As Dad has weakened the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing myself for his final days. That means coming to terms with what his dying may entail (ugh) and what his loss will mean to me and my family. A tall order.
Enter my husband who reminds me that, “Hey, don’t forget. This is your Dad.” Sure, Hospice thinks weeks to months, and it looks like he may have weeks to months based on all indications. But still. We’re talking about the guy who has survived war, heart attacks, strokes and high risk cardiac surgeries.
This phrase struck me in Sidney Callahan’s post about her mother’s long, long illness with Alzheimer’s in the Over 65 Blog published by The Hastings Center: “biologically tenacious.”
My husband’s grandmother was biologically tenacious. Like Sidney’s Mom, she still enjoyed eating and was comfortable, even though she hadn’t spoken or seemed to recognize people in years. And Gigi always said that she had “a bad heart,” something that amused us as the pages turned on the calendar, long past her 100th birthday.
I also have to be prepared – or at least set up for – Dad’s body persevering even if his mind and heart would prefer to move on. He is still a Marine, and some inner core of him doesn’t know the meaning of “quit.”
In practical terms, I have to have a reliable team of caregivers to help me care for Dad safely here, which means being able to transfer him safely until such time as he is confined to bed. I have a great partner in Visiting Angels, and an independent caregiver who was suggested by a family friend, but I’m not in a reliable groove yet.
This is a practical challenge when someone is facing the end-of-life: scheduling. If my husband wants me to join him with his folks to see Les Miserables, I have to have a caregiver who is capable of transferring Dad alone. On a weekend, if my son wants to run with Todd, leaving me alone in the house with Dad, I will need them to stay close to home in case I need help. The toughest transfers are on and off the john, which really takes two people. And unfortunately, there is no pattern as to when Dad’s urge might strike.
I want to be able to be a daughter and support my Dad every step of the way, but I know I must also make time for my mental and physical health. I don’t feel any resentment at the commitment I’ve made to move him to my house and have him spend his last days here, but I know, if enough time goes by, I might feel that way.
Semper Fidelis, Dad. I will find a way to make this work for both of us.