My sister and I noticed a change in my dad's behavior after my mother passed away in 2013. We were beginning to suspect that it was some sort of dementia and did some searches on the internet. We would get middle of the night phone calls with bizarre stories of visitors knocking on the door, or else asking us where our mother had gone. Sometimes they were irate calls filled with anger towards us for not understanding and sometimes we could hear the fear and confusion in his voice.
During this time, there were also several "incidents" and ER visits where the VNA and elder services got involved. He flooded the basement, and set the oven on fire but he was at the time still very resistant to any kind of help or outside services that were offered and when I signed him up for meals on wheels, he called and cancelled the program. We were told that it was no longer safe for him to live alone, so when I had a job offer nearby that allowed me to move in it seemed like a good solution. For a while it worked and the middle-of-the-night calls stopped.
Then in mid-December 2014 when neither of us were there, my father's dementia required another ER visit and this time he was transferred from the ER to a geriatric hospital that specialized in dementia. There the diagnosis was confirmed and over the course of several weeks they tried him on medications and dosages until they felt he was stabilized enough to be released home with 24-hour supervision and day care.
That never worked out. Shortly before his release, he acquired an acute viral infection that nearly killed him and left him weak and unable to walk without assistance. I won't go into all the details but after he recovered, he spent time in nine different institutions and I watched my dad decline steadily with each move.
Dad passed away last September alone in a nursing home. My sister got the call from the nursing home that morning but she got there just minutes too late to hold his hand and say goodbye. I was away on my first real vacation in ten years. And even now, my heart breaks when I think of him alone without me. Though in my heart I know that it would have been what he wanted.
My father was not a very sentimental man. I know he mourned the deaths of close friends and the three brothers who preceded him but he would also admonish my mother, sister and I when we were overly sentimental. Maybe that came from growing up Irish and poor during the depression, or maybe because he was a Boston policeman or soldier in the Korean war whatever the reason, he was pragmatic about death and violence and saw more of it than most.
I do not think I really knew him well, the private man or his hopes and dreams. I wish that was different and I wish now that I'd spent more time with him; knew his friends and talked with him more than I did, but my sister and I were our mother's girls and my father always seemed happy that we chose her to spend our visits with. We relied on my father for his technical expertise--he was the most amazing handyman and mechanic and a reliable worker. Self-taught, he could do anything from plumbing to carpentry. One thing I have learned since from his many neighbors, was that he was also generous with his skills and time.
I am grateful for those six months that I had with him during the summer of 2014. I made dinner for us both on a broken stove while he shared stories about his family, youthful adventures and lost loves. We watched television and sometimes went out to eat at the "99" which he loved. We took a few walks at a park he loved and admired his beautiful lawn while sitting outside one summer evening. Looking back, I think he knew he would lose some of those memories and wanted to share them before he did.
Good-bye Dad. Thank you for being my dad. I love you.
8/4/29 to 9/27/15