My husband and I have been married for almost 14 years, and we were very close for the two years before that. One of my favorite things about my husband is his family – or specifically, his dad. My father-in-law has become one of my buddies. But now he’s slipping away from us.
Over the summer, Dad was diagnosed with Dementia, the early stage of Alzheimer’s. We weren’t surprised at the diagnosis. We’d noticed his forgetfulness, his constantly repeating information to us, his quick and easy frustration over simple things. We knew something like this was a possibility. But it was a blow none the less. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my favorite golf buddy to go play nine holes with me but for one time early in the spring. But even then he got tired and frustrated easily, and most holes he just picked up his ball and got in the cart again.
Then just before Christmas, as I wrote about previously, we got the news he had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage III at least, potentially stage IV. Yesterday we started off by taking Dad to the emergency room because he couldn’t catch his breath. His heart rhythm was off, following some erratic pattern of its own design. Dad has always had a tendency to panic easily, and now that’s true more than ever. The discomfort in his chest caused him to become more panicked, which in turn caused his heart to beat faster and more a-rhythmically, which caused more panic . . . you get the idea.
He was uncomfortable and fidgety. He had two I.V. lines and monitors taped to his chest. He tried to go down the hall to use the restroom, but that was comedy of errors. We had I.V. fluid bags and their lines, and the monitors and their lines, and we’re maneuvering a wheel chair, and it was nearly disastrous. The next time, Dad opted for a plastic urinal, but as he tried to work his way back into bed, the urinal was knocked over and spilled on his gown, his sweat pants, and his slippers. We took the pants and slippers with us to have them washed.
After five long hours in the ER, Dad was moved to a room and admitted for the night. He was less than thrilled with the idea of staying for the night, and kept telling my husband and me repeatedly that he wanted to go home. We finally got him settled, got him fed, and thought he was in reasonably good shape when we left. Exhausted and overwhelmed, my husband and I spent the rest of the evening watching “Galaxy Quest” and having a glass of wine.
At 8:30 this morning, it started up again. Apparently, after we left, my husband’s sister went to the hospital to visit, and Dad became agitated and angry. He accused my husband and me of having taken his shoes so he couldn’t leave. My sister-in-law tried to explain that the shoes needed to be washed, but I guess Dad wasn’t buying it. He started in again this morning, calling my mother-in-law and telling her that we were trying to “dump him” at the hospital; that we took his shoes so he couldn’t get up and leave when he wanted to.
A quick side trip here – for Christmas, my husband bought his dad a new pair of mocassin slippers, but they didn’t fit. We’ve been looking for the past three weeks to find a pair in his size, and I finally found them at a specialty store, but when we drove over to buy them, the store was closed. At 8:30 this morning, my mother-in-law started in on my husband about the new slippers, about how the old slippers are ruined (which they are not), and about how if we could just get the slippers over to Dad, he could go home.
My husband tried to explain to his mom that Dad can’t leave until the doctor says so, and that the doctor promised to call us before Dad was ready to leave. Mom will hear nothing of it. She is going by what Dad says, and what Dad says is that he’s ready to go. NOW.
Another little side trip – 14 years ago, my husband and I took my in-laws on a cruise to Hawaii for their 50th wedding anniversary. It was just a few months before our wedding, and we considered it a sort of a “pre-honeymoon” trip for ourselves, too. We had been through a tremendous amount in order to be married – but that’s fodder for another blog – and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Mom and Dad in the tropics. I was welcomed into the family with open and loving arms. I came to accept my in-laws for their warmth and generosity, as well as their support of me and my then 2-year-old daughter. I hold those memories as some of my most precious.
I think it makes accepting this time in their lives a little easier to remember them at that moment. As Dad slips in and out of alertness, I try to think about the many times he and I stood on the first tee box of Murray Parkway Golf Course, and he would turn to me with a twinkle in his eye and say, “How is it you play this game again?” My standard answer was always “Swear a lot and chase that little ball around.” Dad would nod and say “I’ll swear, you chase.”
It’s going to be a difficult summer without my favorite golf buddy. The road to that end is a challenge, too. I lost my own dad very suddenly, without the opportunity to reflect on his declining health. I’m not sure which route is more difficult; they are both – despite being inevitable – very painful and challenging experiences.