Friday, June 9, 2017

Slipping Away

Like many people my age, I have dealt with some losses in my life. And each loss involves some level of anticipation, preparation and grieving. All of my grandparents have passed away. I lost my grandmother on my Mom's side when I was just a child. At that age, I didn't fully understand what was happening. I have very scattered memories from that time. But the main thing I remember is that she was in hospice care in our house. She had breast cancer, back in the 70's when they didn't have a lot of treatment options. She passed away in a rented hospital bed in my brother's bedroom. I think I was about 8 years old. At least she was with us, and surrounded by love when she passed.

My Dad's father passed away years later. Probably when I was in my 20's, but I really don't remember a lot about that either. Of course I knew him, but we were not particularly close. The one thing I really remember is at the end, my grandfather was in the hospital and my Dad would go there and read books to him. I don't think I even went to the hospital, but I remember that everyone in my Dad's family thought it was so wonderful that my Dad had the capacity to read to him. Looking back now, I think my Dad did that because neither he, nor my grandfather, were great communicators. And a book was a comfortable place to meet and find common ground, without having to express any deep feelings or emotions.

My Mom's father passed away a few years later. He lived in Texas. For years we didn't have a relationship with him because my Mom's parents were divorced and he left when she was young. But at some point in my school-age years, he made contact with my Mom and they re-connected. He would come up and visit us each summer. I remember that he taught me how to drive in his old, beat up white car. Over the years, he maintained contact with us, but we didn't see him often. He was in Texas when he passed away. My Mom and Dad went down there so she could have some closure, but none of us kids went to the funeral. 

My Dad's mother lived to the age of 92. We saw her a few times a year at holidays and family events. I feel like I knew her to some degree, but with 13 kids and probably over a hundred grandchildren and great grandchildren, I think it was hard to have a close relationship with her. She was in failing health for awhile and we sort of had notice that she was close to passing away. The family held vigil at her house, with lots of the inner circle coming in and out. Our family was always more of the "outer circle" of my Dad's family. I didn't feel comfortable going to see her before she passed. I really didn't have anything to say to her. I was more sad for my Dad because he lost his mom, than I was sad for myself because I lost a grandmother.

Now I find myself in a completely different position related to loss. I am losing my Dad. It is not certain when or how. We really don't even fully understand his illness. All I know is that it feels like he is slipping away. He is recovering from his surgery, at least medically speaking. But there are so many things that are failing in his body. The medicine he is on to prevent him from falling makes him weak and tired. And he has a hard time getting around. The less he moves around, the more his muscles start to deteriorate. It is a continual cycle. 

It is hard to believe that a person can just start to fade away, without any doctor being able to help or do anything to stop it. And yet, that is exactly what seems to be happening with my Dad. There is no one to guide us along this journey. No one to tell us the projected course of his illness or how many months (or hopefully years) he will have left. Sometimes I have this sinking feeling that he will just be gone one day, without any notice at all. I wonder if he worries about that too.

No one talks about the potential that my Dad might die. Maybe because we are all hopeful that things will get better. Maybe because we are all afraid that they won't. Maybe because there is some perceived jinx or curse that if you speak of something bad, it will cause it to happen. But what if you don't speak of it and it happens anyway. Then you are left with so many questions and things unsaid.

Weeks will go by where I see my Dad and he seems about the same. Then a few days might go by and I will notice a sudden change in him. Yesterday, when I went to see my Dad, it was one of those times where he seemed to have a sudden change. I had just seen him on Tuesday (two days earlier) and yet when I went over there yesterday he looked different. Not only was he having more trouble walking, but his hands were shaking as we tried to play his favorite card game. And mentally, he seemed very confused and forgetful. 

Being around my Dad reminds me of being with my Mr. Big after he had his stroke. I know that he is in there somewhere, but he just doesn't seem like himself anymore. Even though the doctors say that my Dad is not having mini-strokes, because of his low blood pressure he is not getting as much oxygen to his brain and I think that is causing a lot of neurological damage. I feel like that is part of the reason for the sudden declines he is experiencing. But my perceptions are not medical opinions, and even with him seeing 12 different doctors, none of them seem to be able to see what I can see just by sitting with him for 15 minutes.

All of that leaves me feeling helpless. I am not sure what to do, other than just being present and spending time with him as much as I can. I've been trying to hope for the best and at that same time, prepare for the inevitable fact that some day my Dad will not be here anymore. And even as I spend time with him now, I know that part of him is already gone. And that is hard too. I miss his laughter. I miss his singing. I miss his silly jokes and stories. The same ones that he tells over and over. I miss my Dad already, and he is not even gone yet. 

It is hard to lose someone that you love. Of all the losses I have had in my life, none of them compare to this.

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