Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reality checks and death watches...

It takes seven hours to drive from the sweet beauty of the Berkshires to the more demanding realities of ex-urban Maryland – and it feels like another life time away. I haven’t been back to my father’s house since we buried my mother some four and a half years ago. I’ve had the chance to visit with him since then – my nephew’s wedding and both of my daughter’s weddings, too – but I haven’t been in this town – or this house – for what seems like an eternity. It feels very, very empty.

My dad is still in the hospital tonight as I get ready for bed. About halfway here, it hit me that for the last 15 years I’ve been driving to this house and this place mostly to sit with the dying and sick – and then to bury them. It was a sobering realization. And while I don’t think my dad is close to death at this time… it is certainly looming on the horizon.

I used to drive here to be with my sister, Linda, while she was at Walter Reed Hospital for experimental cancer treatment. That went on for two years – and then she died just before I turned 40. About five years later, my dearest aunt, Donna, died of cancer and we came back to these parts to say good bye to her, too. And then my mother – slowly fading over the next two years – and her funeral: no wonder I haven’t been back. It feels like this is a place for a death watch.

Tonight I am in my father’s empty house while he is in the hospital buzzed out on pain meds: everywhere I look there are medical supplies where once there were family pictures. Gauze pads and band aids, oxygen tanks and respirator paraphernalia. Maybe it is because Di’s mom died all too quickly and without warning; it could be that it is because my dad has become a way too old 78 year old; or maybe I’m just spooked after all this death but I can’t help but weep as I walk about this once vibrant home.

Over the TV in the dining room, where it is clear my dad spends most of his time, are pictures: me in my kilts, Dianne and me in Tucson, the funeral bulletin of a beloved pastor and a macabre picture of my mother with three of her sisters – only one who remains alive – in some weird Easter hat parade. In his bedroom moved downstairs (so he won’t fall) is a portrait of my mother whom he adored, and, a very faded picture of his six children (from the time I was in 8th grade complete with faux Beatle haircut and paisley tie!) And lots and lots of medical equipment – who would have known this trip would become such a reality check for me?

NOTE: I watched Dennis Leary’s “Rescue Me” tonight – a powerful drama about fire fighters, family issues and dysfunction – and then went to bed expecting to bring dad home today.

Well, now it is Wednesday and it seems it will be tomorrow before we bring him home. The doctors need to make sure his shoulder is healing before they discharge him. We were all wigged-out earlier today because no one knew why he was acting so disoriented: he seemed certain he was in a church nursing home and that small girls were pushing and irritating his feet. After a few hours, however, during which time we had the chance to speak with the docs and nurses, he settled down. He was probably having some side effects from the morphine and other meds – all of which can play tricks with the mind – plus when he went out he was in the ER and when he came back into consciousness he was surrounded by strangers in a strange land.

As one doc said, “This type of disorientation is not really medical – it is social – and when the drugs get out of his system and he sees people he knows and loves… he should become more grounded.” And that is certainly what I experienced today…

I’m going to go back about supper time to shave him – and visit – and make plans to bring him home tomorrow. I hope to get a medical update after he moves into a regular room, too. Strange… I had set aside this time away from church to help my daughter and her husband move into their new Brooklyn condo but now I am helping my dad return from the hospital. I am grateful for the time away and to be able to be with him.
photo credits: dianne de mott


Black Pete said...

One of the consequences of our aging is that we will be the ones to bury our parents.

I did not get to do that with my father: it was all done before I arrived, as he had died suddenly at 50 of a massive heart attack, and never lived to see three of his four grandchildren.

Now, as my mother and step-father age, we have had conversations about medical this and symptom that, of power of attorney this and executor that,a rehearsal for what we all know is coming.

The matter-of-factness is partly from our culture and partly from the realization that there is little else that makes sense at this time. It can also make the real thing a bit surreal. Or is that we face our own mortality then?

RJ said...

this facing our own mortality so boldly is powerful stuff... than you for sharing about your family, peter. many of us about our age are dealing with this more and more. i buried my mother 4 years ago - my sister and her baby 20 years ago - my wife's father died 8 years ago and her mom a few months ago. lots of practice but it is still a challenge every time! blessings to you and your family.

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