Dad Update Too

I’m taking a short break from my offline life to catch my breath here online where it is calm and quiet. Oh, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday my ninety-seven-year-old father seemed fairly normal, just starting to have more difficulties, possibly because his body is shutting down, but today, he experienced bad episodes almost hourly, and I’ve spent the entire day with him, in addition to visiting briefly with siblings, and coping with one minor emergency after the other.

And then tonight, after all that, my father fell. Oh, my. I got him untangled from his walker, and kept him lying quietly on the floor, soothing him, while I called hospice and waited for the nurse to come. He seems to be declining rapidly now — every hour is different from anything that has come before.

Luckily, I am only on my own with him until Monday night — my brother-in-law offered to come stay until my other sister could get here. It will be so good not to have to worry about my falling asleep at just the wrong time or having to leave my father to suffer his panic attacks alone. Selfishly, I am glad I will not have give up my dance classes — they keep me strong and sane. But even if it weren’t for the classes, I would need to have someone else here. He is fighting the inevitable with every cantankerous bone in his body, though perhaps the morphine and haloperidol will help him move past the restlessness and let him sleep.

I probably won’t sleep much — I’ll have to stay in the bedroom next to him so I can hear him if he needs help. And, of course, feed him his drugs at the prescribed times.

All this seems bizarrely normal, though occasionally it strikes me as strange that death has been my life for so many years now. First helping with my mother, then taking care of my life mate/soul mate, and now my father.

And afterward? My father will be at peace, and I . . . well, who knows what I will be doing. Other than dancing, that is.

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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.

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.

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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.

Planning Epic Transcendental and Mystical Journeys

I am so beyond stressed out from taking care of my father’s latest medical crisis, my brother’s continued mental problems, and my own lack of sleep because of caring for them that I can no longer find comfort in planning epic transcendental and mystical journeys. But here is an update for those of you who have expressed concern about my idea of walking up the Pacific Coast to Seattle.

Although I would take precautions, there is no doubt such a walk could be dangerous, but for now, that is not something I want to consider. In the past eight years, I’ve watched three people die slowly and painfully from cancer, and now I am watching my 97-year-old father die even more slowly from old age. Not taking the trip because of possible dangers would be merely saving myself for even more probable trauma in the future. Life itself is a danger. It does terrible things to people, taking everything they have until there is nothing left but a husk of skin and bones.

Despite all my thinking and blogging about an epic adventure, there is a chance this walk is merely a fantasy. I am not sure I have the physical capabilities of walking so far or spending so much time outside. I am not sure I can carry enough water and emergency supplies. And to be honest, I’m not sure I really want to do it — the thought could simply be a means of mentally escaping an untenable living situation. Still, if I take the trip, or try to take it, I will be as prepared as possible without carrying the whole world on my back. I’m looking into such things as mylar emergency blankets, down vests, bear spray (I figure if it can ward off a bear, the spray could ward off any human predator, too). I am also researching the best way of carrying things, and no, it isn’t on the back, it’s on the head, but that I won’t even consider. I want to look as if I am on a walk, not backpacking through the wilderness or trekking around East Africa.

The walk is only one possible adventure I am considering. I started out planning an extended cross-country road trip, perhaps visiting the national parks, sometimes camping out with full camping gear and sometimes staying in motels to catch up on civilization’s offerings, and this is still a possibility, especially if my car is running. (If I were to walk up the coast, I’m not sure what I would do with the vehicle during the year I would be gone.) Another possibility is to somehow use my ancient VW as a means of promoting my books, maybe painting it by hand to attract attention or letting people who buy a book sign my car while I am signing their boobedk. (Although I like that idea, I’m not sure how to market it. Marketing, unfortunately, is not my forte.)

And it’s possible I wouldn’t want to stop taking dance lessons, in which case I would take shorter long walks to prepare for the epic walk or go on weekend camping trips to gain experience in the outdoors. (Besides, my dance teacher says she doesn’t want me to stop, and it’s been a long time since someone wanted me around just for me, not for what I could do for them.)

In other words, despite all my blogging, thinking, talking, I have no idea what I will do when my responsibilities end.

Well, I do know one thing. I will sleep, or at least try to. Being responsible for others’ care is exhausting.

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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.

The Dower House of Grief

floozyWhile doing a word puzzle, I came across the clue “widow,” which gave me pause since I couldn’t think of anything that means the same as widow, but then it came to me: dowager.  According to the dictionary, “Dowager” can apply to any elderly widow who behaves with dignity, though generally the word is used in historical, monarchical, and aristocratic contexts.

In previous eras, when an estate owner died and a married son took over the estates, the widow was often moved out of the principal family house and relegated to a dower house, a separate abode on the estate. If the heir wasn’t married, the dowager sometimes stayed in the main house until he got married, and then she was shunted off to the dower house, leaving the new bride as mistress of the family home.

Many of us today who have lost our mates have also been shunted off to a dower house of sorts. Without a husband or young children still living at home, we are often relegated to taking care of our elderly parents. Or, almost as frequently in these uncertain financial times, a daughter with a new baby moves in with us. This seems to be the “dower house” of grief, a way for us to still be part of the world, to still be useful, though we are no longer in our primary life of having our mates to care for and love.

Unlike the dowagers of old, the exile in our dower house of grief will come to an end, and then what? Most of us long for freedom and the resources to enjoy it. As one bereft friend says, “We need adventure and excitement and something different. A change of scenery, throwing caution to the wind or anything to get us “out of the parking lot” of our lives (which a friend claimed I’m stuck in).”

Maybe what we need is to embrace dowagerhood. Despite the definition of dowager as an elderly widow who behaves with dignity, I always had the impression of a dowager as a not-so-old, imperious and outspoken woman in outrageous hats, who sailed through life like an icebreaker, pushing ahead regardless of whatever obstacles floated in her path.

Sounds good to me. Meantime, I’ll go for a walk in the desert. That’s about the only adventure I get nowadays, and it’s better than sitting here coming up with (and mixing) metaphors for my life.

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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+