My mother is in Florida visiting with my brother. She’s been there for three weeks. I have to admit that the ‘breather’ has been nice to have, but in trying to get her house ready for sale and for other reasons it’s not necessarily a complete ‘vacation’.
All my prior ‘Confessions’ have been about Mom, and about transitioning her to a new home near me due to her increasing physical challenges and encroaching dementia related issues. I don’t seek sympathy in writing about it, I seek release. Writing does that for me. However, right at the moment I’m not having day-to-day interaction with Mom while she’s away.
This ‘Confession’ relates to my Dad.
Last night my dad had his second cardiac episode in under a month. It wasn’t ‘significant’ enough to hospitalize him overnight, but the fact that it has now happened twice in recent weeks is troubling.
I spoke with Dad last night as he was refusing to go to the hospital and get checked out and treated. The assisted living facility he resides at contacted me and I asked to speak with him directly. He told me he wasn’t doing well, and I’d better get up to see him because he probably wouldn’t last the night. I said, ‘Dad you need to go to the hospital and get this checked out’. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t going to do it.
At first I felt myself wanting to yell. The fear of losing him was instantly in control of my mind and almost of my tongue. I told him again that I really wanted him to go to the hospital and get treated, and although I did my best to maintain control, I know some of my fear and frustration was evident in my tone of voice. He said no, that he wasn’t going to do it no matter what I said to him, and to not get ‘huffy’ with him. I took a deep breath and changed gears. I asked him, when I was not easily able to cajole him into going for treatment, what he thought would happen if it were a serious condition and he did not take care of himself. His response was, ‘Well, that’ll be it then….I’ll be gone.’
It was very matter of fact in the way he said it, and not at all unlike him to say it in this way.
Dad was born in 1931, during the Great Depression. He married at age 20, divorced at age 47, and married again. He and his second wife were then together until her death in 2005. Dad grew up in Brownfield, Maine. His parents were never even remotely ‘comfortable’ financially, but he hasn’t ever, to my knowledge, looked upon his upbringing as one of poverty and misery. When my parents split up he moved into what was his mother’s and step-father’s ‘camp’ in Windham, Maine and he lived there, first alone and then with his second wife. The camp was essentially two rooms, one open living space that was kitchen, living room, and bedroom and then another room that was used as a ‘bathroom’ and for wood storage to feed the monstrous cast iron stove in the kitchen. He lived there until he retired in his late fifties.
Dad was not in a financially sound place for retirement, but he scraped by and managed, just as he had for as long as my memory stretches. He made minor improvements and upgrades to the ‘camp’ when he could, and never seemed to be disappointed that the house wasn’t larger and more elegant. He had an old television set (no cable t.v.), a vintage washing machine (the old barrel type with the roller bars to wring out your clothing) and other equally vintage appliances, though they were scarce in number. After retiring Dad moved two hours north of Windham and put a used trailer on an inexpensive piece of land and resided there until his stroke in 2006. He never had a ‘new’ vehicle, but they were sound ones due to his being a mechanic. He dressed modestly, mostly in blue Dickies work clothes with the occasional flannel shirt or sweatshirt thrown in for good measure. He never seemed concerned with appearances, which in my eyes made him fortunate in never having to live up to anyone’s image of what he should be. He lived simply then, as he always had.
The way he lived was always a stark contrast to my mother’s wants and fears about having ‘nothing’. One of her siblings once remarked that she was not just reluctant to spend money…she was fearful of it. Over the years I’ve come to see that as being a very astute observation. Mom has said that she saw Dad’s ‘contentment’ with whatever he had as a weakness. I used to believe that as well. In the intervening years I’ve come to see it as an attribute in him. He isn’t educated. He isn’t refined. He is, and has lived as, just exactly who he is.
Dad seems to have always been content with whatever he had and wherever he was. Though he was likely not happy in his marriage to Mom for a long time before it ended, he did nothing himself to change it until she told him she wanted him to move out. He never tried to ‘move up’ at work, and as long as he brought home a paycheck, and he wasn’t starving, he was okay with it. He has had no ladder to climb, nor heights to aspire to. He’s a quiet man of quiet means. He always, in my lifetime, has been this way.
That said, and after my conversation with Dad last night about his reluctance to go to the hospital, I think my Dad is preparing to die. I think he’s reached a place in life where he realizes, despite his mild dementia, that it’s not going to get any ‘better’ really, or not significantly so, and so why try to prolong it? I think he has convinced himself that his ‘time’ is nearing, and decided to not fight it.
I can’t say that this puts me at ease really. It’s been difficult to watch my parents age and face the challenges, both physical and mental, that they are facing with their bodies aging and with dementia, but the thought of Dad being gone, is difficult for me. I feel like, due to all the years I bought into the one-sided concept of why the marriage of my parents failed and all the years of silence between Dad and me, I have only really had ten years of ‘Dad’, despite my being 46 years of age. We’ve had some wonderfully healing talks over time, and I’ve gotten to know him better than I ever imagined possible. Despite his seeming acquiescence about the stage of life he’s at, and the inevitability of his passing, I can’t say I’m at all ready for it.
I guess I’m selfish there. I don’t want to see him ‘suffering’ of course, but I also don’t want to lose him. Not yet.
I know that I cannot control any of this. I can’t force him to take care of himself…I can’t force him to want to live longer than he is prepared to live. I can’t influence his contentment with his lot in life, no matter what that is, because if I try to…I’m trying to change him to suit myself, and that’s not something I wish to do. I have to just prepare myself to handle whatever I have to handle. I have no other option. In the end the only one we have any control over is ourselves. I can beg and plead and cry and scream and reason and debate…none of it will make a difference…Dad will be Dad…and do what Dad wants to do. It took me 36 years to accept that about him and accept that that’s just who he is and how he lives and that he’s fine with it. Why would I try to change it now?
Thankfully Dad did, after we hung up, willingly go to the hospital and got checked out. They released him last night after determining that it was a cardiac event, but not at the moment life threatening.
As happy as I was to know that, the news from the hospital is not necessarily ‘great’ but not the worst case. Dad may need a procedure of some sort to treat whatever is going on with his heart presently. If it’s minor, he may agree to it. If not, I doubt he will get on board. That’s the reality of where he’s at presently. I can’t do anything about that.
There is, however, something I can do, for myself, and hopefully it will be of benefit to him as well. I already do this, out of habit, and will of course continue to practice it. When we finished speaking last night, and before he changed his mind and willingly went to the hospital, I made sure the last few words I said to him, in case anything serious happened, were the most important words to say.
I told him, ‘I love you.’
I believe that if these are the last words I ever speak to someone I care about, then no matter what, our journey is complete. There may be conversations we didn’t have, resolutions we never made, but when their time came, the last thing I said to them was that I loved them. It took me many years to say it to my Dad, and I think it took him just as long to say it back. It’s not that we didn’t feel it, it’s that we let our own baggage get in the way of saying it. Thankfully that is no longer the case.