Category Archives: Grief

It’s Finally Over

I have been trying to write again for over a month, and have found myself utterly unable to write a word. Everything I try to say comes out wrong, and in general I feel like someone has sucked my brain out of my head and left me bereft of thought and sense.

A friend told me that grieving makes you feel like you are walking through jello; that everything is exhausting and takes more energy than you have in your body. She also said that she cried at the oddest times, mostly at church and while hiking. I can confirm that I have cried both in church and while working out, so she must be right. Some days I feel emotionally numb and can get through the day without much trouble, and other days I have no motivation to work or move; all I want to do is sit and cry.

My father died of Alzheimer’s on May 7th.

We found out that he had Alzheimer’s about a month before he died. Until then we believed that he had vascular dementia that was caused by his 2009 stroke. And honestly, he did have vascular dementia… it’s just that Alzheimer’s snuck up on us and started turning up the volume on his decline until the advance of Alzheimer’s was unmistakable. Vascular dementia has a much slower trajectory, allowing its victims to suffer for many years before they die. My grandmother died of vascular dementia shortly after she turned 90. She had suffered with vascular dementia for 10-15 years before she died; we have no idea how long she had dementia for sure because she was living in another state and so we didn’t clearly perceive the onset of her dementia. The late stages of her dementia took far too long to take her life and she suffered, unable to move much or speak at all for close to a year before she died.

My father’s death took us by storm, happening in only seven days. It began when he struck another resident, giving the poor man a black eye. The facility increased his medication to reduce my father’s agitation, and he began to sleep almost 24 hours a day. I insisted that he was over-medicated. Looking back, I think I was just in denial that his dementia was advancing with lightening speed.  The memory care facility where we placed my dad is renowned for its ability to deal with seniors with behavior problems; the majority of residents are fully functioning despite being medicated to prevent aggression. The sad fact is that my father was simply moving quickly into his final stages.

My father fell four times in four days, splitting open both eyebrows, bruising himself extensively, and finally breaking his upper left arm very badly. He seemed to be unable to stand or get out of bed without collapsing to the floor. The day he broke his arm was the last day that he was able to communicate at all; that night the hospice nurses found him thrashing in his bed and they were unable to calm him no matter what medications for pain or anxiety they administered. They called my mother just short of midnight to let her know that he appeared to have terminal agitation. Terminal agitation is familiar to hospice nurses, as many patients become restless, agitated, unable to be calmed or find a comfortable position as they move into their final days. The hospice nurse did her best to comfort my father, even holding him in her arms to comfort him as he struggled, calling for my mother and crying out in distress.  The hospice workers called to let my mother know that my father would likely die in the next four to five days, and she called me immediately afterwards to let me know that my father was dying.

By the time I got to see my father Sunday morning, he was already unresponsive. By Sunday night he was showing signs of wasting (hollow cheeks, change in skin tone.) By Monday morning his temples were hollow. I sat with him, singing hymns and reading Scripture. My mother and I discussed what we might want at his memorial service. My dad ran a fever that couldn’t be suppressed and we listened to the sounds of the ‘death rattle’ as he struggled to breathe. We finally left at 5:30pm to head home for dinner because his death seemed to be dozens of hours away; there were no signs that he was in his final hours.

The hospice nurse that arrived only 30 minutes after we left said that she had never seen anyone progressing through their final hours so quickly. It was as if my father had waited for us to leave so that he could die without us having to watch his death.

He died shortly after 8pm and the memory care facility called us so that we could come to grieve and pray over him before the funeral home arrived to take his body. I couldn’t stop shaking and could barely speak after I got the call, but somehow I made it to the care facility to be with my mother and our close friends. Later on I found out that shaking, uncontrollable crying, and inability to speak are common signs of the shock of grief. God’s grace alone got me safely through that twenty minute drive—that and two of my friends who listened to the depths of my grief. I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me.

There have been many challenges since my father’s death:

My estranged brother decided to attend the memorial, which meant I saw him for the first time in six years. He did not welcome the reunion…but later emailed me. I am still trying to figure out how to respond. My father’s death reduced the number of abusers in my life by one…and adding my brother back would increase the number by one. I don’t know what to do…and yet I miss my brother very much.

Both of my daughters were home at the same time for the first time since Christmas 2016. It was hard to spend time with them and simultaneously take care of my mother, give the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and grieve my father’s death. In all truth it was hard to function at all.

At the same time, there have been moments of extreme grace:

My church family came through for me in ways that I could not have imagined. Teri’s husband Andy cried while playing Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone. Teri died on February 11th, 2018 and her memorial was on March 10th, 2018. I know that playing the same song he played for his wife’s funeral only two months earlier was extremely painful and yet he did this to comfort me. My senior pastor, the church staff, the Praise Band, and the ladies who volunteer to staff funeral receptions did everything they possibly could to make the entire funeral deeply comforting and almost effort free for my family. I have never felt so loved and supported by my church family, and it was truly beautiful!

My son-in-law and his family bent over backwards to make sure that my mom, my daughters, and I had all the support we needed. They inconvenienced themselves to serve us, and I am deeply thankful for their presence in my life.

My parent’s family of friends were amazing, offering a lifeline for my mom as she faced the loss of her lifelong love. They made sure that she was never alone when she needed a shoulder to cry on or a friend to provide a meal.  They made sure that I never had to worry about my mom. They showed up to pray with us at my father’s deathbed. They proved their love in actions that lifted our hearts when we were grieving.

 

This has been a long and difficult journey for my family. I am well aware that many of my readers are also on this journey with one or more of their parents. Know that I continue to pray for all of you as your parents find their way back home to God.

My mother and I truly believe that my father, who was fixated on going home with my mom from the minute he entered a care facility in February, realized that he could never go back home to his own house, and so he chose to head home to his Father’s house. I know that he is truly happy in his Father’s house and he finally knows that we did all we could to make his life joyful in his final months.

Happy Ultimate Birthday, Daddy!  You are home forever, and I will be there soon enough. I can’t wait to see you again!

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Cowboy Tears

I visited my dad today.

I visited him for the first time since he spent close to a month in a geriatric psychiatric unit, balancing medications meant to stop his volatile, aggressive, and violent behaviors.

I hadn’t seen him in over four weeks as visits to short-term residents of the geri-psych unit weren’t allowed. His transfer to a memory care unit that also dealt with behavioral issues had happened just a week earlier. I had been excited, looking forward to visiting him the day after his transfer when things took a turn for the worse and the staff sent my mother home to protect her from his temper and violent behaviors.

Another medication added, another week of waiting before I visited, another awful story stored in my memory.

I stopped at the administration building before I went in to see my dad. I didn’t want to just ‘drop in’ when I wasn’t sure if I was welcome, or if he was having a bad day, or if things were just too volatile to risk a visit.

Let me tell you, the poor guy in the administrative office was so busy that I wondered how he was handling it all with a smile. I waited with a man who was paying for his mother’s care; when all the phone calls and billing issues were finally completed, the gentleman in the administrative office walked me to the door of my father’s cottage while wishing me a good visit.

Visiting my father had filled me with apprehension. So many scenarios played out in my head, visions of uncomfortable visits with him before his transfer to the geri-psych unit; visions of the behaviors that landed him in the geri-psych unit; fears of how I would explain it to friends and coworkers if he got out of control and put his hands on me. All the fears of my childhood combined with the memories of recent events to torment me; together they made it very hard to visit my father.

And yet…

I couldn’t get the picture of him smiling and laughing out of my head. My mind was filled with memories of visits to my parent’s house in years past; mornings when we’d gone out for coffee and talked for hours; days that we had wandered together in Costco, laughing and talking about what we’d buy and what we thought my mother would buy. I have far more good memories of my father than bad, but my fears would rather replay every bad report I have ever received, every painful memory from my past and the all the memories of the last eight weeks. I finally decided to meditate on the memory of my father’s smiling face to remind me of all the joy I’ve experienced with him, all the laughter and warmth we’ve had together.

It was those memories I meditated on as I drove to my father’s newest memory care placement.

If you are wondering, the visit was a mixed bag of great moments and negativity. I didn’t have to quack (see my blog post from March 31, 2018), not even once!  My father could barely focus on his fears that my mother is out drinking, carousing, and having an affair for more than two or three minutes. Between you and me, dear reader, his fears are so ridiculous as to be laughable.  My mom is so in love with him that she hasn’t begun to get over her grief that she can’t have him at home with her. While the effects of his medications were evident—he drools and is slow of speech—he was calm and easily distracted from discussion of my mother. When I showed him pictures of my youngest daughter’s wedding, he remembered both her and my oldest daughter, asking questions about their careers, their love lives, and where they were currently living (both are out of state.) We talked about my daughters and at some point he smiled and laughed. It was divine!

He admitted that he has little memory of the injuries that forced my mother to place him in a memory care facility. He admitted that he has few memories of the last twenty years in Arizona, including the odd jobs that he worked after his partial retirement.  He has no idea how old he is and asked me about his age repeatedly.  He admitted that he knows that he has good days when he remembers things, and bad days when everything is a confusing  and frightening. He admitted to me that he doesn’t anticipate any significant improvement in his condition. He also admitted that he would rather die than live this way.

I shared pictures and memories with my father, and when he admitted his deficits I shared his sorrow and his frustration. When he expressed a desire to die, I granted him permission to go home to God and be freed of his dementia; I promised that I would not be angry with him for leaving me.

It was a great visit and I am truly glad to have shared a moment of my father’s clarity with him.

Just before my visit, I waited in the administrative office with another man who was paying the bill for his mother’s care. He is at least ten years older than I am, and was dressed like your average Arizona cowboy.  I asked him if he had a loved one in this memory care facility. He told  me that his mother had been there for at least seven months.  I asked how she was doing and he revealed that she was just now getting over her anger and beginning to forgive him for placing her there. I noted that my father had only been there for a little over a week and that he was similarly angry and volatile with my mother for not taking him home.

Let me tell you, it is hard to watch a cowboy cry.

His eyes filled with tears, and he promised me that it gets better after six months or so. He encouraged me to hang on, to push away the guilt and remember that we are doing the best that we can to care for my father.  I took his hand and said that I sincerely hoped that we both might remember these days when we became old and unable to care for ourselves; that we would understand that our family was doing their best by placing us in a memory care unit. I expressed the hope that while we might be angry about our lives, that we wouldn’t blame our family for our circumstances.

It broke my heart to watch him start to cry much harder.

He hugged me and wished my family well, reminding me that we are doing the very best for my father that we can do.

I don’t know what did my heart better: my father’s smile or a cowboy’s tears.

I can’t decide, so I’ll just praise God for both and pray that I remember this day when I am old, infirm, and entering long-term care.

From this page to God’s ears for all of us.

Quack!!!

So here we are…it is Holy Week again, and this year I am not quite ready.

The last two months have been really hard on me. I lost a very close friend to cancer after spending months doing everything I could to take care of her and her family. And then on 1/29/18, my father fell and broke all the bones in his face, advancing his dementia in ways I never imagined. He will not be allowed to live at home with my mother in his home ever again, and he will never be the man he was on January 28th, 2018.

I am grieving in more ways than you can imagine.

But this season, while grief-filled and painful, has been truly good for me.

I needed to remember that God resurrects everything to a new and different life, to a life that couldn’t be imagined before death, to a life that only Heaven owns.

My grief is so overwhelming that I cannot seem to see beyond the grief and the pain. I look at my friend’s family and at my own family and wonder how we will ever go on. I don’t quite understand how we are supposed to smile again, to laugh again, to feel like life is good again.

And then, out of the blue, someone reminds me of what it is that God lends us to deal with all our pain.

I went to see my massage therapist this morning because my last appointment, only a week ago, revealed that my body is telling the tale of all the stress I’ve endured since Christmas. She asked me to book another appointment with her as soon as possible, even though I normally book an appointment with her only once every three weeks. After her recommendation, I booked another appointment only 7 days after I’d last seen her, knowing that it would be 14 days after that before I could see her again.

She and I talked this morning about all of my stress and everything that was weighing on her heart, since she has children and children always weigh on our hearts.  Her sons are becoming teenagers, and I found myself sharing all I learned when my daughters became teenagers and so much went wrong. I shared about the group of people that saved my daughter, my relationship with my husband, and my entire family.

My massage therapist fixes my body and improves my life, and I do what I can to give her tools to heal her own body and fix her life. Our gifts differ just enough that we are able to help each other at the same time.

During my massage, as I related all the things that have happened with my mother and father since I last saw my massage therapist I realized something really crucial.

I have lost my sense of humor when it comes to my dad.

My family deals with almost everything with humor, even when we have to use black humor that other people would frown on, just so that we can get through difficult times.

My mother and I have watched my father lose his wits, his mind, his sense of self, and his self-control. He has threatened my mother and assaulted his caregivers (medical and otherwise) until we had to resort to extreme measures to help him. After 3 weeks in a psych ward and much medication, we thought we might have finally recovered my father…the man we all miss, the person we wish were with us instead of the violent, unruly, mentally unwell man who woke up after breaking all his facial bones.

Nope.

Not. Even. Close.

The situation has broken my heart and strained my relationship with my father. There is only so much hatred and threat that I can listen to before the child in me wants to run away. I cannot hear my father threaten my mother…not for long. I was so excited, anticipating the man that we would receive when he came home from the psych unit medicated and peaceful; for a hot minute it seemed that we had found the man we knew and loved and then…disaster!

It was during my massage, talking with the woman who restores my body, that I realized that I had abandoned the coping mechanism that restores my mind.

Humor.  I have lost my humor when it comes to my father’s behavior.

I could argue that there isn’t anything funny about physically assaulting my family or the nursing staff. I could swear that there is nothing to laugh at when you are facing horrific levels of liability for the damage done to some tiny woman who chose to provide care to those who are aged and losing their memory.  And there is nothing funny about a man who thinks his family has abandoned him, that we have left him to die when he needs us most, despite the fact that we are making the best possible choices for his care that we can, even when the care we choose comes at considerable cost and sacrifice for the family.

The situation isn’t funny at all.

And yet…

Why aren’t I allowed to laugh? Why aren’t I allowed to be silly, unreasonable, unaccepting of the tragedy that I cannot escape?  My mother laughs at the tragedy of her chronic illness. I laugh at the tragedy that I inherited from that illness and the fact that I get sicker every day. I laugh with my daughters when they report that they also inherited these illnesses, since we have only once choice: laugh, or cry. We laugh about what we cannot change, or instead we choose to weep daily, soaking in our tragedy.

I. Choose. Laughter.

No matter how much it all hurts, I choose laughter. No matter how much the whole situation sucks, I choose laughter. Laughter has gotten me through so much loss in the past that I know it will not fail me now.

God invented laughter, and I truly believe that just before he committed his spirit to God, that Christ looked down on all the Centurions gathered at his feet and laughed.  Those foolish children believed that they could kill the one and only son of God; they believed that they would win and that Jesus had no chance of succeeding. What a disappointment…and what a blessing!

When I look at the history of my Savior, I choose laughter.

When I visit my father and he is fixated on his anger at my mother, I have decided to start quacking like a duck to distract him.  When I quack like a duck I am going to remind him that I cannot change my mother’s choices and that I really want to know about him, about his new life, about his new friends and his new domicile. I want to tell him about my own life, about my own children (that he doesn’t recognize anymore) and my ministry.

I may have to quack like a duck every 10 seconds to keep him focused on something other than the life he has lost; the life that makes him angry and violent. I’m good with that. I’ll quack as often as I need to in order to unsettle him, to distract my dad from his fixation on my mom and his beliefs about her unfaithfulness and bad behavior. In the end, all I want is a father that I can relate to, separate from his beliefs about my mother. I cannot hear his hatred, anger, and judgment about my mom anymore. It is toxic to my soul, since his thoughts are all based in fear and delusion.

I am going to quack like a duck because it makes me laugh, and it just might work.

Please pray for ducks to assist me, and for God to make mercy for my father out of ducks and humor.

By the way, I found an awesome shirt that refers to raccoons as “Trash Pandas”, bears as “Death Floofs” and bunnies as “Boople Snoots”. I need that kind of humor, and so I am choosing to quack like a duck and smile when I think of “Boople Snoots”. I’ll let you know how it works.

Thank you for your prayers for my family. I know that you are praying because there is no such thing as Christians who read about pain and don’t pray. I appreciate you more than you know, even when I don’t know your name.  Blessings!