Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Time Travel DOES exist!

Sitting with Dad
Who can doubt that we time travel, when we can get on a plane, cross 3 time zones and arrive thousands of miles away in a matter of hours? The Time Traveler has nothing on me, I did it only last week! I left Calgary, AB Tuesday morning at 9AM and arrived in Fredericton, NB at 7PM - now tell me, how many of you can do that? Yup, time travel!

The intent of my two and a half week trip was first to visit my parents, stay with my Mom in her house in Lethbridge, AB while visiting my Dad in a care home. I was to spend 8 days there, then travel on to Vancouver and Nanaimo and end it all with a book signing of my new book - Poems From the Heart and Hearth.  Well after one visit with my father, I knew I wasn't going anywhere except to his doctor to learn more about his health.

I think I ended up shorter from hunching over
I was shocked, I hadn't seen Dad for almost 3 years and I had known then that he had changed. His reactions, comments and behaviour were, to say the least "off." I had no idea how far he had fallen. Yes, my daughter had seen him last summer and spent time with him, I knew he had been put into a care home, which was against his wishes, I had heard he was starving himself and I knew he had lost a LOT of weight. I was still not prepared for what and who I faced.

Time travel: My Dad was born in 1939, he was always strong, a hard worker and at 6'2" he started his married life at 185 lbs and at his heaviest hit about 300 lbs. He was a bear of a man, sometimes a teddy bear and at others a grizzly bear but he was never small, in personality or stature. So, to see him, laying prone  in his recliner that could lift him to standing, watch him struggle to speak, strain to hear the words and decipher them, see him unable to feed himself, barely able to lift his drink and straw to his mouth, struggling to stay awake for any period of time and at the mercy of the care of others, was alarming. I will say, that he is still in there. I looked into his eyes for hours every day, for two weeks and he is there. He knows what is going on and he doesn't like it. Can't say I blame him. 

A shave from Chad
Even as I write this and I have taken a week to think before putting words to paper, I have to take care about what I say to allow him as much dignity as possible in his final days, while sharing the reality that I experienced. Dignity, this is a word I have heard a lot lately. Some people say it doesn't matter anymore, others say that there is never any dignity in dying, while I and some people close to me believe that if we allow him as much dignity as we can, we are honouring him and respecting him. Besides, isn't that what any of us would want? 

On the day of my first visit, my heart was racing and my breathing got shallow as my visit approached. I couldn't eat or deal with any minor irritations or small talk - I had to build up my strength and courage since I knew it would be rough. I still wasn't ready. I got to his room, said "Hi" and he knew me, he smiled and was happy to see me. Then he tried to talk to me and I just couldn't get it, I was aware I was frustrating him and was devastated that I couldn't figure out what he wanted. There was no one there to help me, interpret or give me direction. I told him I would go get a nurse and by the time I got to the nurses station I was crying, deeply sobbing and my chest was heaving. The nurse said it's OK, when I told her it had been 3 years and that I didn't know what to do. They took over, helped him with what he needed and I took a few minutes to calm down. I felt awful letting him see me that way.

With me and my girls
I spent three hours there that first day and slowly started to understand what he needed, when he needed it and how to begin to predict where we were going in our communication. I had brought my new book to show Dad but he wasn't up to it. However, being as practical as he is, he asked me how much I paid for it and how much I sold it for. Yes, Dad always nailed the basics down right away! We took time to talk, mostly me talking, him smiling and remembering. He asked where my girls were and I told him they were coming but I needed to see him alone first, no kids, no Mom, just us. It was good.

After leaving that day I knew I wasn't going anywhere else. My only mission this trip was to spend time with Dad, as much as possible, help him however I could and to give Mom a rest and friendship and love while spending time together. The next morning I told Mom I wanted to see Dad's doctor, I needed to hear what was wrong with him, what was happening and what we would face. Her doctor was great, apparently he specializes in geriatric patients and he gave us a lot of time to meet with him. He explained to me that Dad had probably had this type of dementia for a long time, maybe years. I think now it has been more like about 6 or 7  years coming on. His motor skills are shutting down, that is why he falls, has no balance, reduced speech - since his vocal chords are not doing what he tells them too and can't manipulate his body effectively. He is cognitive, he knows what is going on, he remembers all of his behaviour (well as much as any of us do I suppose) and this dementia affects some of his ability to make rational decisions. Yes, that explains a lot over the years too. Thank you Dr. Bly for making the time for us, twice, while I was there. It was incredibly helpful.

At Kayden's Baptism
That night with Mom, I contacted my brothers so we were all on the same page. I contacted my Dad's living siblings and  gave them an update. No need to come, but we could be looking at 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years. Well, I think weeks and months but I am not in the medical system. On Tuesday of that week, day three of my visits, I asked Dad what he wanted? He wants to die. I knew that. He never wanted this (no one does, but Dad was always vehement about his wishes) I told him... go. It's OK. We had a long communication over that one and I expect one day soon I will hear that he has left us. We ensured the care home and doctor were aware of his wishes.

I told him, he has lived his life, done his best, messed up, made mistakes and done what he could to help others. He is ready, he just needs to believe it. I told him, you are forgiven by me for anything that may be between us, it is OK. Now if I wasn't a parent and if I hadn't made monumental child rearing mistakes - I might not be able to get past everything, but I am a parent and I hope that on my death bed, my children will love me unconditionally, forgive me and let me move forward with a clear conscience. I am not God, it is not my job to judge Dad or anyone else. 

Spending two weeks with my Dad, by his side, feeding him, washing his face, helping him with his needs, I never once felt impatient or put upon. I just felt love that I was able to do for him,  a little of what he had done for me in my life. I could give back. I wasn't there to get anything, but I did, I got peace. I hope I gave him a little back.

Family celebrating Althea's mission
So much happened, there is so much I could say, but suffice it to say that I was where I needed to be, doing what I needed to do. I was surrounded by loved ones, my brothers, their families, my children, niece, nephew, relatives, all caring, kind and supportive. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend what is likely my final days with my Dad. I eventually was able to read him the poems I had written for him and I could see he was touched. I was happy that I could tell him how I felt. We have never been big on saying the words, so this was a means to let him know the love I feel.

Dad, thank you, for who you were, warts and all, you helped me be who I am. Thank you for sharing, laughing and smiling as we remembered moments from my childhood that were between us. For the pleasure on your face as I recalled times you had treated me special as the only girl at the time - even though you had forgotten them. It is easy to become an adult and push back your past, to forget the good in your childhood and dwell on the negative. I am glad I have good memories and I thank both of my parents for their love.
Dad and I around 2000?
Our family in the 1970's
Time travel does exist. As we sit and look at old pictures, videos, tell stories and remember a bear of a man who I am proud to call my Dad. That big bear is now back to about 190 lbs and he is frail and counting the days. When you pass over Dad, remember I love you and your grandchildren adore you!