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One Year Ago

My father died shortly after 2am on March 30th, 2010. My sister was with him at hospice. We were keeping a vigil on a rotating basis. We knew the end was near. Most had already said their goodbyes a few hours earlier. But we were determined he was not going to die alone. It’s a fear we all have isn’t it?

I was sitting up on my couch….dozing. My head jerked awake…and once I caught my bearings I sent a quick text to my sister. She replied that things were the same. A few minutes later she called me. He was gone.

It happened just like that.

I was numb. Like a robot I went to the closet and put on my coat….then slipped into the car and out into the street. Back to the house I grew up in. I spent the night in my old bedroom and was awoken by birds outside my window.

Alzheimer’s is a cowardly fucking disease, and it continues its grisly march through our family. It doesn’t kill. It slowly ravages the mind and the body, allowing something else to bring on death. In my father’s case, his organs were shutting down. And he simply lost the strength required to breathe. It was a horrible thing to watch, and in many ways the end came mercifully quick. His fight with Alzheimer’s had lasted more than 5 years. He gave no quarter. He raged….sometimes growing so frustrated by what it was doing to him that he’d pull his hair. Or pound on the side of his head with an open hand. Hard. He knew. Parts of him the disease could never touch. He knew. And to me there’s nothing more tragic than that. But Alzheimer’s is a fixed fight. The outcome is determined in advance.

So now it’s a year later.

He’s never far. I often think of how he’d respond to this or that. Or what path he’d suggest I take. He had the ability to point out the right path, knowing that I’d choose the wrong one, and then help me up and brush me off when I went back to him asking for directions to the location he suggested all along…without saying or even implying “I told you so”. Not sure how he managed it. I must have driven him half mad over the years. But he’d say, “I’m proud of you”. And all would be right with the world. Nobody else can do that.

He taught me how to be a father. What greater lesson can a man learn? He also taught me that being a great father doesn’t guarantee that your kids are not gonna make you cringe at times. I’m Exhibit A. But if I can do half the job he did, my 2 girls will keep my cringing to a minimum.

We become torn when terminal illness invades. One one level I can’t be truly sad that he’s gone. For him to live as he’d been living was a form of torture. Just when does the “sanctity of life” become perverted? When your options are reduced to unbearable pain or drug-induced oblivion, what then? I won’t go into the whole religious argument, and I’m certainly not suggesting anything draconian here, but there’s something to be said for allowing our loved ones to go through pain that we’d never subject our pets to. Something to be said indeed….although I’m not sure what it is.

So, it’s been a year. Sometimes it feels like he’s been gone a few days. And sometimes I have a hard time remembering when he was here at all. When I could call him. Laugh with him. Learn from him. Alzheimer’s took most of him from me long before his last breath. It robbed him of what he wanted to say but could not find….and where he wanted to go but could not get to. It forced this man who had always taken care of others to allow others to take care of him. And for certain, surely terrifying moments, those “others” were complete strangers to him. Even when they were us.

Tonight will be hard. When 2am rolls around I do wonder if I’ll wake suddenly again. Or if I’ll even be able to sleep at all. What jerked me awake that night a year ago anyway? I like to think it was Pop saying goodbye.

Maybe tonight, he’ll say hello.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 29, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    I’ve read these blogs about your father before, but was afraid to comment. My words can’t heal what you went through. But I figured I’d share my story, for what it’s worth.

    My mother passed away 3 years ago today from brain cancer. She had the tumor removed initially, but along with the tumor they removed a piece of the brain which was crucial in dealing with memory. So basically, it was like she had alzheimer’s. She could recognize faces, but not names. Some days, it took longer for her to recognize us than others. She also got frightened very easily. It was honestly worse than the cancer.

    She eventually ended up in a home, which I was completely gutted about, because it was against her wishes. But it was beyond our reach at that stage, so we had to let go. It fucking sucked.

    One thing that is amazing, is that despite losing most of her mind, she still remembered some specific things. She was recalling names of relatives that had passed long ago, and at one point, very near the end, she claimed to be seeing them. It was a very crazy experience.

    In the end, though we didn’t want her gone, we wanted the suffering to stop. I was the last person in our family to see her alive. I don’t know why I feel that was important. Honestly, she was in so much pain at the end, she may have not even known I was there.

    So it’s been 3 years. Sometimes it feels like 3 weeks, sometimes it feel like 3 decades. I visited the grave today (where my father who died in 2007 – from cancer – is buried as well), and I always want to say something, but I never quite know what. I suppose it doesn’t really matter though, because somehow, I think she knows.

    Hopefully they find some kind of cure for these horrible diseases. If not in our lifetimes, our children’s. They have a pill that can grow your eyelashes and 10 different drugs to make your dick hard, but nothing for cancer and alzheimer’s? Frustrating as fuck.

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