Wednesday, July 1, 2015
My father has been gone 5 months now. His presence is still strong in my house. In the suite of rooms he occupied, his pictures still hang on the walls, furniture remains mostly in place, and clothes still await him in the closet and drawers.
The last shirt he wore is hanging from its wooden rod, the pocket still holding his ever-present tire gauge and a pen and pencil. These items were consistently with him, even when he could not remember whose house he was in, nor what city he currently occupied, nor the name of his beloved dog. His personal habits remain, in suspended animation. Shirts, socks, pants - all these seem to be holding their thready breath.
Several sets of dominoes are gathering dust. Old score sheets line the canvas bag in which we toted our "bones" to the senior centers every week. The specially-designed domino table is folded and stored in the garage near his 1955 Oldsmobile.
The dogs, and especially his own dog, Toto, spent several weeks waiting for him to return after he passed away. They have adjusted by now, but I think Toto still looks for him, now and then.
We feel lost without him. Our days and nights were scheduled around his needs and interests. Meals, walks, medications, appointments, errands, conversations we recycled several times a day - these are now shelled out to fit only two people. For quite a while, we set the table for three people: habit persisted despite Dad's absence. His chair stood empty at the kitchen table and his favorite easy chair was used only by the dogs. There is less energy required to keep house, fewer loads of laundry to do, smaller meals to prepare, nobody to keep entertained. As a caregiver, I am out of a job.
I tried to always see him as "Dad" and not as his memory disorder. He did change outwardly over the eight years he lived with us, but so did we! He kept charging along, up until his last three weeks of life, wanting to keep up his habits and routines. My husband likes to say that Dad had a "strong self-image" - a sense of who-what-how he essentially was as a person. He was a very consistent personality.
He developed double pneumonia at the end - caused by a faulty swallow reflex that was part of his Parkinson's Disease. He aspirated some food or drink and it set up shop in his lungs, instead of in his stomach. We decided to bring him home from the hospital and do home hospice. It was a very intense time, but we had private-duty nurses coming in all day and night, so he was never alone and always cared for at every point of need. I would do it all again, it suited him. He passed on right at home, with his dogs and his family. No pain, just peace.
Through the whole process - living, losing memories, spending time together, enduring illness and also happiness - we were upheld by Grace. The best definition of Grace that I have ever heard was told to us by Sister Julie Maduka:
"GRACE is the unmeritied favor of God to empower you to do, and to become, all that God intended for you. It is a free Gift and it is Priceless."