How an optimist deals with her Dad’s aging

He still is "up" for Christmas: Christmas morning 2011

When I moved my Dad to California in March 2006, I had great visions of the fun we would have. I imagined that we might hunt for the best Zinfandel — a favorite grape of my Dad’s — at the many wineries in the El Dorado, Amador and Lodi appellations. Not long after he moved down, however, he fell with a twisting motion and was almost unable to walk while nursing an IT-band injury. It became uncomfortable for him to spend more than an hour or so in the car. Then I thought we’d enjoy the majesty of the Sierras. When I took him to Tahoe several months later, I warned him to be careful about drinking more than one glass of wine while at high altitude. Predictably (in retrospect), after one glass of wine, a second one sounded even better. I ended up spending the night in the twin bed next to Dad while he experienced a racing heart beat. And I decided that it simply wasn’t safe to take him to high altitude. So, no wine tasting and no trips to the glorious mountains.

Dad’s health challenges may have deflated my plans, but I learned to focus on his capabilities – what he could do – rather than his limitations. He was (and is) still himself: a lover of poetry, a loving father and grandfather, and an informed citizen who keeps up with world news through the TV and New York Times.

Like my Dad, I’m an optimist. But I confess this optimist has struggled for the past six months. And that’s why I haven’t blogged. I’ve been increasingly irritated with people who don’t make the effort to connect with my Dad, which includes (on occasions) family members.

I won’t kid you. It’s work to get Dad to understand you. If I s-l-o-w way down and try to maximize the use of consonants, I can usually get things across to Dad despite his 90%+ hearing loss. But now it takes two to three attempts to get even the simplest of ideas across in an environment with absolutely no background noise.

I’m sad. I don’t like to think about my Dad’s diminishment, but we are increasingly in the “no fun” zone of aging. I feel for his dignity when I have to pull the car over and hand him a urinal because he can’t make it to the nearest gas station. Or when I assist him with toweling after he showers, as I do now. (Dad still seems to be following Marine Corps protocol for showering, which involves soaping up and rinsing off in exactly four short bursts of water, followed by vigorous see-sawing with a towel to ensure that there is absolutely no moisture and chance of jungle rot. Unfortunately, the see-saw move was causing him to lose his balance and fall.)

I know that Dad has just about as good of a quality of life and dignity as a 95-year-old can have, but it’s still painful to watch his decline. When we take our near-daily walks, chest pain (or “load” as he calls it) is increasingly our companion. No surprise, since his last cardiac bypass graft was expected to give out back in 2004. But still. It sucks.

Through this blog, I have sought to document my experience and the many inspirational moments I have with my Dad. But I realize increasingly that we are on the final stretch. It’s harder to write things that are uplifting.

So, to rob the line from the beer commercial, “This blog’s for me.” Today’s post is really about the grief of knowing it’s just not going to be pretty from this point on. I’d do anything to spare my Dad, but this final journey is outside of my control (and for a control freak, that is a very hard realization).

If you’re given to prayer, pray for his release, for his homecoming to God and his reunion with my mother. Pray for him to go in a “burst of glory” and not in painful decline. Pray for him not to be afraid of what will befall him in this last phase. Dad’s not sure there is an after-life, but, then, he’s not sure there isn’t, either. So we believers will have to do his praying for him.

Thanks for listening.



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8 responses to “How an optimist deals with her Dad’s aging

  1. Nancy

    I hear you sister. Hard times are coming, and there’s nothing we can do but try to enjoy what we have, through the bittersweetness. And as a good friend has wisely said, resist being too precious about things – not falling into “This is the last (Christmas) ” or “we will never… again.” My own dad’s status has changed. Just before Christmas, he became Hospice eligible. Nothing drastic, just decline. ‘Chronically dying’ as the doctor so baldy put it.
    Yesterday I spent 12 hrs yesterday holding his hand in the emergency room, watching fluids and antibiotics kick in. Happily he’s 150% better today. Jeez I get so tired of the first question always being “DNR, right? right?”. Followed by an automatic unnecessary laxative order despite my protests. Prayers for you and your dad and all his caregivers.

  2. Glenna

    WOW! Thanks for your profound honesty.

  3. Betsy, this is a very touching, honest piece. So glad you shared it! You’re such an inspiration, so strong, and joyful. I’m sorry to know the sadness you’re carrying. I hope all the happy memories will surround you and give you comfort. I’ll be thinking of both you and your dad.

  4. For you, my friend, the person who got me where I am today, who’s optimism I chose to adopt. Who’s smile I still see on days when I’m tired of what I do. Optimism is a rare but admirable trait. Realism seems to elude many. You have done the very best thing for your Dad and that is cherish all that he is. I also thank you for sharing him with us. I thank you for appreciating his history. You have taught me a very valuable lesson I hope to carry on when its time for me to deal with the very same issues. Always in my prayers.

  5. Thanks, Deb. I’m just feeling misty eyed about it today. Which is replacing the pissed-off-ness that I’ve been feeling since July!

  6. Deb Vosburgh

    My dear, long-time friend, Betsy. I feel your pain. It would be easy to tell you that you’ve had 20+ more years with him that I got with Mom, and that has been such a blessing for you. However, I don’t think it matters if they are 70, 90, or 112, watching them decline sucks. Jill and I used to say that a lot: it just sucks. And then we’d pick up and go on to the next thing that needed to be done, which sometimes was wiping, but other times was dancing her around the room to imaginary music.

    I thank you for sharing the current page in this chapter of your book of life. Prayers are being said and positive energy sent. I know you have tons of friends to support you but, for what it’s worth, I’m here if you need an ear.

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