I don’t suffer from depression.
At least, not on a regular basis.
And, there’s always a catalyst for my blue episodes. I don’t just wake up one morning and have no desire for…anything.
This week has been difficult, and the difficult is getting more difficult.
A year ago, tomorrow, my daddy died.
He didn’t die pretty, he didn’t die peaceful.
It was a death that followed two solid weeks of pain and sickness.
Of 104 fevers, of organ failure, fluid build-up, pain so intense that they couldn’t give him enough morphine to completely block it, and finally he drowned in his own fluids as he lay in a completely clean and dry hospital bed.
And I watched, helpless.
It was an emotionally agonizing time for me, and I really thought I was better…then the past week happened, and it’s as if the year before the past week never happened.
I’m right back there, holding Daddy’s hand and whispering to him that he could let go, that we’d be fine and that his father, mother, sister, and brothers waited for him on the other side.
I wasn’t there when he took his last breath, and for that I’m grateful. I had borne enough pain and I couldn’t watch any more.
In fact, I think Daddy waited until he was alone to finally go home. The chaplain called me at 2:00 AM, and my first words upon hearing the news were “Thank God, he’s free at last.”
I don’t know how many more anniversaries will be hard on me, but I think this one is the hardest.
I’m taking a few days off, and letting go.
Y’all mind the store while I’m gone, okay? Thanks.
All kinds of words.
Big, flowery, no-one-knows-what-they-mean-anymore words.
Small, succinct, take-your-breath-away words.
I love them.
I take them with me everywhere I go – to the park, to the store, in my car as I drive around this massive Metroplex.
Some words taste good, others are bitter, and some make me physically ill.
But, good, bad, big, small, sweet or bitter I love them all.
I don’t have a favorite, that wouldn’t be right. I do, however, have some I detest. I find it particularly satisfying when I can substitute a word I don’t like for something less offensive. It makes me feel as though I’ve expanded the word universe – albeit in a very small way.
I’m currently trying to take my big basket of words and form them into sentences, paragraphs, chapters to explain the last few years I spent with Daddy.
Most of these words are so powerful they prevent my getting past them. Often, this impedes progress, but these words will not be ignored.
They will not be glossed over. They will be dealt with. They will be reckoned with.
And they will not be happy until I have paid them their due.
It is a painful, heartbreaking, process.
I’m just glad that the words, sometimes my friends, sometimes my enemies, are always my companions.
Dad took the pencil in his hand and stared blankly at the paper.
“Daddy, draw a clock face.”
“Mr. XXXXX, do you know how to draw a clock face?”
“I don’t never draw nothin’.” Dad said, shoving the paper back at the doctor.
“Okay, I’ll start it for you.” The doctor said, as he drew a circle on the paper, and slid the paper and pencil back across the table to Dad.
“You can do this, XXX.” XXXX said and I gave her a look that would wilt flowers. She stopped before saying anything else.
I put my hand on Dad’s arm, and gently said, “Daddy, it’s okay. This isn’t a pass/fail kind of test.”
I’m finding that as I begin to write the memories and feelings come flooding in and overwhelm me. I’ve decided that instead of my usual write-as-you-go style, I’m going to start writing down notes and points to plot on the timeline. For some reason, it’s important to me that I get things as they happened in order…..I mean exactly, and I’m working mostly from memory here. Dad’s girlfriend is nowhere to be found, but my sister is helping fill in some fo the gaps. I think she’s as excited about this project as I am.
Okay, this is what I have so far….
Daddy’s death was a shock. Not in the fact that he died, but rather in the manner in which he died.
It wasn’t all rainbow-pooping unicorns where the dying patient simply slows their breathing and then stops altogether all the while looking like they just stepped off a magazine cover.
It was brutal, raw, loud, excruciating to watch and is now forever emblazoned on my heart and my brain.
In some ways, the heartbreak of watching him die was a lot like the heartbreak of watching him leave me when I was six years old.
The difference being that even at six I knew he was just a phone call away.
Now, his body lays in a grave in a national cemetery. Daddy was a U.S. Army veteran during peacetime, and he served because it was expected of him. He left when his four years were up, and he never looked back.
He did that a lot.
Never looking back.
The one exception was me.
He tried hard not to, from the moment when Mom told him she was pregnant and he responded with “Shit! I don’t want kids”, to the years he avoided being anything remotely resembling a father, he tried very hard.
I think by the time my half-sister came along, Daddy had resigned himself to the fact that sometimes you are a father like it or not.
Not that much effort went into her upbringing either.
Still, we loved him white hot and fierce because..well, because that’s what most little girls do. They worship, adore and love their daddies with complete abandon.
So, it was with us.
And, it made this journey so much harder than either of us thought it would be.
This isn’t a tribute to a doting father. This is a raw, real, sometimes funny, look at what it’s like to deal with an 8-yr. old who shaves.
In June I lost my Daddy.
It was not totally unexpected…well, yes it was.
What I mean is he was 77, and that’s good, but up until two weeks before he died he was like the Energizer bunny…with Alzheimer’s.
Then, he got pneumonia and he was gone.
The last two years had been a time of complete change for Daddy as he went from living with a girlfriend, to not even remembering who she, he, or most of his family and friends were anymore.
He bounced from mental hospital to nursing home for all but about six months of the time as he was alternately lucid and then combative, docile one minute and aggressive the next.
Anyone who has had to deal with Alzheimer’s knows what I’m talking about.
I was the constant in his life, and right up to the end he held onto that connection. The dull blue of his eyes lighted with a spark of….recognition? Affection? Who knew. All I did know was that he seemed happy to see me when I visited him every week.
I don’t remember when I started taking him a Pepsi and a Snickers bar during these visits, but I don’t remember not taking them so I must have been doing it a while.
He loved chocolate, and he loved Pepsi..not Coke, not Sprite…just Pepsi.
He’d sit and slowly eat the candy bar and sip the soda as I prattled on about people and places he no longer knew during my visit.
We’d wash his face and hands with the wipes I carry when he was done, and then he’d sometimes take hold of my hand and we’d stroll the corridors of the nursing home.
Sometimes he’d speak, but his language skills were gone and the words were either a nonsensical stream or chopped into one or two-word phrases.
Except on the last visit to him when as I was leaving he asked, “Where are you going?”
“Back to work, Daddy.”
“Are you coming back?”
“Of course I am.”
“Soon. I’ll be back soon, Daddy.”
And as I walked away, I turned to wave and he called out, “I’ll wait right here for you then.”
I smiled at the sweetness of the moment. A fleeting glimpse, a reminder of who he still was even if he was lost most of the time.
I cried all the way back to work.
On the night of visitation, I relived this memory as I stood over Daddy’s body and marveled at how good they’d been able to make him look given how brutal his death had been.
I slipped the Snickers bar in his shirt pocket as my husband walked up and put his arm around me.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“A Snickers bar. I always brought one when I visited him, so it seemed appropriate.”
My husband stood there for a moment as I softly sobbed.
“You do know what their slogan is, don’t you?” he finally asked.
“Not going anywhere for a while?”
Hey, how y’all been?
What’s new in your world?
Me? I’m okay…still giggling over the letter I got from the Social Security Administration.
They’re terribly sorry about the loss of my father, but umm…could I send them back the meager amount they deposited in his account on the third of June?
Awful sorry to ask, but you know he didn’t live the entire month of June so yeah we need that money back.
If I thought I’d be able to remain civil I’d call, but I do know my limitations.
Instead I’m going to send back a letter and tell them I’m awfully sorry about their financial issues, but Daddy has exactly $169 left in his account, and his “estate” consists of a box of old photographs, so if they think there’s any money to be returned they’re sadly mistaken.
I’m still awaiting the statements from the hospital…you know the ones that list all the charges and the “Amount Due” at the bottom? Yeah, those ought to be good for a few laughs for sure.
Everything else that’s coming in I’m writing “Deceased – June 19, 2012” and sending back.
I guess we’ll see if the government can get money from a dead person.
Lord knows enough of them vote with the government’s blessing.
…at 2:30 a.m. on June 19th, 2012 Daddy went home….finally, after over a week of suffering and fighting.
So, now he gets to play basketball and baseball and visit with is mom, dad, brothers and sister who went before him.
He gets to party with his friends that went before him, and most of all he gets to be the fun-loving man I knew before Alzheimer’s tore him apart the last two years.
Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty he’s free at last.
And me…I am taking a break.
A long break.
I’ll be back in mid-July.
But, don’t you forget about me ya hear? And tell all your friends to come visit my blog, poke around and comment on the things they like.
God Bless You, my friends.
For those of you wondering about my lack of presence lately…..
Daddy is in the ICU, acute respiratory failure due to aspiration pneumonia….
Between work and hospital, no time for anything else.
And, my funny bone’s broken.
I’ll be back…someday.
In the meantime, I’ll be posting some repeats over the next couple of weeks.
I apologize for the redundant redundancy, but these days I’m lucky to remember to put on pants before leaving the house in the morning.
For years upon years my stepdad would randomly ask my stepsister, Mom and I if we had seen his goat.
Over dinner, “Pass the potatoes, please. And have any of you seen my goat?”
Driving – “Look! Over there! In the field..is that…is that my goat?”
On the boat – “Do you think my goat might be out here somewhere?”
His ‘goat’ had a name – Eldessie – and he was forever looking for it. But the most embarrassing time was my first date…ever.
My date was chatting with my mom and stepdad as I finished getting ready. Stepdad put a hand on date’s shoulder and in all seriousness said, “Son, I just want you to keep an eye out for my goat tonight. I’ve been looking for it.”
Date was, understandably, speechless.
Fortunately, for me, he was also amused as ‘date’ became ‘husband’ a few years later.
As for the goat, well Stepdad never did find it so one year for his birthday we gave him one. Not a real goat, we lived in a townhouse in the city and farm animals were frowned upon, no we gave him a small goat toy.
He still has it and now it sits on the nightstand by his bed.
Eldessie has finally come home.
….when my Alzheimer-riddled father makes no sense when he speaks.
Truth be told, that’s most days.
And then, the light flickers on for a moment and as I ready to leave the nursing home where he spends his days, lost in a fog, he speaks the only lucid sentences I’ve heard in months..
“When will you be back?”
“Soon, Daddy, very soon. I love you.”
“I love you too, baby.”
He will sometimes try to follow me out the secured doorway or hold onto my hand until both our arms are stretched to their limits.
And the light flickers out again, the connection broken, he turns to shuffle down the hall – alone in his world, lost to mine.