It's taken me awhile to get to a point where I feel like writing about dad but he is much on my mind as my first Father's Day without him has passed.
After mother died in 2011, he grieved by blaming me and my brothers for moving them out of their house and into an assisted living facility where we believed mother could get the care she needed in the final weeks of her life. He was frustrated at his inability to "fix" her and angry with us for arranging for others to help with her care. After she died in 2011, he actually said that moving her had killed her, that if we had left them alone she would still be alive. He insisted on returning to his house and even though we believed he needed the services of assisted living we honored his wishes and arranged for home care services for him. Eventually he needed more care and at times seemed lonely and even afraid alone in the house. In the fall of 2013 he agreed to move to a studio apartment at the Cedars of Austin and surprised us all by soon calling it home. He spoke kindly (most of the time) about the staff and the care he received there. Surrounded by the few things that mattered to him, his television, favorite blankets and a small refrigerator that held his ice cream treats, juices and forbidden tobacco chew, he settled into a routine and kept peace with those around him. Most of all, he loved the daily visits from his nurse, Nancy J. and we all appreciated the loving care she showed him the last few years of his life.
Dad knew he had family that loved him, even forgave him for his bad behavior at the time of mother's death. We all had unique relationships with him. My older brother David and sister-in-law Mary visited him daily and proximity made them his first responders. Jim and I started referring to them as our new heroes because of their 24/7 dad-duty. They did a stellar job of attending to his every need (and most wants!) and they were unfailing in keeping us informed so that we were all in agreement about important decisions effecting his care. Younger brother Duane seemed to be dad's emotional partner. Often quiet and not verbally communicative with me and David, he and Duane spent many hours talking about his early life, war year experiences, hunting and fishing escapades and end of life issues. With me, he often seemed most content to just sit and hold my hand. As the only girl, he seemed to want to spare me any stress and frequently told me "not to worry my pretty little head" about whatever current issue we faced. We siblings joked that we seemed to take turns being the "fair-haired golden child" - he didn't hesitate to let each of us know when one of the others had done a particularly good, or bad deed, usually involving him!
Those few years passed quickly even though failing health prompted innumerable doctors appointments, lab visits, several ambulance rides and hospitalizations At times, those happenings interrupted our lives and prompted a flurry of phone calls among us as we put our heads together to decide the best way to walk him through the modern medical mine field. We occasionally gathered together in the Twin Cities, or in Austin to chart a plan and make sure we were in agreement. I think now that those 10 years we were so engrossed in taking care of our parents brought us closer together as adult siblings than anything else could have.
Although I knew it couldn't be, sometimes it seemed like he would be there forever! Even as the years passed and he grew old - really old - he never seemed frail. His voice was always strong, and his big hands always held mine tight. He still joked with us, lectured as he saw fit, remained headstrong in his opinions, and grumbled when he wanted to. But when he declined to attend his granddaughter's wedding, he met his match and her tears got him to agree to (as it turned out) his last adventure. He was the early attraction at the reception as family and friends gathered around his wheelchair and snapped pictures that we now all treasure.
And then the end that seemed so very long in coming, came so fast. From March until October he had done so well, not needing much intervention. And then suddenly there were many failing systems and a required hospitalization which he declared would be his last. He agreed to hospice care when he was released from the hospital and left the Cedars only once more, to join family for Thanksgiving dinner at David and Mary's house in Austin. One day in early December his eating slowed and he slept more. David alerted us to come and we began a round the clock watch at his bedside. I was blessed to be sitting with him the morning his ragged breathing slowed and as I took his hand one last time, I said the Lord's Prayer aloud to him. He looked directly at me and closed his eyes. I felt a change in our grasp as he slipped away and I knew he was gone.
At 93, dad was the last of his generation in our family and his passing gives me a new sense of my own mortality and the realization of the passing of time. I turned 70 this year but no matter how hold you are, I think you always have the capacity for feeling childlike, until your parents are gone. Now I am the parent, the senior, the elder but wearing this mantle comfortably make take some time. I sense my adult children are beginning to look at me in the ways I looked at my parents. Sometimes they seem impatient with me if I miss a cue or forget something and I feel defensive, not because they are wrong but because I know they are right. I am well aware of the creeping signs of aging in my life; I'm just not ready to have others notice!