Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Well, THIS is awkward...

I didn't MEAN to take so much time off from blogging... really, I didn't. But the last couple of months have been a bit all over the place. As I mentioned weeks and weeks ago, I was occupied with freelance work the entire month of May. I was working every day -- even weekends -- so I could meet my end-of-the-month deadline, and I suppose the last thing I wanted to do at the end of each day was stare at my computer screen for another hour.

Two days after I'd finished my freelance project, we headed to Austin for a week. Back at the end of April, Rick's dad fell and broke his leg in two places. He'd already been struggling for years with a loss of mobility due to vascular Parkinson's and complications from diabetes, and was also stricken with a form of dementia. Some days were good and some days were bad... sometimes he'd carry on a conversation and know everyone's names... and other days he'd be confused and he'd often accidentally call Rick "David," which is the name of Rick's uncle. Rick tried to take it in stride, and would laugh it off -- because sometimes your only choices are to laugh or cry...

The leg break required surgery, which of course required narcotics, which apparently can be very bad for dementia patients. After the surgery, Rick's dad became incapable of participating in the rehab that was necessary for recovery. Eventually, he was discharged from the hospital and sent to an assisted nursing facility.

By the time we got down to Austin that first week in June, Rick's dad was not doing well at all. And I have to add -- do not ever allow your loved ones to reside in an Emeritus assisted living/nursing facility. Somehow, these places got high marks in a U.S. News and World Report list, but after the experience Rick's family had there, I would never recommend them. They had NO system for tracking the dispensing of medication, which resulted in NUMEROUS mix-ups -- they would forget to give Rick's dad his meds, then actually try to double up on them when they realized their mistake... or they WOULD give him the meds, a shift change would occur, and the next person on the shift would try to give him more meds. Even worse than this, I think, was the fact that he began to have difficulty swallowing and wasn't drinking enough. It took the staff DAYS to finally get him on IV fluids, at which point he was severely dehydrated.

One of the reasons we went to Austin at the beginning of June was to visit a couple long-term-care nursing homes, and to talk to a lawyer about financial issues. Rick's poor mom had pretty much been a 24/7 caretaker for months -- she only left the nursing home to sleep (or try to sleep) at night, at which point one of Rick's sisters would take over and spend the night with their dad. Insurance was only paying for Emeritus until mid-June, and we knew that there was no way Rick's dad could be cared for at home. Our assumption was that he'd be in a nursing home for a while, so we wanted to find a good one (definitely not Emeritus). By the end of the week, we thought we'd found a good one, and had a basic plan in place.

The day before we left Austin, after he'd finally gotten some IV fluids, Rick's dad was alert enough to see that we were there. Rick sat down in the chair next to his bed and said, "hey, do you know who I am?" And Rick's dad answered, "David?" Rick considered this to be as "normal" as things could get, considering he'd been mistakenly identified as David for years. When we left, Rick told his dad that we had to go, and his dad said, "okay, see you next week." He even smiled at Rick, and when Rick said goodbye, his dad said, "goodbye, son." At that moment, his dad DID know who he was...

The next day, the medical staff at Emeritus finally realized that a hospital would be a better location for Rick's dad. As we were heading to the airport to fly back to Chicago, he was on his way to a hospital, where they could better monitor him. We'd only been home a couple days when we learned that he'd taken a very bad turn for the worse. All of a sudden, the plans for long-term care were replaced with plans for hospice care. By Tuesday, the doctor was saying that he didn't think he'd make it through the weekend, and Rick and I started making plans to get back to Austin. We literally booked the earliest flight we could find Thursday morning -- 6 a.m.

Wednesday evening, I tried to get some sleep before our 4 a.m. wake-up call, but wasn't getting much rest. Rick decided to hop in the shower so he wouldn't need one in the morning, and at around 11:50, I heard his phone ring. And I KNEW that it wasn't good news. I couldn't sleep anyway, so I got up to go find his phone, and saw that his sister had sent a text, "Dad passed away at 11:45." My heart absolutely sank -- not just for the loss of my father-in-law, but because I knew that Rick wanted so badly to make it to Austin before he was gone. And we ended up being late by a mere 12 hours...

We spent two and a half weeks in Austin, helping Rick's mom make arrangements, cleaning the house for the inevitable visitors, cleaning the fridge for all the food (so much food materializes when someone dies!), going through years and years of records that Rick's dad kept in his study (he would never let anyone throw anything away :)), and looking through hundreds of old pictures and memorabilia. Rick's brother-in-law Dean put together an awesome photo presentation for the visitation and memorial service, and Rick and all four of his sisters stood up and talked about their dad during the service.

I, of course, am not a good public speaker... but if I had stood up to say something, I would've talked about how Rick's dad would always tease him about his great "pink" car (he never had a pink car, but Rick's dad would jokingly call his cars pink just to annoy Rick... I thought it was hilarious... :)). And he always made sure to give me a big hug before we left the house... if I got too far away, he'd say, "you're not trying to sneak away without a hug, are you?" :) With his diabetes, he had to be careful about how much sugar he ate... we'd go over to Rick's parents' house for dinner, and his mom would always have a couple different choices for dessert. So she'd ask Rick's dad, "would you like pie or cake for dessert?" And every time his answer was the same: "Yes!" He and Rick both loved a good argument -- or perhaps "debate"? :) -- and would often have lengthy discussions about politics. And he loved to reminisce about his time in the army when he was stationed in Hawaii -- we're so glad that we were actually able to go to Hawaii with him several times, including a visit to Oahu and Pearl Harbor.

So that was the month of June -- not the best month, but I know that everyone finds comfort in knowing that Rick's dad is now enjoying eternity, probably hanging out with family members who went before him. He's finally free of the prison of Parkinson's and dementia, and no longer in any pain. And even though we were unable to get back to Austin to see him one last time, I think it's comforting for Rick to know that on that last day that were able to talk to him, his dad KNEW that we were there. He looked right at Rick, and he looked right at me. He smiled. And most importantly, his last words to Rick were "goodbye, son."


I love this picture of Rick's mom and dad...      

8 comments:

Mom said...

Beautiful!

G. B. Miller said...

Woah.

Back to back blogger friends who had a cherished loved one pass away (making the rounds of my blog subscriptions).

My sincerest condolences and warmest sympathies go out to you and your family.

Your blogger bud (and FB friend) from Connecticut.

George

markmc99 said...

Lisa, you and I have never met. I worked with Rick at Dell years ago. Your blog post brought tears to my eyes because it touched a place in my heart that not many people go. You went there and I am better because of it!

My Mom and Dad are nearing their finals days with us...I see it every time I visit them although I hope and pray I am wrong. I can tell you and Rick love his parents as much as I love mine and your post gives me strength to face what is ahead of me.

Mark McIntyre

Dean Draper said...

Beautifully written. Im typing this through my tears. Don Brooks was more of a dad to me than my own father was. I love him dearly and I miss him. He was a wonderful grandpa to my kids. He taught them and me so much about God, Family, Honesty. There just arent many men like him left in this world. God Bless you Grandpa Brooks :)

Cindy Stokes said...

Lisa, this is beautifully said. And I am so glad to hear that Rick heard words of recognition in the end from his Dad. I will be praying for y'all and especially for his mom right now.

Donna Draper said...

Lisa, thank you for your tremendous help in Austin, your unending patience and unflagging energy. And thank you for your beautiful words about dad. Your words convey so much emotion and information about such a difficult time and I cried...happy and sad tears for the memories you invoked. One of the happier memories in the middle of the grief was time spent with you and rick and I miss and love you both


LL Cool Joe said...

Oh I'm so sorry. My father in law died of Alzheimer's and it really is an awful, awful illness. I'm so pleased that your father-in-law said those words "goodbye, son", they will stay with Rick forever.

Thinking and praying for you all at this time.

Lisa said...

Mom -- Thank you!

George -- Thanks so much for your condolences!

Mark -- Nice to "meet" you! :) Thanks so much for such a nice comment -- I appreciate it.

Dean -- What a great thing to say -- he'll definitely be missed.

Cindy -- Thank you so much! Miss you guys!

Donna -- I'm so glad we got to spend time with you, too -- I hope sometime soon we'll be able to hang out under happier circumstances. And spend more time drinking fancy coffee and less time unpacking boxes. :)

Joey -- Alzheimer's and dementia are such insidious diseases, aren't they? Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers!