In Memory, a Year Later

May 1, 2008

As I saw May 1st approaching, I wondered if I would remember when the day arrived, or if the day would blend, burying itself with countless others as I busied myself with work and everyday tasks. However, when I woke up slightly after six this morning, my first and most immediate thought was that a year ago my father passed away, here in this house, in this room, in the space next to where I lay in my bed.

The five years prior to his passing were mixed with funny moments, the joy of being with him, and the gut wrenching pain of vicariously experiencing his decline. Blessed and cursed with a deep empathy for others, I lived those last years with him. At times, the heart felt journey seemed like it would stretch to eternity, filled with the ambiguity of hanging on and letting go. Yet, as with all times and seasons, this day approached, May 1, 2007. And, so I watched him struggle, grasping onto a fading thread of life–followed by his last breath.

While he is gone, the memories are vivid. Living here in his house I’m reminded constantly of the love and closeness nurtured by those final years and of the special moments spent together. Even now the tears well up in my eyes and my throat tightens in a knot of grief. I wonder how I could ever imagine that this day would not stand out from all the rest.

I feel my dad’s calm, quiet confidence. He had a certainty about living that many people lack, a sureness of his place in time as it marched forward. I remember several months after I first began living with him when he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’m not afraid to die. I really have no fear of death.” Unflinching and a brave soldier, my dad was.  And that is also how he left this life, quietly accepting his moment with dignity, breathing one moment, and not the next. I could only hope when my time comes that I am equally courageous about meeting my Maker with such grace.

In memory of my father, I recognize he left me far more than material possessions. His legacy extends to strength of character and a sense of humor, along with a deep respect, drive, and appreciation of life. So my dearest father, know that today more than any other, my love goes with you, and that I continue to cherish our time spent together — and that I always will.

It’s a beautiful sunny Alabama day today, perfect for taking a walk through the woods and admiring the wildlife and lake. If you have read my blog, you will know as part of my father’s story, there is no acknowledgment more befitting than a walk through his woods surrounding his lake.

(An aside: When I entitled my blog “Never Goodbye” I honestly had no inkling, really just no idea how accurately the title would reflect my feelings and the character of my relationship with my dad. The words came out of nowhere at the time, and yet today they hold so true– as if I had known all along.)

Premonitions

June 3, 2007

Last Picture of My Dad

I don’t know how many of you believe in mental telepathy, communications from the “other side,” dreams of the future, dreams of present events occurring in other locations, and the sort of unexplainable perceptions and insights people sometimes have. There are numerous documented experiences, television shows and movies based on a sixth sense that give credibility to these types of intuitions. These intuitions have on and off touched my life, never when I try to have them, but most often coming to me when I don’t expect them.

The first experience of this kind that stuck in my memory was during summer vacation after I graduated from college. My roommate Judy had fallen in love and was engaged to be married. We had made plans to room together, but our plans were changing as her upcoming marriage took precedence. She was exuberant about her future with the man of her dreams. One night I had a shocking nightmare that she and her fiancé fought and broke off their engagement. She was heart-broken and crying. I too cried  in the dream. The next morning I couldn’t shake the heavy emotions. A little while later, Judy called to let me know about a huge argument the night before. The wedding was off, and their relationship had ended.

I remember another day when I was feeling extremely extroverted and happy. My ex-husband and I were in McDonald’s, and I was standing at the counter, thinking about my order. The person taking the order was looking down and began reading my order back to me. I smiled and acknowledged that it was correct, realizing that I had never spoken a word.

I’m sure you have had unusual perceptions too. Have you ever talked with a friend and you both voice the same idea at the same time? Or the phone rings and you instantly know who is calling before you answer?

On the 12th of April, three days before my dad’s hospitalization, I woke up in the middle of the night and for two hours could not go back to sleep. I kept thinking of my dad and getting the idea that he would not live much longer. I had no particular reason to think this. No calls from the nursing home about a worsening condition warranted the idea. Many thoughts raced through my head and for the first time, I had the notion that Dad was at peace with the idea of passing on. He had made his decision to go. I also felt his calm and for the first time did not experience grief at the idea of his passing. As events moved forward, many confirming my thoughts of that night, I realized my dad was having  lucid moments. He was not confused and was analytically arriving at conclusions and perhaps making his peace with God. I believe he was tying up loose ends and preparing to move on, and that I was somehow on his wavelength.

My dad always approached life in a very practical manner, basing decisions on facts, setting goals, and then accomplishing them. I got the idea there were two things he really wanted to know from me. One was the cost of keeping him in the nursing home. In this mental parlay I told him it was costing $50,000 a year. He also wanted to know if I would live in his house. During my previous trip to the Alabama, I toyed with the idea of moving there. That night as I batted ideas back and forth, I felt my dad experience relief just knowing I would move to his house in Alabama. Through my thoughts and prayers I told Dad I would respect his wishes. A few days later, on April 14th he was admitted to the hospital due to his high fever. When I later talked with one of the nurses at the nursing home, she told me Dad had said he was ready to go. When she clarified what he meant, he explained that he felt his life was finished. He was at peace with the idea. The next day he entered the hospital, for the last time.


In Loving Memory

A long struggle has ended for my dad and me. We were fortunate in many ways. Had I not been given this opportunity to be with him over the past five years, I never would have come to know my dad as well as I did. You always love your parents, but the closeness between us grew stronger than ever before. I loved him so, in a way that never would have been possible had we not spent so much time with each other. This growing period also gave me the chance to be in his house, appreciate all that he and Mom had created, and enjoy the beauty of the woods and lake.

Somehow, I never envisioned that I would move to my parents’ house. In 1979 when I established roots in California, I loved the city, the bustle of the people, all the commotion of the cars and things to do. I was young then, and city life held an excitement for me, full of possibilities and adventure. Now that I am older and through the time I spent with Dad in Alabama, I came to appreciate the peaceful country-side; the clean, fresh air; and the soothing life on the lake, close to nature.

I realized by leaving me this house, my father provided for my future in a way I was not able to appreciate until just before his passing. This house, this land, was my father’s legacy, and an expression of the love and care he took in creating a life for my mother,  himself, and me. When I mentioned to one of Dad’s neighbors that Ken and I were thinking of moving, that I was tired of all the traffic, the high cost of living and dense population of California, she laughed. She was happy and excited about the prospects of having Ken and me for neighbors. She said my parents had always wanted me to be here, but they thought I would never leave California. She told me it would have made them so happy to know I was moving.

We had services for my dad in a little funeral chapel. My cousin flew down from Ohio, stayed with us, and also went to the memorial. Our neighbor Brenda played quiet music in the background. Jim and Brenda’s pastor gave the memorial service for us. I had given the pastor parts of my blog so he could come to know who my dad was and some of his history. It was a wonderful remembrance. The pastor tailored his talk around my dad’s experiences and attributes. He spoke of the goodness regarding my dad’s stubborn character, how he took advantages of opportunities and used his steadfast nature to accomplish many things in his life that others could enjoy. He said that God gave us all opportunities in life, and it was up to us to take advantage of them.

My son Brad, daughter Ericka, and I chose pictures from my dad’s childhood and other photos throughout his life to use at the service. Brad and Ericka arranged them on two poster boards which we displayed on a stand that the funeral home provided. Framed pictures and larger photos were positioned on the table with the urn. The service was simple, and shared with family, friends, and neighbors who came to express their condolences. My dad would have liked it.

A few days later we spread my dad’s ashes on the lake. Those had been his final wishes, and he had spread my mother’s ashes on the lake years ago. In tribute to my father who walked the road looping  the lake every day, Brad, Ericka, my almost two-year old grandson Shawn, Ken, and I drove in Brad’s truck winding our way through the woodsdown the road my dad had trodden so many times.

While the chapter of life with Dad has closed, the loving memories will live on, and I will treasure them for the rest of my life. I love you, Dad. I can’t thank you enough for being there when I needed you, for the wisdom and guidance you and Mom provided for me while I was growing up. You will always have a place in my heart and memories. Truly, in that sense, it is “never goodbye.”

A Turn for the Worse

May 26, 2007

On April 14th, my dad ran a high fever of 104° and was hospitalized. Antibiotics quickly brought down the fever to 100°, and my dad was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection (UTI). My son Brad was not too worried and thought Dad would go home within a few days because he seemed pretty cognizant, lively, and in a chipper mood. I was able to talk to Dad on the phone, and he sounded good to me too. When I called and spoke with the nurse, I got more information and discovered Dad had not only a UTI, but had also sepsis. Even so, he recovered from both the UTI and sepsis quickly with the right antibiotics. He was very chatty, in high spirits, and eating. All appeared to be on the mend, and Brad snapped a picture of him, which you see here.

The next day when I called, Dad sounded congested. I found out he had developed aspiration pneumonia, meaning bits of food or liquids had gotten into his lungs. His throat also tightened up, and he was unable to swallow easily. The doctor ordered a barium test to gather more information about his difficulty with swallowing. However, the test made dad aspirate, and they had to discontinue it. His lungs were filling up. He was unable to eat or drink anything. Everything he ingested (and the doctor tried all kinds of approaches that included thickened liquids, pureed food, liquids, and so on) went straight to his lungs.

My dad’s living will specifically stated “no feeding tubes” should his condition be terminal and his body start to fail. He never wanted to be a vegetable with artificial devices keeping him alive, and really, who could blame him? If the end is coming, prolonging the inevitable with a feeding tube is torture for everyone.

A few years ago Dad had been diagnosed with other physical complications, including aortic stenosis, a heart condition where plaque builds up and the aorta narrows. Toward the end, the lungs fill with fluid, causing shortness of breath. The hospital did not alert us that Dad’s heart condition had worsened.

I called daily to check with the nurse on how he was improving. Dad was unable to talk on the phone at this point, and all information was coming to me second hand. The doctor said to notify out-of-state family about visiting. In so many words not spoken, the hospital let us know that my father was dying.

Our Last Visit

I flew to Alabama and drove straight to the hospital to visit my dad. Brad was there. Dad had trouble articulating, and you could hardly make out his words. But he was alert and aware of our presence, recognized us and tried to communicate through gestures and speech anyway. Unable to eat or drink, and with just an I.V. to sustain him, it was merely a matter of time  before Dad would pass on.  As a fatal condition, aortic stenosis began taking its toll. The next day the doctor decided to discontinue the I.V. Brad and I agreed it would be my dad’s wishes to do so. Upon questioning the doctor, I asked how long someone who couldn’t eat or drink anything would live without an I.V. He told me a healthy person would live seven days.

We got permission to take dad for a ride and brought him to the lake house in the afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny day in the 70’s with a nice breeze. Brad, Dad and I sat on the porch and looked at the lake. My dad’s speech had further deteriorated, and you could barely make out what he was saying. I asked him if he remembered the house and that it was his, and he said, “Oh, yea.” I told him how much I loved him, how proud I was of him and all his accomplishments—this beautiful house on the lake, his career as an optometrist, the golf tournament he won when was I was a kid as well, and things he had done. I let him know how wonderfully glad I was that he was my father. He smiled. It was hard to decipher his words, but we were able to make out that he was saying it was a beautiful lake, and he asked if there were lots of fish. He pointed to some leaves on the porch and asked if they were mine. To be sure I had understood, I asked “My leaves?” He nodded and said “Yea.” I replied, “Yes.” My answer confirmed for him that I would live here. After about an hour it sounded like he said, “Let’s go.” I asked if he wanted to leave, and he replied, “Might as well.”

Hospice Care

It was wonderful having Brad here to help me make decisions. I don’t know what I would have done without him. We brought Dad home to the house the next day as part of hospice care. My son’s wife had suggested hospice. It was what her family had done with her mother, and I instantly knew this was what my dad would want. Medicare funds hospice care for end of life and provides whatever you need, which includes a nurse who visits the home to check on the patient. A man from the hospice service came out and set up a hospital bed, an oxygen tank, a tray table, and a wheelchair. He also left me a suction pump to clear flem out of the lungs. I hoped I would not have to use that ominous looking contraption.

An ambulance drove Dad to the house a few hours later. His lungs were full and his breathing quite labored. The paramedic told me when lying flat in the ambulance, he started failing fast, unable to breathe well. So the paramedics sat him up and increased oxygen from two to four liters. The ambulance attendant feared they were going to lose Dad before ever reaching the house.

Dad kept trying to take off his oxygen tubes that looped around his ears and went into his nose. The ambulance attendant told me it was a good sign that he could now move his arms. I would let him take off the tube, wait a minute or so, and then gently put it back on. He only removed it three times, and then seemed okay with it, realizing that breathing without it was more difficult. I worried about all the flem in his lungs. His breathing sounded very gurgle-y. But I panicked at the idea of using the suction pump.

Brad came after work. He confirmed my decision to not use the suction pump, and I was relieved. Apparently the hospital staff had used a suction pump to clear out dad’s lungs, which Dad fought with all his might. Brad believed that forced use of the pump had hurt Dad’s throat. The decline between the day before and the day they brought Dad to the house was tremendous. Neighbors visited—Brenda, Jim, and Wydean. My dad was only semi-conscious and didn’t appear to recognize visitors. At least he could experience the comfort and familiarity of is own home and sense that people cared. Wydean told me it was best not to disturb him, not to speak.

After about 9:00 PM at night, I was alone with Dad. His breathing was very congested, and he seemed to be running a slight fever. I wet a wash cloth with warm water and lightly sponged his arms and forehead. In a few hours he felt cooler, and the fever seemed to have gone. I slept in a bed we had put beside his hospital bed. His breathing had cleared up slightly, and he finally closed his eyes. Around 3:00 am we both went to sleep. I woke up at dawn, unable to sleep anymore. Dad still appeared to be sleeping although his breathing was a struggle of short breaths. I did not sense dad’s presence, and his body was a little engine that just kept going, rhythmically chugging along with each fleeting breath. I brought my laptop into the bedroom and sat where I could face him.

Final Moment

A very close friend from California called the night before, gave me her support, and said she wished she could be with me when Dad passed, so I didn’t have to be alone. In the morning she called again, at 10:20 AM and asked how my dad was doing. I looked up at him, and he was asleep. His breathing sounded smoother, without the loud gurgling noise of full lungs, but his breaths were shorter and quicker, slightly faster than they had been the previous night.

I told her he was resting, and all his effort focused on breathing. However, as soon as I said this, he took his last breath. For a second, time slowed to a stop, like a freeze frame in a movie. I felt so blessed my friend was with me. The timing of her call was perfectly matched to the moment of his passing. He never woke up and went very gracefully. Everyone has their time. Allowing him to go in dignity, within the privacy of his own home fulfilled his wishes.

The nurse from hospice care was supposed to arrive at 10:30 am, but she was 45 minutes late. I truly believe Dad wanted to go when no nurses or health care professionals were around. He seemed at peace now. I knew the nurse would come and call the coroner. I called Brad’s cell phone and left a voice mail. Time moved in slow motion. I called Jim and Brenda, and they arrived just after the nurse, who began to clean up my dad. As the shock wore off, I shook with grief and tears while Brenda hugged me. May 1st, exactly a month from his 91st birthday, my dad passed on.

Wild Times in the Roaring 90′s

April 8, 2007

Wild Times in the Roaring 90’s

This trip I just finished to Alabama was rather mild mannered. Not much new going on with pops—the same garden variety attempts to shake locked doors open and wheel away to freedom, all to no avail. We went for a few nice drives, the best of which was when I got him a chocolate milkshake. He was content to stay in the car and suck on the straw. I parked so we could enjoy the blossoming trees and budding leaves on a sunny spring day. I reminded him that his birthday was coming soon, April 1st. Although he spent his life as an April fool, he had no recollection of the many parties given for him where neighbors and friends played jokes and gave him gag gifts. Every year my mom would dream up a fake birthday cake, such as a pan covered with icing, a cake filled with sand and toy snakes, a talking cake, the cake that moved, etc. Dad enjoyed hearing the stories about his birthdays past.

Speaking of stories, while on my trip, I talked with a man who shared a tale few could top. His mother’s memory was failing, and so he put her into assisted living. She met a man there, and they became close friends. They started taking walks together, but would get lost because neither remembered how to get back to the assisted living residence. The staff at the residence was concerned and called the son about their walks. However, the son was not worried and figured someone would find them, and things would work out.

Next he got a call that a staff member found his mother sitting naked on her bed, in her private room. They assured him she wasn’t going out in public that way, so he figured she had the right to do as she pleased in her own room. Another call revealed that her new gentleman friend had started spending the night and was sleeping with her, in her bed. He told the staff that at 90 years old, his mother would never get pregnant, and if they enjoyed each others company to let them be.

If story were to have ended there, all would have been well. However, the son’s mother woke up one morning and wondered who that strange man was sleeping in her bed. Frightened out of her mind, she dialed 911 and reported the intruder. One incident might have been laughed off, but a routine ensued. Day after day, the gentleman his mother knew so well at night became a stranger by morning. The son searched for more a regimented lifestyle, without 911 calls and where each resident would stay alone in his or her own bed. Another assisted living chapter closed, ushering in a new life — a life of nursing home accommodations.

I’m sure many of us have interesting stories about our aging parents and the journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to post it here on my blog.

Mood & Memory Swings

March 4, 2007

During these past years, Dad’s memory shifted, faded and re-formed like designs of a kaleidoscope, and many different time periods came to view, often mistaken as the present. He had moments where he wanted to call his mom and dad to take him home. He had moments when he thought  he was my son Brad’s age. However, never, throughout all this time, did he mention my mom. It was as if that time frame was missing from the sequence of his life. Consequently, when I called him a few days ago and he told me he was going to have Milly (my mom) come and pick him up, I was rather surprised.

Dad and I had one of the longest phone conversations we have had in some time, nearly twenty minutes. I explained Mom passed away fifteen years ago, and he was shocked to hear the news, as if it had happened yesterday.

In 1992, Mom and Dad had gone to Las Vegas to try an alternative health clinic for her congenital heart disease and emphysema. My dad told me he was frustrated because my mom quit eating, and nutrition played a big part in the healing remedies at this clinic. Dad decided they may as well go home. So he and mom started their drive back from Las Vegas to Alabama. Mom was sleeping in the back seat, and when dad made a stop, he called her name. She never responded because she had passed away during the drive.

Dad asked me how she passed away, so I told him the story, just as he had told me. He repeated himself many times, verifying that this was Milly I was talking about and asking what had happened. At one point after repeating the story about Mom passing away, he asked me if I thought she knew. I told him yes, that I was sure she did. Then it dawned on him that Mom wasn’t going to be able to come pick him up at the nursing home. He was back to searching for a solution to the problem that had brought her to mind. I suggested that perhaps Brad could pay him a visit. He liked that idea.

A few days later when I called, the nurse warned me that Dad was in a bad mood. When I said, “Hi Dad,” he responded with “Where the hell are you? You were supposed to come and pick us up!” As I started to answer, my portable phone died. When I called back, I was told the line to the Alzheimer’s unit was busy. I could only imagine my dad on the other end of the phone, giving me a piece of his mind about not picking him up. I was in California. He was in Alabama. Needless to say, picking him up wasn’t on my schedule. But I guess sometimes, you’re the last one to know about the plans.

Busy, Busy, Busy

February 12, 2007

I call my dad daily, and I never know what the call will bring. Even though his memory consistently and exceedingly slips away from him, his imagination makes up for what his memory lacks.

Yesterday when I called, he told me he didn’t have time to talk. He was too busy. Now what could an old geezer have going on while hanging out in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home? It is anyone’s guess. How could he be too busy to take a phone call? Though my curiosity was certainly peaked, I knew there was no point in trying to find out. I certainly didn’t have his attention. So I simply told him that I called to wish him a good evening and that I would call again tomorrow. He told me that would be better, and he would expect my call tomorrow.

The next day when I called, my dad said they (he and other residents) were trying to decide if they should go home. I told him that dinner would be served in about 45 minutes and so perhaps they should eat dinner and then decide what to do. He was surprised to find out about dinner and asked me to wait a minute while he told them. He set down the phone and announced with great importance, “They are going to serve dinner soon.” We both were resolute that the situation was now in hand and said goodbye. I pictured a revolting group of oldsters, set to leave in mass exodus with my dad as ringleader. Luckily, they were easily placated by the idea of dinner being served.

Busy indeed.

Traveling Man

December 25, 2006

When I first arrived at the nursing home, Dad was busily wheeling around in his wheelchair, using his feet to move forward. He got a bit of exercise that way and certainly a substantial change in scenery. The first moment I arrived, other than greeting me with a big “Hello Lyn!” and a smile, he scarcely stopped for a visit. I had to tag along if I was going to visit because he obviously had traveling plans. So I wheeled him throughout the very large nursing home, and at every door, he would push to see if he could open it. It is a locked facility for just such reasons, and you need to punch in a security code to exit certain areas. He knew the doors wouldn’t acquiesce, but gave them a perfunctory push just the same.

Each day fell into a familiar pattern, except for the day we went to the dentist. It was quite cold in Alabama. I did not want to expose him to the harsh winter weather. However, widening Dad’s horizons beyond the sequestered Alzheimer’s Unit seemed to satisfy his wanderlust.

The last day of my visit, I saw my son Brad crouched down beside Dad’s wheelchair. He was chatting with Dad as Dad busily rattled the rail on the door, seeing if by some fluke the door would open for him.

He had never been so intent on getting out as he was this last visit. I suppose I should have foreseen this change. I know wandering is a symptom of his condition, and in our daily phone chats he had mentioned several times that he was trying to decide where to go. One day he told me he wasn’t sure if he would stay there or go home. When I asked which home he was going to, he wasn’t able to answer and returned to stating the problem over and over several times. I just acknowledged that he seemed quite busy and had some big decisions to make. He liked that and appeared to be savoring his problem.

Everyone needs a good problem to chew on once in awhile. It gives your life significance and lends importance to activities. You see, what the problem is, is quite irrelevant–just so you have one. If you add to your problem “places to go and people to see,” you have a recipe for entertainment. So my little dad was just a bundle of entertainment this trip, having moved beyond a more sedentary existence as he became a “traveling man.”

Dental Dismay

December 18, 2006

I always look forward to seeing the house on the lake, my dad and my son, Brad. My son is a wonderful guy. He swept up all the leaves; turned on the water, lights, and heat; and in general got things ready for my arrival to Alabama. A cold front sent temperatures down to 22 degrees the night I arrived, quite the shock from the 75 degree, sunny weather I left behind in L.A. Unbeknownst to my son Brad and I, the heating blower in the house had broken. The central heating in Dad’s house takes forever to warm the house because there is no duct work system. Warm air is blown into the crawl space requiring the large area underneath the house to get warm before air rises into the house. I turned on a space heater and climbed under a pile of blankets, hoping the house would be warm by morning.

However, the thermostat registered 50 degrees, which was the lowest temperature it could register, probably a more generous indication than the actual temperature. There was no heat. I had heating company representatives come out, and they quickly found and fixed the source of the heating problem.

Even with the heating problem, overall, the trip went smoothly. Plane flights came in early. Traffic was not congested. And as I drove down the freeway and the sun was setting, a tinge of pastel blue and pink framed the most beautiful rising white moon I had ever seen. The full moon was as large as a setting sun, and its pearly white glow was  stunning–other worldly.

Dad recognized me and was happy to see me, greeting me with a big smile. Mind you, I spent the prior 10 days mentioning in my daily phone calls that I was arriving for a visit. I figured with enough repetition, he might know me this time.

The planned highlight of my visit was taking dad to the dentist for teeth cleaning. I teased him about going to the dentist. In the past, he enjoyed his dental visits because one of the dental hygienists just loved my dad. Her affection was reciprocated by him calling her “his girlfriend.” She said that dad was her favorite patient, and he would kid her that he was working on cavities so he could see her more often.

Because past dental visits always added a little spice to otherwise dull times, I was not concerned about dad’s forthcoming adventure at the dentist. He liked to get out for a drive, and the actual teeth cleaning procedures had always taken a backseat to the fun he had with the dental staff.

So, I wheeled him into the dentist’s office. Our first intimation that this dental visit would be different was when his regular hygienist had been replaced. The replacement hygienist’s demeanor was very professional, and courteous; however, she wasn’t admiring my dad and joking with him. We helped him shift from the wheel chair to the dental chair. He complained about the paper towel she fastened with clips around his neck. When she wanted him to open his mouth, he refused, pulling his lips tight so she had to pry them open. You would have thought she was giving a four-year-old his first teeth cleaning. About two scrapes of the teeth was all he would tolerate, so she skipped straight into the polishing stage.

He kept pushing her hand away from his mouth and asking her, “Are you done yet?” He told me several times, “I don’t like this,” and that it was time to go home. She gave him water to rinse his mouth from a cup and tried to use the suction device to remove water. But he would have none of that and spit the water onto the floor.

When she tried to floss between his teeth to get rid of the cleaning grit, he resumed pushing her hand away, asking if she was done yet, and informing her that he was leaving now.

I started laughing. Soon the dental hygienist was laughing too. My dad had a little smirk on his face, and at last we were done with his teeth cleaning episode.

Not much of anything was accomplished as far as getting his teeth cleaned. When the gal at the front desk asked if we would re-schedule another cleaning in 6 months, I told her I did not think my dad would stand for it. My dad, who is hard of hearing and had turned deafness to his advantage, suddenly asked what we had both said. I spoke loudly repeating, “I don’t think he would stand for it.” He smiled approvingly with a slight twinkle in his eye.

There is a saying in Alabama, “Once a man, twice a boy.” This dental visit brought new meaning to the saying. We can both applaud the fact that unless he is in dire pain, my dad–and the few teeth he has left in his mouth–will escape future dental excursions.

Wrestling with Emotions — Celebrate the Day!

November 21, 2006

During these past few weeks, my dad has revived the theme of going home. I ask him where home is, and sometimes it’s Akron, Ohio with his parents. Sometimes it’s Ohio in the house where I grew up, and sometimes it’s here in Alabama. However, more and more he doesn’t seem to know where home is.

As I watch him search for “home” over and over, I arrive at the same realization. I recognize the need to emotionally and spiritually let go of my father.

Dad is not wearing the self he wants to be. He looks to find that self, the one he used to feel so comfortable wearing. However–that self is no longer hanging in his closet.

His quality of life worsens daily, and he is imprisoned in a body with a crippled mind that no longer works properly. Breathing life back into him becomes unkind, for him as well as me. My holding on doesn’t help him to gracefully end what has been a full life. In many ways I believe he is telling me he is ready to pass on. When he talks about “going home,” he just wants to be himself again and come to rest in peace. After all, when you are able to be yourself, you are “home”.

It’s heartbreaking, and I want him to know that I’m always with him in spirit. The journey is his to make and he can leave, without his body, whenever he wants. Better things lie ahead for him. I respect his wishes and want him to be able to “come home”.

As I reached my decision to let go and cope with my emotions, I decided to celebrate Dad’s life and acknowledge the wonderful father I have come to know.

The House on the Lake

November 4, 2006

When we first visited the house on the lake, my kids were young, five and six years old. The house was barely a skeleton with an erected frame, some outside walls, and a wooden floor that spanned a generous slab of granite jutting out from the ground. This bulge of rock ended in a steep drop-off of about fifteen to twenty feet. Somewhat final plans were beginning to take shape. My Mom opened a roll of blueprints that she had labored over and showed me where the screened in porch would attach to the house. An outcrop of rock that poked into the way of normal floor dimensions would uniquely emerge from the floor in the corner of the porch. Since my mom loved the rock on the property, especially rock patterned with lichen and moss, the stone floor corner suited her perfectly.

Walkway between the porch and the house

A railed walkway would extend over the drop-off from the other side of the porch and wind around to the front of the house forming a balcony which faced the lake. Cantilevered posts would solve the architectural dilemma of how to support the walkway and balcony—cantilevered posts wedged firmly into the ground and angled against the bedrock underlying the house.

Mom & Dad, the back of the house beside the carport, porch to the left and side entrance

Other plans were still open to debate. Mom developed a sentimental attachment to a particular tree and didn’t want to cut it down. She and Dad were wrestling with the idea of whether or not to build part of the house around the tree.

A sense of adventure and excitement filled us all. My ex-husband was thrilled by prospects of daily fishing on the lake. My son Brad busied himself with chasing lizards and frogs and exploring the woods. My daughter Ericka and I hung out with my mom, took pictures, and went for walks around the lake. At night, like explorers on an expedition, we camped out in sleeping bags on the wood floor of the house.

From that point forward, our yearly vacations included visits to the lake house. With each visit, the house took on more personality through finishing touches and new additions. My Mom and Dad added a window to the side of the kitchen opening into the porch. Under the window on the porch side, they built a tiled counter so Mom could slide dishes of food out the window onto the counter. They placed a picnic table on the porch, on top of the stone floor ledge in the corner. We enjoyed most of our meals outside at the picnic table and often sat gazing at the wildlife across the lake.

View through the kitchen to the porch

Some mornings, deer appeared among the trees across the lake and drank from the water’s edge. One end of the lake was inhabited by beavers that built a dam. We would often hear the busy rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker or the occasional night song of a whippoorwill. After dusk, a boisterous chorus of frogs echoed their refrain across the lake, disabusing the idea of quiet nights in the woods–but still a reprieve from loud traffic and city noises.

There was a white heron that owned a section of lake directly across from the house, and he spent his time fishing with his enormously long beak. My dad’s binoculars provided close-up views of all these creatures and magnified a certain fascination for the banks on that opposite side.

Dad rigged up a motorboat with barely enough power to pull a skier, which became Ericka’s favorite pastime. He also built a floating dock, turning part of the lake into a swimming area. We had a wonderful time swimming, splashing each other and diving off the dock.

Ericka skiing on the lake

One of my favorite additions to the house included a modernistic wrought-iron, spiral staircase that ascended to a loft and balcony overlooking the living room/dining room area. The bunk beds I slept in as a child were set up in the loft, along with shelves of my books, some old toys and trinkets, and a weathered, wooden chest that used to belong to my grandmother. A perfect hideaway for the kids, who loved sleeping in bunk beds, the loft was tucked away with a view of the rooms below.

The house was not without its practical peculiarities, all built to accommodate my parents’ particular desires. A carport was constructed with a workshop attached at the back. Extending off the workshop with steps leading underground was my dad’s tornado pit, complete with a sink, bed, extra water, and dried foods. The tornado pit was a shelter of many names, starting out as a “bomb shelter” which continued until the Cold War ended. Having outlived that era, it then became the “tornado pit.” A bit later it turned into the “Y2K shelter” and when Y2K flickered out like a dud firecracker, it became the tornado pit again.

Mom planned her cupboard spaces with certain functions in mind. The shallowest cupboard I ever saw was measured and built to house her ironing board. There was a skylight over my parent’s bathroom and a solar heating wall filled with sand up in the loft. When the tall picture windows in the living room/dining room area let too much heat escape during the winter, my mom and dad designed and built shutters made from Styrofoam. Covered with coarse linen cloth and painted beige, the shutters fit inside the tall windows and became part of the decor.

The house split into several levels. Three steps on both sides of the enormous fireplace descended into the open living room/dining room area. The vaulted ceiling angled down from above the balcony and loft to meet tall picture windows that looked out onto the lake. Sliding doors on either side of this spacious room opened up onto the outside walkway and balcony that ran in front of its large picture windows.

Living room, fireplace and partial view of the loft

Of all the house’s unusual characteristics, the fireplace stood out as one of the most spectacular. You couldn’t help but notice it when you walked in the front door. Centered in the middle of the house, between two sets of descending steps into the living room, the fireplace extended from the floor to the top of the high vaulted ceiling. It was not traditionally shaped, but had a hollowed out section between the two groupings of mortared stones. The front section contained a black wrought-iron, angular stove where you placed logs. Also unique was the pattern in which the stones were laid—horizontally not vertically. However, most amazing of all was the fact that my mom and dad hauled a myriad of rocks from their property and with their own hands built the fireplace, lifting and laying it stone by stone.

With black slate floors, counters of turquoise ceramic tiles in the kitchen, rust red-orange tiles in the guest bathroom and master bathroom, warm brown carpets, and olive green accents, the house was a striking palette of colors. Equally alluring were the decorations of Mexican pots, lamps, candelabras, and other rustic treasures Mom and Dad had collected from their travels.

Throughout the years of our visits, (when I lived with Dad and after Dad went into assisted care) the house continued to hold its charm. It remains such a reflection of my parents in their golden years that I could never bring myself to sell or rent it to pay for Dad’s living assistance. So there it lies in its nook of the woods. The house on the lake sits perched on the rock like an old friend patiently awaiting my next visit. And with each visit, we renew our friendship and re-create cherished memories—memories of family, the magic of nature, and the aesthetic story of how it came to life.

To the Rescue

October 29, 2006

I put my dad on a decent diet, proper supplements, and one by one, we overcame every confusion he was encountering. We waded through his finances, his investments, and his mail.I began poring over his investment newsletters and learned how he liked to invest. I did thorough searches and found the coins he had misplaced. I cleaned his house. My new life schedule at first became, two weeks in California, two weeks in Alabama. As my Dad’s needs grew, it became, one week to 10 days in California, three weeks in Alabama.

At first I called him from L.A. once a day. Then I increased it to twice a day. I got my son Brad to visit once per week while I was gone. Then we upped Brad’s visits to twice a week. The last time I was gone, the neighbors also had him over for dinner several times. Everyone was feeling his need.

It took me a year to get rid of his animosity towards Brad. I countered his accusations, supplied him with facts and gradually he quit complaining about Brad. One day he told me Brad had changed. He realized Brad was a good guy after all. By this time Dad’s irrational outbursts had subsided. He was calm and much more himself again. I knew it wasn’t Brad who had changed.

During another one of life’s boring moments, Dad had become suspicious about a marker on the lake. In an attempt to dispel his worries, I got out a map that showed property lines. I pointed out to him how the marker, according to the map, appeared to be on his neighbor’s property. He finally relented and agreed the marker wasn’t a problem after all. But in looking over the map, he wanted to see the part of his property that was pastureland. I told him I would prefer to take that walk with him. If he were to get lost, I wouldn’t know how to find him. I had made plans to go out for a few hours with our neighbor Brenda.He insisted on walking over there and assured me he knew his way around, had walked there many times, and wouldn’t get lost.

Three hours later when I returned, dad wasn’t at home. I didn’t know if he had gone on a second walk, or never returned from the first. As I was changing my clothes, and putting on my walking shoes to go look for him, an unfamiliar car pulled into our driveway. A man and woman I’d never seen before got out. Then out of the back door climbed my Dad and Chip, the neighbor’s Labrador retriever. The couple told me Dad had fallen in the creek, knocked himself unconscious, and didn’t know where he was. At least, that was his story. He had wandered up to their property, and they found him and brought him home. They introduced themselves as the Sparks who lived up the road in the rock house.

I thanked them several times and told them I didn’t know how I could ever repay them. Southern neighbors in general were the some of the most kind and caring people I’d ever known.

I brought Dad into the house and helped him get out of his wet clothes. He didn’t seem to have any injuries other than scratches from bramble bushes. I could find no bumps on his head—no evidence to support a fall that would have rendered him unconscious. He recounted his story about following the creek to the pasture area. The bushes were so thick you could barely walk. After stumbling and falling in the creek, he became very disoriented. He decided if he followed the sun, he would go west and avoid going in circles. Finally, he came upon a fence that he followed to the Sparks’ house.

At one point he became so tired he had to lie down. He considered just going to sleep and giving up—ending it right there. It would’ve been easier. But then he got angry for thinking that and told himself, “You’re not a quitter!” Chip, the neighbor’s Labrador retriever, now referred to as ”Old Faithful”, stayed by his side the whole time. Millie, however, the capricious female lab, ran off into the woods and abandoned him. For the next week, Dad petted and praised Chip, who became the special dog, the hero. Millie got ignored. Receiving no special treatment or recognition, she was lucky if he even noticed her.

Awhile back, Brad and I, at different times helped Dad buy a cell phone for the sole purpose of security–should he accidentally fall or get lost while walking. But my dad’s cell phone, which should have saved the day, remained hidden in his pocket, beyond his realm of reality. In his panic, never for one second did he remember the cell phone. Had he remembered it, it’s doubtful he would have recalled how to use it. All the high tech communication in the world couldn’t stop “trouble from coming right to him.”

As another year went by, it became more and more difficult to leave my dad. His cars would break down as I was about to leave. The transmission went out in one. A tire would go flat unexpectedly. Things around the house would break. It was as if his protest about being left alone manifested in material belongings around us. A few days after he got lost in the woods, while walking with him and the dogs, I sprained my ankle. It was the very day before I was scheduled to fly back to LA. A close friend joked that soon a poltergeist would seal the doors shut.

Slipping into Deeper Waters

October 29, 2006



Photo after heavy rains flooded the lake taken by our neighbor Brenda

It wasn’t until after the year 2000 that Dad’s little world showed more severe signs of breaking down. After the excitement of Y2K wore off, lack of new excitement took its toll. Once again I got the call that Brad had stolen coins and Dad was going to call the police to report it. I listened, acknowledging his claims and booked a weekend flight to leave within two days. Meanwhile Dad would hold off on going to the police.

My flight landed in Birmingham, Alabama. I rented a car and drove up the freeway, finally arriving at the country road that led to the private lane winding its way to Dad’s lake house. When Mom and Dad bought the property, you had to hike through acres of woods to reach the lake. Blazing their own trail, my mom and dad, a couple in their sixties, cleared the trees and carved their road in the wilderness. The road and house nestled in the trees was a reflection of their strong wills and their new beginning–the sunset years.

With each arrival, I relive their story and memories rush to mind of their new life on the lake. In my mind I see the sun hitting their metal Airstream trailer, which was their home for several years while the house went up beam by beam.

During this stay, my son Brad came over and my Dad’s worries and confusions were put to rest. I had a nice weekend visit, and for the time being his cry for companionship seemed satisfied.

September 11th 2001, struck deeply. I was in Italy at the time, and the devastation from that atrocity pulled our family together. The tragedy of 9/11 instilled a fear of flying in everyone. However, in order to return to the US, I was forced to overcome that fear.

I crossed the Atlantic on a British Airways plane and landed safely at LAX. Having bested my fear, a month later in October, I convinced my husband Ken to fly with me to visit my dad. Incidents like 9/11 remind us of how precious life is. You take stock and make time for important endeavors. We spent time with Dad and Brad.

In June 2002 I planned a trip to visit Dad with my daughter Ericka, my grandson Trenton, and my newborn granddaughter Alyssa. Our timing worked out perfectly because during our stay my father had scheduled surgery to remove a skin cancer on his head. It was an out-patient procedure, and he needed someone to drive him to the hospital and back.

We arrived late at night, drove up from Birmingham to my dad’s house, let ourselves in and went to sleep. The next morning as I was waking up I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed my dad was twisted up, hanging horizontally between clotheslines and choking to death.

In the dream, I held him up so he wouldn’t choke and called for Brad to help. For me, dreams have often been a bizarre window to reality.

When I walked into Dad’s bedroom to greet him “good morning” I noticed a mess of papers scattered all over his floor. There was barely anywhere to walk. With a look of overwhelming despair, he said to me, “See this confused mess? Now I know why people commit suicide–to escape the confusion.”

At that moment I realized, a weekend visit or a week of vacation wasn’t going to adequately solve what was plaguing my father.

His surgery on the skin cancer went fine, but his mind wasn’t right. I had never seen him so irrational and forgetful. When I returned to California I discussed my dad’s situation with Ken and my business partner Vicki. We all agreed that Dad needed me. I started making arrangements to return.

While getting my plans in order, Dad called saying Brad had stolen coins again, and this time he feared Brad was trying to kill him. I asked why he thought that. He explained that Brad had invited him to go on vacation with his family to the Florida Gulf Coast. Routinely, every year Brad and his family took a vacation there. This was the first year that they had invited my dad to go too. Filled with suspicion over the unexpected invitation, my dad decided they were plotting to poison him while on vacation. I rushed to book my flight and left.

Dad was clearly slipping into deeper and deeper waters, well over his head.

Loneliness Takes Its Toll

October 22, 2006

Ken and I visited several times. Dad was hanging in there. He enjoyed his independence and privacy. He studied investing, and lined his book shelves with numerous books on healthcare, money management, and other practical skills. For years Dad collected coins. Coins were real, tangible and a good investment. He appeared to have an endless appetite for learning that filled his life and days.

Unfortunately, even in Eden, paradise becomes fleeting, and trouble lurks on the horizon. Dad always said, “I never have to look for trouble, it comes right to me.” And invariably trouble would find him, when he was bored. Boredom remained Dad’s worst enemy. I chalked it up to boredom when out of the blue he phoned me to say he was calling the police to report that my son Brad had stolen some coins.

After reasoning with him, Dad agreed to confront Brad before taking action. Upon hanging up, I immediately phoned Brad to find out what I could. Brad was shocked. He swore that he did not steal Dad’s coins, nor had he ever considered doing so.

We surmised that underlying dad’s accusation, were the facts he was bored and that Brad hadn’t been spending much time with him. Left alone with too much time to think, and not enough interesting events to spark up his life, Dad probably felt abandoned, and that meant betrayal.

Brad went to visit Dad and convinced him of his innocence. When I called Dad the next day he no longer believed Brad had stolen from him. Then as Brad began spending more time with Dad again, the matter was put to rest.

Y2K proved a wonderful adventure. My dad began preparing for the end of life as we knew it. He bought dried foods and built a shelter in the woods. He purchased several first aid kits, guns, bullets, and loaded up on survival information. He even flew to San Diego and took a wilderness survival class. We talked a lot on the phone, and he urged me to get ready. Then Jan 1st, 2000 arrived and virtually nothing happened. Yes, Y2K was a dud, but at least it provided further entertainment, for now we joked and laughed about it.

Haven in the Woods

October 22, 2006

Dad and Mom retired in 1978 and began the search for their “Golden Pond”. They found a number of acres in Northern Alabama–a beautiful tract of land with a 25-acre lake set back from the main road in isolated woods. They fulfilled their dream by building what their neighbor Brenda calls their “Frank Lloyd Wright house”. My mom drew up the blueprints, falling back on her architecture classes from college years ago. My dad sawed down trees and built the road with his newly purchased tractor. It was truly a creative project that provided them with fulfilling tasks and happy moments that lasted years. They hauled rocks and built an enormous fireplace, stone walls, all to their very own original design.

When the architect told them they couldn’t build the vaulted ceiling the way they wanted, my dad asked why not. The architect told them because he’d never done it before. My dad would hear none of that and said, “Just because you haven’t done it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” Mom and Dad got their vaulted cedar ceiling with large wooden beams. The beams slant down ending in tall picture windows that look out onto the lake. Peeking through the trees, the house sits perched on an enormous outcrop of rock. They decided a lawn would only detract from the beauty of their forest surroundings and settled on nestling in the woods with a beautiful view.

When Mom passed away fourteen years ago, their house still sat alone overlooking the lake, isolated and surrounded by acres and acres of forest.

Sensing my dad’s inevitable loneliness, I arranged staggered vacations instead of a joint one. My daughter visited dad first, then I visited, and the last to visit was my son Brad, who eventually ended up settling down in Fort Payne. When Brad visited, my dad offered to send Brad to a nearby college, and Brad in turn lived with him. His living with my dad transformed the lonely existence on the lake into a companionship and camaraderie that filled my dad’s emptiness and brought him back to life.

However, young adults grow up, and the time came for Brad to move on. He settled down and created his own family in Fort Payne. At this point, Dad began to sell some lots and slowly a few neighbors built houses around him, first Brenda and Jim, then LeDon and Amber, and afterward Tom. But knowing that selling lots meant building houses, dad never sold lots that would spoil his beautiful view of the lake and forest.

Strategies

October 15, 2006

My Dad would have qualified for acceptance into West Point Military Academy except for his eyesight. He didn’t pass the eye exam. The optometrist who examined him suggested he consider a career in optometry. Dad followed up on that suggestion and went into the optometry program at Ohio State University. An Ohio State professor, notorious for thinning out the ranks, assured the class of aspiring optometry students that only 10% of them would get a passing grade. My dad cleverly picked out the smartest student in the class and paired up with him for study. When it came down to the top 10 %, Dad ranked with the best of them. Working out strategies became a successful operating basis.

In fact, strategies have played an important role in most of my dad’s successes. When he belonged to the Rawega Country Club, his friend Harry Partridge egged Dad on to participate in the annual golf tournament. The finalists would have to play three sets of 18 holes in one day. My dad didn’t consider himself the best golfer. However, his competitive drive to win led him to develop a winning strategy. A month before the tournament, he began walking to and from work, totaling close to three and a half miles of daily walking. Some days he walked home for lunch too, making it total seven miles. By the time the tournament arrived, he had built up excellent endurance.

When the tournament began, the top golfer and my dad were neck and neck during the last leg of the playoff, the final 18 holes. By the end of the match my dad’s rival was worn out and gave up at the 16th hole. Dad easily won. Everyone in the clubhouse had bet on my dad’s competitor—all except for Harry Partridge who cashed in bigtime on the bet. Harry told them, “You just don’t know Jack.” He never doubted my dad—he knew Jack would figure out a way to win.

Getting to know my dad–Young Jack

October 15, 2006

Now that I’ve told you about my old pops, it only seems fair that I share some of the younger chapters of his life.

In recounting some recent incidents about Dad to my daughter Ericka, I mentioned how unbelievably strong-willed, feisty, and stubborn he was. As my daughter Ericka so aptly put it, “it’s no wonder he was still that way now–look how he started out.” Her Great Grandmother, “Nana,” told her that Grandpa Jack was unbelievably incorrigible as a child. Nana tried all manner of punishments and disciplinary tactics in attempt to get him in line. In fact he was so incorrigible that the only workable punishment was tying him to a tree. Tree tying was Nana’s last resort to stop Jack from playing on the railroad tracks. He hated being tied to a tree more than anything.

It wasn’t only his stubborn strong-willed nature that made my dad, Jack, stand apart from others. His shrewd mind developed business acumen at an early age.

In grade school, little Jack sharpened his marble shooting skills by practicing with flinties (a heavier than usual type of marble) every night at home. He was soon beating all the other kids in marble matches and winning all their marbles. In true entrepreneurial spirit, he convinced other kids that the secret to his marble shooting skill lay in the flintie (not mentioning the nightly practice). Having now created a demand for flinties, he bought a bunch of flinties and started selling them at a profit to other kids during recess. Not only that, he also started selling back marbles he‘d won from them in marble shooting matches.

As Jack would outgrow certain toys and lose interest in them, he devised a yearly sale where he’d sell his toys and rake in the profit. He also managed to re-sell my grandfather’s radio several times. The radio found its way back into Jack’s hands prior to the second annual sale. My grandfather, who got a kick out of his son’s business centures, bought it yet another year.

My dad went on to do odd jobs around the neighborhood, and soon his good work had earned him a steady income for a young boy. At one point he was selling wheelbarrows of dirt to neighbor ladies who wanted to make their gardens more fertile. By the time he was 17, he owned two Model A Fords. He chauffeured other students to school charging them a reasonable fee for the ride. Then he sold his cars and bought a truck. Leasing out his truck provided profits that went into his college fund.

He exuded confidence and believed there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do… if he really wanted it. Nana always told Jack he could accomplish whatever goal he set out to achieve. “If you really want it, and you work really hard at it, you can do it.” These words stuck with him throughout his life, reinforcing his confidence and bolstering his motivation.

The Less Favored but Inevitable Option

October 15, 2006

As Dad’s condition worsened, one day I got a call from the Rose Manor nurse who was very concerned because his coloring looked yellow. The nurse said she was sending him to the hospital. His gall bladder had become extremely infected, and he would receive laproscopic surgery to remove it. The surgeon said Dad had a 50% chance of surviving the operation, but would certainly die without the operation. I flew to Alabama and stayed for close to a month. The gall bladder removal was successful, and Dad spent nine days in ICU recovering, followed by nine days in the regular hospital, and 20 days in Rehab at Collinsville Nursing Home. He was able to return to Rose Manor and seemed to be getting around very well with his walker.

Then several months later I got a call from Rose Manor that Dad had fallen. My son Brad took him to the hospital, and x-rays revealed he had broken his other hip. I flew to Alabama, arriving in time for the surgery. Dad spent three days in the hospital, and then went to Collinsville Nursing Home again to rehabilitate for the 20 day period. The orthopedic surgeon said Dad wasn’t allowed to bear weight on his right leg for 6 weeks or he could break his hip again, ripping loose the pins that had been inserted. Remembering not to bear weight on his leg became an impossible challenge. Dad was continually trying to stand up and walk around. Finally, the only solution was to restrain him in his wheel chair so he wouldn’t attempt to stand on the leg and hurt himself.

His leg healed, but he never became stable on his feet, which left him saddled in a wheelchair. Still rather spunky though, he tried to wheel himself out the door enough times that Collinsville had to put him in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Unit.

I hoped Dad would be able to return to Rose Manor. However, before Rose Manor could admit him, he had to undergo a standard evaluation required by the State of Alabama. The evaluation included memory testing, and we had a good laugh during his testing.

To test his memory he had to answer questions about a story. The story was: “Three men went to the store to buy a bottle of milk for breakfast”. The gal asked him “How many men went to the store?” He replied “Two?” She told him the story again, and he answered “Three.” She asked him “What did they buy?” He smiled broadly and replied, “WWWWWhiskey!!” He repeated his “Whiskey” answer a few more times, and each time it was as funny as the first. The gal ended up skipping the story and going on to the other test questions. But after awhile, Dad got upset about the questioning, and the gal ended off, never completing the test.

When I took him to his room in Rose Manor, all he wanted to do was leave. He continually tried to stand without his walker. In fact, he said if he fell, he would be okay. He did not need the walker. Brad and I both concluded that if he would not use the walker, he would just fall and break other bones. I found out that when he broke his hip, he fell on the carpet in the living room area at Rose Manor. He wasn’t using his walker because he forgot to use it. Even though the carpet was padded, his bones were apparently too brittle to sustain a fall. Rose Manor could not restrain him to the wheelchair. He didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t see how they could manage him anymore.

After I returned him to the Collinsville Nursing Home, he looked relieved. His anxiety had disappeared, and ironically, he seemed at peace. The inevitable option of nursing home care, resisted for so long by both of us, had finally become a reality.

As Dad looked around the Alzheimer’s Unit, he saw himself as top dog. After all, he wasn’t belligerently yelling at other residents, nor crying out in monotonous repetition like some residents. He made more sense than most when he talked. Yes, the size of the fish really is relative, and in this area of the Collinsville Nursing Home, he was the big fish in the little pond–and he felt comfortable with that.

Options for the Elderly

October 2, 2006

While I could have suggested assisted living several years ago, my dad would have never accepted it. At that time he was too preoccupied with proving he could get along by himself. A live-in caregiver would not have worked well for him either. I was the only one he trusted and allowed to help him. Plus, he found my help palatable only in small doses. Learning to gauge how much help to offer and timing the help at the appropriate moment was key. Achieving a delicate balance became an art that I was constantly fine-tuning.

Who knows how long he’d been teetering with disaster at his heels before I started living with him. When the final moment arrived and it became obvious he could no longer live alone at all, dad made his final stand. That protest led to breaking his hip. However, until he broke his hip, he did not realize he was no longer capable of living by himself.

After staying at Dogwood Haven for nearly nine months, Dad landed in the Fort Payne hospital when he became too weak to walk, incontinent, and incoherent. A hospital examination revealed his heart valve had worsened, and he was put on heart medication. He spent a week in the Collinsville Nursing Home, recuperating after his hospital stay. His physical strength rebounded, but his mental faculties never did. Mentally he continued to deteriorate. A medical scan revealed at some earlier time Dad had suffered a stroke. Brad and I suspected a series of strokes had gone medically undetected.

The chapter at Dogwood Haven Assisted Living closed. As dad’s ability to wheel around with his walker grew strong, so did his desire to wander. He made it down the large hill at Dogwood several times, heading out to visit his mother. His creative toileting went beyond the staff’s abilities to assist and supervise him. The owner recommended Rose Manor, a residence licensed to house residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

My son Brad moved Dad into Rose Manor, and I flew in to visit and complete the paper work. With ten residents and four staff on duty, the staff to resident ratio was up to the task. Two nurses were on duty most of the day. Their friendly, home-y atmosphere and competent staff helped calm my dad. He was put on two additional medications to relieve anxiety and help him sleep at night.

His mind continued to slip. I called every day, and one day Dad told me he was going to call Lyn and have her take him home. I explained that I was Lyn, and I was in California now, a bit far away to visit on such short notice. He seemed to understand, and then told me several more times he was ready to go home and would have Lyn come and get him.

Spinning your wheels

October 2, 2006

When I called my dad and asked how his day went, he told me “Really bad.” He had been robbed. I asked what was stolen and he said, “All my money.” “But Dad,” I said, “you didn’t have any money.” “Ha! Ha!” he replied, “Then the bastard didn’t get anything!”

He was very relieved to find out he had experienced a much better day than he thought. After dumping all his belongings out of his drawers and unsuccessfully searching for his money, he needed to put everything back in order. What a task. Was I sure he did not have any money, he wanted to know. I assured him he did not. I told him we kept some  money with the owner of the assisted living center, and I handled the rest so it was safe.

I asked if someone was in his room snooping around. How did he get the idea he had been robbed? He had not seen anyone in his room. He just knew a robber had been there because his money was missing. Yes, he had indeed tricked the robber and was now delighted. Outsmarting the robber by not having any money was very clever. His day swung from defeat to triumph.

A few hours before I called, I felt scatter-brained, like I was spinning my wheels–not getting anything done. Ken said he was feeling the same way. We had no explanation for it. We wondered who was spinning their wheels today. Hmmm…looks like my dad was madly peddling away.

Dad’s Moment in the Sun

October 2, 2006

Just as I was beginning to despair that our new adventure may not be working out, I received an email from our neighbor Brenda about her visit to Dogwood Haven. She included an attachment entitled, “Jack in the Newspaper”. There was my dad with the biggest smile on his face I had ever seen. Brenda explained this was merely one newspaper clipping of my dad. Apparently he’d hit the Fort Payne newspapers twice now as part of the Dogwood Haven news. The other clipping showed him playing games. While she didn’t have that clipping to send me, Brenda reported that the owner had saved a copy for me. Furthermore, the owner was delighted with Jack, and one of the regularly scheduled activity directors had practically adopted him.

Brenda’s mother-in-law, Ruby, had lived at Dogwood Haven for a while now.If you didn’t know otherwise, you would think they hired her as a PR representative. When I first brought my Dad to visit Ruby, she assured that he would love it there. She likened it to being on a cruise. They washed your clothes, provided excellent dining, and brought in entertainment. The only difference was the cruise ship wasn’t going anywhere.

From her visit Brenda further reported Jack was eating lunch and had almost cleared his plate. To best understand why this observation matters, you have to know that in both the hospital and the nursing home, he would pick at his food, leaving most of it untouched. Dad lost five pounds in the hospital and proceeded to lose another eight pounds in the nursing home, arriving at a weight of 122 pounds. Some years ago his normal weight ranged from 155 to 160 pounds. Although he’d shrunk from his five foot nine frame, 122 pounds became an alarming weight for a man his size. Gaining back at least what he’d lost was now a major health concern.

As Brenda announced these rave reviews, I filled with relief. Not only had Dad set foot on the road to better health, he was downright enjoying himself. I so hoped Dogwood Haven was a solution for Dad’s loneliness and boredom. That duo of emotions, which had fueled recent disasters, perhaps now opened the door to a better living solution—for both Dad and me.

A Fresh Start

September 4, 2006

wheel chair sign

After dad’s time rehabilitating in the nursing home was over, we spent several weeks with me caring for him at the house. Truly an adjustment for both of us, I figured out the best way to help him bathe, when to have him use his walker, and when to wheel him around in the wheel chair. Bathroom duties proved to be the most difficult for both of us. Suffice to say, I washed a lot of his clothes on a daily basis. He lost all interest in sorting through and reading his direct mail. Activity dwindled to watching TV and sitting on the porch to look at the lake and pet the dogs.

A physical therapist came to work with him three times a week. As his walking improved, I realized once again that boredom would soon become our nemesis.

Dogwood Haven, our new adventure, rescued us this time. With the help of my son Brad and the neighbors Jim and Brenda, we moved dad’s bedroom furniture into a room in Dad’s new retreat –Dogwood Haven Assisted Living. More like a carpeted house with many bedrooms, Dogwood Haven housed other elderly who found themselves in similar circumstances as my dad.

I seized the opportunity to return to LA. After being in Alabama for more than three months, instead of three weeks, obligations demanded my return. Dad and I decided to try out Dogwood Haven for a month, and I hoped it would become our saving grace. Seasoned with twenty years of experience, the owner suggested a month’s stay as the magic time period—just enough time to win over a new resident.

I started calling Dad daily and was able to reach him usually one day out of three. I discovered he couldn’t get to his phone very quickly. So I had to let it ring for a long time. Next I discovered he was holding the phone upside down with the wrong end at his ear. That didn’t lend toward easy conversation either. Sometimes his hearing aid batteries were dead. The owner and her staff helped iron out the glitches in his care.

I knew in order to win over his heart, Dogwood Haven must defeat the ever impending threat of boredom. Dogwood Haven provided a number of activities to keep residents occupied. However every time I asked Dad how he liked the activities there, he didn’t know what I was talking about. Even specific questions about activities I knew they offered– such as gospel singer performances and bingo games baffled him. I’d seen him eating several times with another elderly guy before I left for LA. I asked him how he liked his new eating companion. He didn’t recall having a new meal companion.

Another Crossroad

September 4, 2006

Geezer crossing

It’s clear we had reached another crossroad. Dad could never be left alone to live by himself.

After a night spent falling out of bed, Dad was exhausted and disoriented. As I sat with him in the Rehab Center, he was looking for cans under the bed and asking me if I’d mailed the stack of letters. Neither question was relevant to anything actually occurring at the time. However the following day, we actually had a decent conversation. We talked about his accountant and how the accountant pushed things back and seldom returned calls. He understood where he was and that his hip was broken and healing. He spoke about his roommate Herman. He also looked at me and told me he appreciated my coming to visit him every day. He told me he couldn’t believe both of his parents were gone. I knew what he meant.

When a good friend of mine called, she often talked to my dad too. He loved that and referred to her as his little girlfriend. I let her know my dad has lots of girlfriends– the gal at the bank, our neighbor Brenda, the dental assistant etc. She didn’t seem to mind.

When she spoke to him in the nursing home, she asked if he was looking forward to going home. He told her he would have to see how things worked out.

Medicare covers twenty days of nursing home rehabilitation. As we neared the end of paid coverage, I let Dad know that choices lay before us. We both agreed the nursing home fee of $123 a day wasn’t a preferred option. My heart sank when he said “If care is going to cost too much, maybe I should just end it.” What did he mean just “end it”? Fortunately, it didn’t mean overdosing on medication or asphyxiating in a garage filled with carbon monoxide. He simply figured once he decided to end it, life would cease by virtue of his decision. I explained that it does not always work out that way, and besides, we had plenty of favorable options to consider.

An All Expenses Paid Rehabilitation Vacation

September 3, 2006

Senior Citizens

According to the chest x-ray, dad’s pneumonia had cleared up. A week after being admitted, he was released at 5:00 p.m. and driven by ambulance to the Rehab Center (nursing home) in Fort Payne. Here he would remain until able to get around better. At this facility, family members were not allowed to stay all night in patient’s rooms. I sighed with relief.

I warned the Rehab Center staff about dad’s leaving attempts. Equipped for situations like these, they connected beepers to patients’ beds. One end of a strap attached the beeper to the patient’s gown, and the other end attached to the bed. As the patient moved and pulled on the strap, the beeper sounded off to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”.

At first the beeper sensitivity was set so high that whenever Dad made the slightest move “Mary had a little lamb” filled the room with her familiar tune. The music provided entertainment and became the brunt of on-going jokes between my dad and his roommate, Herman.

Dad finally settled down. His restlessness subsided, and his determination to exit lessened. The facility provided daily activities for old folks residing there. Ranking high on the list was gospel singing from visitors with hearts of gold, who genuinely loved and cared about old folks. Their warmth made up for off key singing that Dad must have found soothing. He kept nodding and falling sleep during their performances, which I welcomed as a good sign. His body needed rest in order to heal.

However, his stay at the Rehab Center wasn’t uneventful. During his first night, when the staff had not yet hooked up the beeper, at 3:30 a.m. they  found him on the floor. A week or so later, I got a call at 6:30 in the morning. They found Dad on the floor again. Fortunately he didn’t seem to be hurt and had no new bruises. The beeper only alerted the staff, but did not prevent Dad from getting out of bed. Invariably he was trying to go to the bathroom. No amount of repetitive explaining about pushing the nurse call button, or warning him he could fall, affected his fixed thought patterns regarding bathroom detail.

His pattern of fierce independence prevailed, even when it seemed there was no recourse, but to ask for help. His immovable decision to do things on his own had endured every test. One could only hope he would realize the non-survival aspect of his decision, especially when his attempts proved so disastrous. I hated seeing Dad downtrodden, but as life winds down you are able to do less and less. He still had his sense of humor. Looking around the Rehab Center, (I didn’t dare call it a nursing home) he said he could see he wasn’t the only sad sack there. Truly, he was much less of a sad sack than many of the old folks we saw roaming the halls with walkers or wheelchairs.

Dad in Wonderland

September 3, 2006

fishing dad

The next day Dad was still awake and hallucinating due to lack of sleep and the “sedative”. In his crazed state of mind, he began seeing bugs on my face and hot dogs in the trees outside the window. He started threading a line on his invisible fishing rod and casting from the bed. From his food tray he was taking bites of imaginary dishes. As my dad was laughing and having his first psychedelic experience, I was short on sleep myself, and thought it would never end. That night they gave him a sedative that actually put him to sleep, and we finally got some rest.

Despite all the marvels of modern medicine, the following night, the exact same sedative did not work. During his sleepless commotion, he managed to pull out his catheter and IV, and once again became very busy with hospital exit strategies.

Prior to dad’s surgery, doctors discovered he had a heart murmur. However, a number of tests determined he was in good enough shape for hip surgery, despite his heart condition. The hospital cardiologist returned at the end of Dad’s stay to do a follow up heart test, an echo encardiogram. The cardiologist proposed exploratory minor surgery to determine the severity of heart valve damage causing the murmur. I discovered by questioning the doctor, heart murmurs develop over a long period of time, in fact, years.

I figured anyone walking two to four miles a day for the past twelve years was surviving quite well despite a heart murmur. Piggybacking another surgery on top of the one he had, sounded like an exercise in ignorance for a man my dad’s age. Dad would hate every minute of another surgery. It might crush his spirits completely, severely lessening his chances of longer survival. I told the cardiologist “no thanks” on the offer of minor surgery exploration.

When I encountered the cardiologist’s assisting intern in the elevator, he said no further surgery was a wise decision. I felt vindicated. The assistant seemed to have a higher level of care and honesty than the doctor–perhaps because surgery did not represent a paycheck for him.

The Inevitable Hospital Stay

September 3, 2006

Looking Better

After consulting with our neighbor Wydean, the neighborhood authority on who’s who and what’s what in Fort Payne, we were up-to-date on hospital horror stories. We followed her strict advice to admit Dad to Gadsden Regional Medical Center through their emergency section the next morning. The following day, the orthopedic surgeon operated on his hip and put in five screws and a plate. Surgery went very well. The surgeon said Dad lost very little blood, and it had been a clean break.

I stayed beside him day and night, sleeping in a chair that opened up into a bed. Hospital policy stated a family member or friend should remain with an elderly patient throughout the hospital stay. It was a wise policy, especially in my dad’s case. Keeping him in bed became the most difficult aspect of caring for him. He was obsessed with getting out of bed—either to go to the bathroom or go home.

After two days, when my son Brad and our neighbors Brenda and Jim came to visit, I finally got a chance to go to the house, take a shower, pack a bag of clothes, and return.

In my absence, the physical therapists had worn dad out walking him around. Brad said he protested loudly about the pain and after the exercise felt cold, shaky, and exhausted. He was fast asleep when I returned. A few hours later, after Brad and the neighbors had gone, the hospital attendant tried to take Dad’s  blood pressure and temperature. He could not wake Dad up. “Mr. Jack –wake up,” the attendant repeated over and over, while nudging him gently. No response. Putting a cold wet washcloth on my dad’s face finally aroused him. The thermometer revealed Dad was burning up with a fever of 103.5 degrees.

For whatever reason, the hospital attendant did not believe the temperature reading was accurate and kept insisting it could not be right. His theory that dad got hot from all the covers didn’t bode well with me at all. Dad used the same amount of covers the whole time in the hospital. I told this to the hospital attendant, who barely looked eighteen and reeked of inexperience. Dad’s face appeared flushed; his eyes were glazed over and his skin felt hot. I could see him try to talk, but no words would come out. His breathing sounded congested.

Still in disbelief, the kid said we would wait a few minutes, and he would re-take Dad’s temperature. Meanwhile, I wet a washcloth and started sponging Dad’s face, neck and hands. When the kid returned in 10 minutes to re-take the temperature it now read 103.4 degrees.

The hospital staff took fast action using ice packs and Tylenol to bring down the fever. Dad had developed pneumonia. I continued to sponge his face and hands. After a few hours the fever was down. They had him on antibiotics, and he was on the upswing. He started recovering from pneumonia with the highest temperatures never much over 99 degrees. However, he didn’t sleep for two nights. The supposed sedative they gave him the second night acted as a stimulant. He became a wild man doing bed calisthenics, with ongoing attempts to leap out of the bed.

Beware—if all is “well”

September 3, 2006

Come out now

Yes, things were going very well. Whenever Dad got a bit antsy, he would go for a walk, and his restlessness would fade away. As he was setting out for another walk, I cheerfully wished him a good one and said I would see him soon.

What other man 88 years old walks two, four, or six miles a day? Taking these walks provided a challenge, and he was proud of his accomplishment.

His walk usually lasted about an hour, and I was thinking he would be returning soon when the phone rang. When I answered, a woman asked if Milly was there. I told her Milly didn’t live here. She said she must have dialed the wrong number and was about to hang up when I thought to mention my mother’s name was Milly. The neighbor’s Labrador retriever was also named Millie. That Millie was taking a walk with my Dad. She asked me if Jack lived here. I told her yes–Jack was my father. Perhaps she was a family friend who had been out of touch and did not realize my mother had passed away.

But when she said Dad had fallen down on the road from our house, a harsh reality set in. Running with what speed I could muster and was quickly out of breath. Then I saw them just after the road slanted downhill. The mail lady was sitting with my dad in her car. She had found him lying on the pavement, moments after he had fallen. He was hurt and unable to walk.

Dad insisted he would be fine and was sure he hadn’t broken anything. I called our retired neighbor, Brenda’s husband Jim, to see whom they used as a doctor here in Fort Payne. Jim couldn’t remember. Given my dad’s animosity toward hospitals and doctors, Jim helped me take him to a chiropractor. The chiropractor took four x-rays and the last one showed a break in the upper femur near the hip.

Dead Set on Driving

September 2, 2006

Dead set on driving

Dad’s “re-activation” plan moved onto the next phase, and he began bugging me about getting the trucks fixed. The truck he bashed up was a 1986 Ford Ranger. His other truck, a 1987 Ford, had not run in awhile.

My son Brad came over and got the Ranger out of the tree. He drove it back to the house, and there it sat in the driveway with its bumper and radiator crushed and shaped into an almost perfect “V.”

After checking and testing various possible causes, Brad discovered the 1987 Ford wouldn’t start because it wasn’t in “park”. The column shifter did not indicate the correct gear anymore, so you never knew which gear you were in.

Upon hearing that, I thanked our lucky stars Dad had never been able to start the truck. Oh, and he had tried. I marveled at the analogy between the truck’s column shifter and my dad’s mind. Both were unpredictable. You never knew which gear would set them moving and in what direction.

Repairing both trucks turned into Dad’s next pet project. By this time, I had to face the fact that in spite of having crashed into the tree, Dad still had big plans for driving.

Although dad’s driving days were over, getting a stubborn, fiercely independent 88-year old man to see he should not be driving was a daunting task. Mentioning his poor memory problems and lengthened reaction time only fueled his stubborn resolve. My new tack to convince him not to drive had back-fired.

I told him his friend Harry Partridge didn’t drive anymore. His driver’s license had been revoked, and his kids had taken the keys away from him. The mention of Harry provided the opening Dad was looking for, and he cleverly pointed out that Harry was 101 years old while he was merely 88 years old. Then Dad launched into a lengthy digression on the subject of Harry, leading us far off the track, away from the subject of driving. While his memory may not have served him, his wily, divertive tactics still did.

Taking another approach, I shifted the topic back to trucks. If I couldn’t get him to quit driving the trucks, perhaps I could eliminate trucks to drive. I told him it was like pouring money down the drain to fix trucks we didn’t need anymore. He only used the one truck to dump trash in the landfill. We could start using a garbage disposal service, like his other neighbors, and get rid of the trash eyesore in the woods. He kept  insisting it was very handy to have a truck. I kept asking what else he would use it for, and he kept saying it was handy for things. A circular conversation ensued, resulting in a stalemate. Not even appealing to his frugal nature would budge him from his position. At this point I called in reinforcements.

When Dad went for his walk, I phoned Brad. I asked him if he could please return the other leaf blower and see if Dad had ruined the leaf blower full of anti-freeze. I also solicited his opinion about Dad’s driving. My inquiry unleashed Brad’s stored up protest which came gushing forth. Climbing onto his soapbox, Brad assured me there was no way Gramps should be driving;. He was a veritable hazard on the road to man and beast. Ah ha! An ally for my camp! A fighter in my corner! As the saying goes, “I love it when a plan comes together.” And as while we talked, we stamped the seal on dad’s driving fate.

Brad came over, and between the two of us. we convinced Dad that a garbage disposal service was better than an unsightly landfill. Brad nailed Dad down on the other handy truck uses–hauling brush and filling potholes. After building and paving the road to the house, those uses had disappeared. Dad relented, and in his moment of agreement I rushed him down to sign up and pay for the garbage disposal service.

Brad helped me figure out how to sell the trucks. I hid the vehicle keys. At last the turmoil was laid to rest. Life settled down and complacency gradually filtered into the coming days. I resumed my home-based business endeavors, and Dad returned benignly to his three routines of “finding out about the world” (watching TV), reading his stack of direct mail, and taking several, sometimes as many as three walks a day.

New Uses for Familiar Things

September 2, 2006

Geezer

Our neighbor Brenda called and asked if she could borrow our leaf blower.  There sat the leaf blower ever–ready, outside on the steps where my Dad had left it. It dawned on me that it was out of fuel. I found the leaf-blower manual and was checking for fuel proportions, when Brenda drove up. I announced Brenda’s arrival to my dad so he could come out and say “Hey” as they do here in Alabama.

Brenda said a wasp stung her while driving over in the car. The last time she got stung it took a week  for the swelling to go down. To avoid further aggravation from the sting, she decided to postpone leaf blowing for a few days. I offered to have her take the blower with her and gave her the manual. She would just take the manual and leave the blower at our house. In the meantime, her husband Jim could figure out fuel proportions and get the gas and oil ready for when she used the blower.

At this point, my dad picked up the container of anti-freeze sitting on the steps and offered it to Brenda to take with her. She asked what was in the container and my Dad replied that he didn’t’ know, but it might be something she could use. I told Brenda it was anti-freeze. She said their cars had closed engines and probably wouldn’t need it. Yes, I thought, that was one good reason not to need it, and the 70-degree April weather was also another. Rest assured fuel lines wouldn’t be freezing up anytime soon.

Brenda drove off. As I looked at the blower, I thought about filling it  with gasoline and oil to save Brenda and Jim the trouble. I turned the blower on its side, unscrewed the gas cap, and lo and behold, a thick green goo filled the opening to the brim. It appeared my Dad had, after all, figured out the use of antifreeze.

Though a far cry from a mechanical genius, even I figured antifreeze was not good for a leaf blower. But beyond that, I was clueless about what to do. So I called my son Brad. He couldn’t come over right away because he was leaving for work to begin his 2-10 p.m. night shift. Dad had two leaf blowers anyway. Brad said he would bring back the other one he borrowed, in case this one was ruined.

How did we end up with two blowers? Whenever Dad could not find something–which occurred frequently–he would go out and buy a new one. That is how he ended up with zillions of socks. He said it would probably take him a year to wear every pair, but that was assuming he could find them.

With the leaf-blower problem under control, I delved back into my new freelance business. However,  Dad had other ideas. My little office with computer was located to the side of the kitchen on a desk area, extending out from the kitchen counter. The banging began as my Dad started opening and shutting kitchen cupboards searching for something. I asked him what he was looking for and he told me a wrench. Well, amazingly enough…we don’t keep wrenches in the kitchen cupboards. I suggested he look on the shelves in the entryway where numerous other tools were located. I asked him why he needed a wrench and he answered vaguely, saying he was working on something. There comes a time when you just do not want to know. I had other things to do, and there would be no grilling him about what he was going to do with that wrench. The wrench remained an unsolved a mystery.

On a Roll

September 2, 2006

Bouncing Seniors

Hoping Dad would bask in truck crash memories awhile longer, I worked on my computer-based business. However, Dad was still set on proving his survival capabilities.

While chatting on the phone with our neighbor Brenda, out of the corner of my eye, I saw dad wearing a silly straw hat as he headed out the door. My mom bought that beach hat years ago. Fifteen manly golf caps hung on hooks inside the door entry area. Yet Dad sidestepped grabbing one on his way out. As he waved and scurried out the door I thought, “Who is going to see him anyway? He is just going for a walk in the woods.”

Then I heard an engine revving, and with the portable phone in my hand and Brenda still on the line, I bolted out the door to chase after him. He pulled out in the burgundy Chevrolet Lumina that he had come to call “the red car.” As I raced toward the car, yelling as loud as I could for him to stop, he became aware of my commotion and stepped on the brake. At least there were no dogs riding in the front seat with him.  I noticed his seat belt was fastened, but the door was ajar. Seat belts fulfilled a new purpose–they kept you from falling out of open car doors.

Out of breath, I asked him where he was going. He hesitated and with a look of confusion replied vaguely, “Oh, just down the road”. A bit of questioning revealed he was headed toward the woods. I asked him not to go far or take long because dinner would soon be ready. As I walked  toward the house, I warned Brenda he was headed her way. She said she would watch out for him. But, a  few minutes later,  he pulled back into the carport. The mailbox held an enormous stack of mail, which distracted him from his drive to the woods.  So, he returned to weed through the mail.  A remnant of his old routine reasserted itself–a welcome break from recent adventures.

Unleashing the Storm

August 27, 2006

Racing Grandpa

The unleashing began with the leaf blower. While working at the computer, I heard the muffled buzz. Dad was blowing away all the leaves, and cleaning up the steps and porch. Then an engine started up, and he drove off in his truck without finishing, abandoning a mound of leaves stacked by the front door entrance. Leaf blowing can be tiring, hard work for a guy, eighty-eight years old. How odd though–what was the container of anti-freeze doing on the front steps?

I figured Dad was taking trash to the landfill, an eyesore he’d created on his property for trash dumping. But if so, why was the trash still in the house? As forgetful as he was,  odds were he had forgotten the trash and would soon return.

The next thing I knew, Dad came huffing and puffing through the door. There had been no sound of an engine approaching. Dumping the mail on the table, he said, “I crashed the truck into a tree.” My smug feeling of having “everything under control” instantly dissipated. In shock, I looked blankly at my dad. There were no cuts or scratches. “Are you OK?” I asked. He assured me he didn’t get hurt at all and neither did the neighbor’s dogs that rode in the front seat with him. The front of the truck, however, was all bashed in and stuck in a tree. Surprisingly, it still ran when you turned the key in the ignition.

When asked what happened, he said, “Seems one of the dogs was lying on my foot. I couldn’t get my foot off the accelerator. Boy! If you don’t think that was a thrill, flying 80 miles per hour down the hill. I dodged the trees for as long as I could. Finally,  one stopped the truck.”

Oddly enough, this misadventure put a sparkle in my dad’s eyes. He had not experienced such excitement in quite awhile. Nothing breathes life into you like besting a dance with danger. Wrestling in death’s clutches he came out unscathed. We took a walk into the woods the next day to admire the smashed truck and how it was lodged into the tree.


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