wife's coaster brake Schwinn where new moon was showing off it's slightest curve and the smoke came off the water in the lakes around the 55-over development where I'm sure I saw at least one new 'For Sale' sign since I left, just this past Monday, which could, as the realtor that has more than 25 listings in this development alone told my brother, be as a result of someone dying and I was thinking of suggesting to the condo association that they ban 'For Sale' signs as it's rather depressing to see all of them, sometimes several houses in a row and isn't the purpose of putting a sign on a house to attract someone driving buy when in this development there are no random drive-bys and everyone knows everyone elses' business or can find out on the bulletin board at the clubhouse. But I'm not here as a consultant to the condo association or for any other matter than to be with my Dad and his wife in his final days. I did go home on Monday and went to the office and it felt good to be there. On Wednesday I did participate in a meeting which may have a significant impact on my career. But yesterday morning at 3:30am I woke up again and realized that the one place I was supposed to be was in Florida and got a reservation and came down last night. I've also canceled a long-planned trip to Europe for next week as I didn't want to be there and get the news ("Oh Boy") and go through all the whatever to get to Florida quickly. I also weighed the need to be in Europe vs. the need to be with my father and there was no contest. When I was with him daily it was hard to determine if he was the same or worse (he just won't get any better any more) from one day to the next. But between Monday and last night it's clear that there has been a change and that as much as he's a fighter he will lose in the final round, at the bell. He is not going to last much longer. The dying process is as advertised. There is not much to do but try to do what we think we should do.

As I mentioned to you last week, I've gotten so many beautiful and supportive notes from people that have meant so much to me. I want to share some of them with you as we're all bound to go, or have gone through, through this experience at one time or another:

1. Spending time with dying parents is kind of like spending time with newborn babies. You have to enjoy the tender and funny moments that you can, and overlook the wet diapers, crying and sleeplessness. Simply being there is, very simply, the most important thing.

I read your post today and it resonated with me. I went through the same decline with my father about five years ago – one where we all knew the outcome. I flew in from London to be with him when my brother said there probably hours left (he didn’t expect I’d make it in time). I arrived on a Friday and was there for four and a half days. On the Tuesday I had to get back, and left in the evening for the overnight flight. My brother called me when I landed to tell me my father had passed while I was on the plane home. To this day I believe completely that he refused to go until I got there, and refused to go until I left. I’ve always been happy with how things worked out.

3. I only saw my father once after he was admitted to the hospice and he died before I could get there when they notified me that he had pneumonia and was not expected to live much longer. I have always regretted not being able to spend more time with him that last month although I often wondered if he knew who I was (Alzheimer's)----most of the time he did, I believe. He often did not remember or know that my mom had died and each time it dawned on him it was like living through it all over again so we quit reminding him of it and if he inquired about her just said she would be back soon. That seemed to satisfy him. I believe in life after death and hope they are happy together again somewhere in the spirit world.

4. Thinking about you this past week. I am glad you have been able to spend this time with your dad. He sounds like a special man and he is lucky to have you during this time. You have clearly made him very happy with your visit, and it is those little things that are important.Your columns have really touched me and I hope they have been therapeutic for you, which it sounds as if they have.

5. I lost my grandfather this summer who was ill for many years. He had one son and four daughters, which my mom was the oldest of all the children. My grandfather liked my mom the most because she was the brightest child. I guess as a parent sometimes it's hard to be impartial when one of your children stands out. Anyway, the night before my grandfather passed away, my mom and my aunts stood up through the whole night in the hospital and when it seemed like he was going to last another day, people went back home at 6:00AM to get some rest and change. My mom stayed a few minutes longer because we wanted to have at least one family member by his side. That's when my grandfather passed away. He wanted go with only my mom in the room. So I do think that people, whether they look conscious or not, have the ability to control their time by a few days. It's something humans can't quite explain yet but I do believe people can hold on. So don't try to time your stay in Florida. Your father will do that for you - whether he wants you and your brother by his side is up to him.

6. Steve, so sorry to hear about your father, I lost my Dad 3 years ago to pancreatic cancer. All I can tell you is that no matter how well you think you are prepared it is still one of the most difficult things I have ever been through. I was with my Dad for 5 days, 24-7 and my family finally convinced me to take a break and go get some rest a real shower and come back the next day…I was gone a total of about 8 hours and he passed while I was gone. There is certainly a body of evidence out there that would indicate that they do not necessarily want the ones they are closest to them to be with them when you would think they would… I still have not figured it out and regret not being there but I know in my heart that is the way my Dad would have wanted it so I am a peace with that. Take care and do celebrate his life.

We are all in this life (and maybe the next one) together. And while there are many definitions of what 'a friend' is, I embrace a very open definition and feel in my heart that those of us that are connected by this weekly column are friends. You have shown me that over the years. I hope I have given you something back in return. Thanks for being there for me you guys. Thank you very much.

Photo: Taken this morning from my Dad's patio.

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