Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the long good-bye

My sister and I spent the weekend with our dad in Nashville.
He lives at Richland Place, with excellent caregivers.
Since we all live out of state, my three siblings and I take turns visiting Dad
so that he sees one of us regularly.

Dad is strengthened by the genes of longevity.
His father lived into his 80's, and his mother died at 91.
Though he is physically frail, Dad's main challenge is dementia.
In over three years of visits, I have seen his mental acuity slowly ebb away.

While he recognizes us and his caregivers,
he is conversing less and less.
He doesn't ask about my children or my life.
His dementia is like a strengthening monster that consumes
Dad's ability to engage with reality.
A conversation will suddenly turn to
comments about "snakes in this area" or a blank stare when I ask a simple question. By 3:30 each afternoon, Dad asked about breakfast.
"Let's go get some breakfast," he said. 

Dad's life was characterized by a sharp and witty mind.
He was a planner, a worker, methodical and creative.
He was an artist, a woodworker, a businessman and provider.
But these days, Dad sits. He watches a little TV, sleeps a lot
and must rely on others for his most basic needs.

At the beginning of this journey, we had many conversations.
I learned about Dad's childhood in rural Arkansas,
where his house had no plumbing and mail was delivered on horseback.

But Dad's world is shrinking.
An "outing" this weekend was pushing him outside and
up and down the halls
of Richland Place.

Visits with Dad are deeply emotional for me, and sadly sweet. 
I know the promise of heaven awaits
for those who know God, and he does.
So why is this so hard?

I remember August mornings on the coast of Maine.
A heavy fog rolls in. There is no escaping it.
That's how it is with Dad.
I think of questions; things to say to pull him back.
But it's futile.
 It seems I am trying to outrun an enveloping mental fog that
 obscures his ability to comprehend.

It's a long good-bye, really.
A very long good-bye.


LPool said...

There can't be anything more heart wrenching than losing a parent this way. Your mind tells you that they look normal, so why don't they remember you...for that matter, why can't they remember you? It just doesn't make any sense at all.
I can't even begin to know what it is you are feeling, so I'm wishing you peace in your heart as you walk this path.

Diana Coon said...

My experience with my mother is much the same. I feel helpless and as if I am trying to hold the tide back with my bare hands. It is the reason I discuss my own healthcare decisions based upon quality of life and not necessarily longevity. My heart understands.

Dan said...

Beautiful yet heartbreaking, mom. Hang in there- you're a great daughter and are doing something he appreciates whether or not he makes it evident!


Jenny Haller said...

Fantastic words and deeply emotional thoughts. The analogies are spot on and your struggle in this aging process is shared by many. Good for you for putting into writing!

Karen Dawkins said...

Barb, My heart aches for your pain, but I am thankful your dad is surrounded by such love. He is blessed.