Today it is two years since my dad died.
Although it was a shock, it also wasn’t. My dad had suffered four strokes in the last nineteen years, the first one when my daughter, his only grandchild, was only two weeks old. It was on the right side of his brain, meaning that the left side of his body was affected, but not his speech. He spent many months in rehab relearning how to dress himself, bathe, walk. Through it all, he remained upbeat and optimistic. Having a new grandbaby around also kept his spirits up. As he once told me, “At first, I was a little depressed, wondering ‘Why me?’ Then one day I thought, ‘Why NOT me?’ and then I felt better.”
All this was very hard on my mom, who not only worried tremendously that he might fall and injure himself, but also had to become my dad’s caregiver and take over all the household chores. She hadn’t driven much prior to this, but now she had to. She now had to deal with all their financial affairs, house repairs, car maintenance by herself. This is not to say that my dad had always done everything and my mom was completely uninvolved, not at all. My parents were always a team, doing things together, but now, Mom had no choice, she was forced into a solo role for which she wasn’t quite ready.
Still, life went on. Darling Daughter grew, and adored her Papa. He may not have been able to walk without a cane or pick her up and put her on his knee for a cuddle, but he spent many, many hours with her. He read to her, told her stories, drew for her, went for (slow) walks with her. She had the best grandfather, even if there were things he couldn’t do.
About ten years later, Dad had a second stroke. This one had more debilitating effects. His speech was affected more, and sometimes he had more trouble articulating words. His balance was shaky, and he began to spend more time in his wheelchair. His memory started to go. His body weakened.
There was a third stroke, but Mom and Dad both realized that it was fairly minor and that the hospital would be able to do nothing except keep him in for observation for a few days. The ambulance wasn’t called this time, but Dad’s overall condition was a little worse, especially his memory. He became very quiet and much more withdrawn after that.
Our last Christmas together, in 2006, it was clear to me that we were not going to have Dad around much longer. He looked so old and seemed to have so little energy. Yet, my brother was able to come home for the holidays, and Dad rallied amazingly. He was charming and witty – almost his old self (except he sometimes forgot what he had just said and sometimes it was pretty obvious that he had no idea which family member we were talking about!). But we had a wonderful time, and we were able to forget for a while just how weak Dad was.
Then, near the end of January 2007, Dad suddenly looked at Mom and said something entirely unintelligible. Mom asked him to repeat it and he didn’t seem to understand what she said. He mumbled some more gibberish and looked totally confused. Heart sinking, Mom called the ambulance again.
He’d had another stroke. But this time, the doctors told her, there was no way she could bring him home and look after him herself. He was just too mentally confused, and with his weakened physical condition, she just would not be able to cope. She understood, and plans were made for him to be transferred to the geriatric department of the hospital for a while, until a more permanent place could be found for him.
The last time I saw him, Dad’s speech was coming back, but he couldn’t remember a lot of words. He could only recall my first name, and I wonder if the only way he knew that I was his daughter was that I called him Dad. He asked after his granddaughter many times, and when I told him she was at work, he chuckled, “Oh, he loves his money, doesn’t he!” He repeatedly asked Mom if she’d help him get dressed and then they could go back to “her place”. When it was time to leave, we had to get the nurses to distract him so we could actually slip out the door.
The next day, Mom went back to the hospital to help transfer Dad to his new room in geriatrics. She said it was very nice, and that Dad quite liked the view of the mountains from the window. He had friendly roommates, and seemed content. I was unable to visit him that night, but Mom assured me he was as comfortable as could be expected.
The hospital called Mom at about 1 a.m. on January 26, 2007. She called me. He was gone. But really, he had left us about five years previously, when his memory really started to fail him and he seemed to just withdraw.
I know we were lucky to have had him for all those years, that we were on borrowed time. But I think about him a lot and miss him and love him. I always will.