A man died Sunday morning, October 7, 2012. He was a man of many names. Harry. Honey. Dad. Grandpa. Thomas. Professor. Coach. Even Mr. VIP. But to me, he will always be “my dad.”
In a sixty year relationship, it is a relatively new name defining my relationship with the man who accompanied me through life. “Dad” became “my dad” in 2001 when I received a phone call he was in the hospital suffering from a pulmonary embolism. I flew to Tucson immediately, arriving at his bedside early morning. To my horror, my dad’s face, hospital gown, and bedding were stained with dried blood. I was told he’d probably fallen sometime in the night. Disoriented, tethered to the bed by an IV tube, he most likely tried to go to the bathroom and tumbled from a hospital bed, a bed with its sidebars inadvertently lowered.
My dad never spent another night in a hospital room without me at his side. From that moment, he became “my dad.” For eleven years we visited emergency rooms together, acute care facilities, rehabilitation hospitals. I introduced him as “my dad” to the “white coats”--the physicians, nurses, medical technicians, anyone charged with caring for the man I pushed into the room in a wheelchair. It was a warning. Mess with my dad and you are accountable to me. Me. An Irish woman unquestionably the descendant of a long line of fiercely strong and protective Celtic women.
One year ago this Thanksgiving, I received a very different kind of call. This time the issue was not physical. It was an illness called dementia, something I naively considered akin to losing one’s car keys and forgetting where one put one’s wallet. I was blindly thrust into a healthcare arena in which I knew nothing.
In hindsight, I should have been prepared. I should have known despite my father’s bulldogged determination to die in his sleep at home, despite my mother’s unwavering resolve to care for her husband “until death do us part,” there are some decisions over which we have no control. The inevitable process of aging is one of them. And dementia, an illness that deprives the brain of oxygen and strips the mind of the ability to think, reason, and remember, is one of them.
The journey began in a crisis center, then a psychiatric unit of a hospital before I discovered the county chapter of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. (http://www.n4a.org ) This nationwide organization was created by Congress to assist families facing the complexities of aging. People like me. I was assigned a caseworker, a woman with great compassion who shone a beam of light on a web of knowledgeable people willing to help me navigate the utterly foreign world called elder care. With her help I would eventually find a facility where my dad was safe, where the hands which bathed, fed, and cared for him were trained, caring, loving hands.
Dementia prevented my dad, a brilliant man, a Certified Public Accountant with an MBA and a doctorate in Economics, from understanding why he could not live at home. He considered me his jailer for placing him in an assisted living facility. His initial anger towards me reminded me of a wounded animal lashing out at all who draw near. Including me.
But long before dementia pressed against his brain, my dad asked me to be his advocate. He signed a living will and trusted me to honor his wishes, to do the right thing. And so when I received the call in October that he was in intensive care with multiple life-threatening infections with little to no hope for recovery, I knew what he wanted me to do. With my mother’s blessings, I began the quest to get my dad into a hospice facility.
My dad died in the lovely setting of Peppi’s House, the hospice facility on the Tucson Medical Center campus. He considered it his own little apartment, a place where Mother could sleep on the pullout couch at his side; where his cherished dog, Lady, could wander from his bed to the little patio outside his room; where my brother could sit nearby; and where I could--for the last time--talk with the staff about my dad.
My dad died in dignity and in peace.
As you contemplate year-end contributions to nonprofit organizations, I ask that you consider contributing to your local hospice organization. They exist so a daughter like me can honor the wish of her dad.
My dad . . .
May he forever be at peace. May his heart remain open.
May he awaken to his own true light.
May he be healed. May he be a source of healing for all others.
11/11/2012 09:30:53 am
very touching, Mary. Thanks so much for sharing.
Mary Ellen Miller
11/12/2012 01:26:40 am
I hope the process of writing this was as therapeutic for you, Mary, as the process of reading it was rewarding for the reader. What a nice tribute to your Dad.
11/12/2012 03:03:01 am
I fought back tears as I read this the first time and again as I read it to Molly. Your parents were blessed to have you as their advocate, their compassionate pit bull, the jailer willing to make tough decisions. You are a blessing to us all.
11/19/2012 09:08:03 am
Tears are streaming from my eyes. I thank the powers that be who blessed our family with you.
11/19/2012 01:37:01 pm
I knew your Dad for two short times during my life. He was a very protective and intimidating (to someone trying to date one of his daughters) toward me. Fast forward thirty years and I was able to connect with him, Veteran to Veteran. Both times he impressed me with his knowledge and passion. I'm saddened by his passing and wish to pass on my thoughts and prayers to your family.
12/19/2012 04:23:23 am
What wonderful memories to cherish. I feel the same way about my own dad, who died suddenly in 2001; and my father-in-law, who lived with us until he died at age 95 of old age. Now we are struggling to help my mom as she ages. We have great help from the local county program on aging.
12/29/2012 09:39:34 am
Your words are not only a tribute to your strong Father-Daughter relationship-friendship but a gift to us all, Mary. Thank you for sharing. I could read and be in the moment with you, at your side. As I always do, I smile through my tears.
2/5/2013 04:15:53 am
Mary--I'm glad I believe that Dad can know about this
4/28/2014 02:24:02 am
Whoa, this one's hitting close to home. Emotionally exhausted. So, finding false comfort in diversion...Did you know that the name Mary was viewed as too holy a name for use in Celtic communities until toward the end of the 15th century. "I'm too holy for the Celts, too holy for the Celts..." (To the tune of I'm too sexy for this shirt)
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