Dad Update

My father, for most of his 97 years, has seemed invincible, as if even death couldn’t defeat him. In fact, I’ve been worried that because of his continued improvement after a recent hospitalization, hospice would evict him. But no one is truly everlasting, and for the first time, I see distinct signs that his long life will someday be ending.

He seems to have reached a new low. He has more troubles breathing, more panic attacks, more nightmares, and more loss of strength — all in the past week. I’ve put off giving him morphine for as long as I could — I’m in and out four days of the week, and I didn’t want him to be alone when he started using the liquid morphine for breathing in case there were side effects. (Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, was on morphine at the end, and he wasn’t himself at all, though it could also have been due to the cancer that had spread to his brain. Oddly, my mother, who died of lung cancer while on hospice, never had to resort to morphine for breathing or for pain.)

I’ll be with my father almost continuously for the next three days, but that’s not enough for him. He wants me here all the time, and I simply cannot do it. It might seem terrible of me to want to continue dancing, but dancing brings me joy, releases whatever stress I might have from being my father’s sole caregiver, gets me out of the house, and keeps me from resenting the situation. (I don’t resent taking care of him, but I would if I had to give up my dance classes.) I’m only gone for a total of about twenty-five hours a week, either taking classes or running errands, and the rest of the time I am here alone with him.

He could be to the point where he can’t be left alone at all. Luckily, I have a sister waiting to be summoned back to help. It’s hard sharing such close quarters with a strong-willed woman, so I’ve been dragging my feet on making that decision. But I gave in to the morphine, and I will give in to this, too. I need to keep my mind on the goals — my dancing (first!) and my father’s care. Even if I didn’t have dancing, I couldn’t be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours a day. It is simply too stressful. I know people do it because they have no other choice, but I’ve already put in my time when Jeff was dying, and anyway, he was easy to deal with because he knew what was happening to him, and he accepted it. My father, on the other hand, fights the inevitable every step of the way, hurrying through what he calls his “chores” (taking his pills, doing his breathing treatment, urinating) so he can sleep, then hurrying through his naps so he can do his chores, as if he were trying to stay one step ahead of death.

I try to be conciliatory toward his drama attacks (everything he experiences is the worst thing he ever felt in his life, even if it is a short-lived pain or bloody nose or bad dream). But the truth is, it’s hard to find the tragedy in the dying of a 97-year-old man who lived a charmed and healthy life well into his nineties. (I know comparisons are not fair, but I keep thinking of Jeff who led a painful life and died when he was only 63.) But so many years of good health and good living have left my control-freak father ill-prepared for losing control of any part of his life, and because of it, he can’t handle even the small things that go wrong.

Do I sound unsympathetic? I’m not. It’s just that it doesn’t help the situation if I get as panicked as he does. Of course, when he’s gone and my life is turned upside down yet again, I might give in to panic. Or not. All of my life’s uncertainty might (at least I hope it might) help me deal with my own end, particularly since I don’t have a devoted daughter to ease my final years.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

13 Responses to “Dad Update”

  1. Joy Collins Says:

    It’s not good for any caregiver to not have any breaks, any life of their own. Just because he wants you there 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to comply. It sounds like he is scared but also very selfish and has been for his whole life. Don’t lose you in this process. You have a right to your life. I’m glad your sister can help.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Luckily, I will have help starting Monday night. And until then, if necessary, I can hire a nurse to come stay for a while to give me a break. Thank you for the reminder — no, I won’t lose myself in this process. It’s one of the important lessons I have learned in the past few years — that I have a right to my life.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    You do what you have to do Pat. We’re supporting you all the way.

  3. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    We need to maintain our own strength and sanity by avoiding being “on call” 14/7.

  4. Constance Koch Says:

    It is Impossible to be with him 24 hours a day. You have to take care of your health and needs in order to take care of him. He is very lucky to have you My Dad got scared at the end. He wanted me to be with him 24 hours a day. I was unable too. He spent the last 6 months in a Convalesce Facility due to his health. My brother got scared towards the end and got controlling sometimes because of it. He knew he was dying. As his health failed, he tried to hang on to me, wanting me more than I could give him. Not wanting to lose his independence. That is why he became controlling. FEAR! I jeopardized my life giving him what I did. My doctor told me that I could not take care of him. I told her that I had no choice. He had no one else. She said, “You know what you are looking at, STROKE”. When I told her he had passed away, she said, “good”. “Sorry about him, but better for me.” I wished that I could have done more for him. Now, I know that I did the best that I was able too for both of them. ( I had uncontrollable “HIGH” Blood Pressure when I was taking care of them.) Hang in there. You are doing your best, and you do need your breaks in order to take care of him.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I could not do what you did. I would not damage my heath to that extent. So not good! You still have too much stress in your life. Luckily, there is always dancing . . .

      • Constance Koch Says:

        Dancing is my stress reliever. My doctor told me whatever I do, do not stop dancing, because that brought my stress down. Nothing else she had tried worked!

  5. ShirleyAnnHoward Says:

    Caregivers need care. Sounds like you’re doing a fabulous job. Your dad is indeed fortunate. Hope your sister brings the relief you need. Hang in there, Pat. We love and support you. You are not alone.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Shirley. I doubt my father will still be here by the time my sister comes, but my other sister’s husband has offered to come help. It will be good to have someone strong around in case my father takes another tumble.

  6. Paula Kaye Says:

    I see fear of the unknown in your father’s actions. None of know how we will be when it is the end of our lives. I hope that there is understanding and compassion in my caregivers because I am positive I will be a handful! My dear husband was not easy to take care of at the end but I would not change the way we did it for anything in the world. I have no regrets. We each have to chose our own path

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      He’s mostly comatose now, and the drugs are keeping him from struggling for breath, so his “handful” days are over. Thank heavens — he is too stubborn and strong for him ever to let me do what I needed to do to care for him. It’s good that you don’t have regrets. I did have some regrets about Jeff’s dying, but not this one. He led a long, charmed life, and I’ve been here for him all these years.

  7. katsheridan Says:

    Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you, and hoping that not only your father, but YOU are getting the care you need. I hope that after it’s over you find the time to reflect and truly know that you did not only everything you could, but went above and beyond. I’m angry at your father for never properly recognizing or thanking you. You didn’t owe him anything, and you’ve been amazing. Sending hugs in your direction.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s good to hear the words from you, even though I would never hear them from him. Thank you. And yes, I do know I did everything I could. I had only a few lapses into frustration or pettiness, but mostly I did well.

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