Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's the Moments that Connect Us

Moments are what make caregiving special. The endless days of routine mixed with crisis can be exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming but when we can hang on to the moments - that is what can turn exasperation into delight.

I can’t really consider myself my dad’s caregiver because before he died he didn’t want me going to doctor appointments with him or telling him what he should be doing to manage his end stage renal failure.

Dad was given six months once the renal failure was diagnosed and it was six months later that he died. His cancer most likely had returned, causing the renal failure, but we cannot know that since he wouldn’t let the doctors do any testing.

Dad hated doctors and was positive they were trying to kill him so he avoided them and didn’t believe them when he had no choice but to see them. Refills of pain medications and Viagra are the only reasons Dad would see a doctor.

I insisted on seeing his doctor with him in order to fully understand what was going on. Dad was only 67 years old – surely there could be treatment for him. Dad was more stubborn than me, though, (I know – hard to believe!) and refused to let me see his doctor.

“I don’t want to be mad at you for making me go on dialysis.”

It is really hard to argue with that plea so I backed off.

Dad had always done things his own way so why would the end of his life be any different?

Dad was a character who tried my patience but who also made me laugh and gave me so many moments to remember him by. Having a close relationship with his siblings has given me a peak into who he was as a son and brother, too. At his funeral, one of his many brothers said Dad was always the “ray of light” in the family.

Dad did have a way of making us laugh! I probably laughed the most when Dad was driving one of his many convertibles and his toupee flew off his head! He literally pulled over on the side of the freeway, backed up and got out to retrieve it. I don’t know how he wasn’t killed but that moment still makes me laugh!

He has been gone for seven years but I keep learning new things about him.

My cousin, Steve, shared a wonderful memory of Dad. “When I first started working at a "serious" job, he spent time with me to discuss sales, confidence, and how to talk to people of all types...and, while it may sound surprising, how to not take $#!+ from people in a diplomatic way. The fact that he took that time with me is something I still hold onto. Love you, Uncle Al.”

Actually, that isn’t surprising at all! Dad would never take crap from anyone. One moment I shared with him is when he was buying a new car. Dad loved to drive a new Cadillac (although he went through a Lincoln and then a Jaguar phase too). I was with him at the car dealer and Dad was always either “rolling in dough” or asking me to borrow $20 for cigarettes and Diet Pepsi. Dad was more on the side of needing to borrow money when he decided he needed a new Cadillac.

I met him at the car dealer and while he paced through the showroom, several sales people were pouring over his application. They asked him about a mark on his credit and he went off on a rant about how that was a bunch of “bullshit” and he didn’t owe that person anything. I couldn’t believe he was bulldozing the sales people and just watched them look at him, almost entranced.

He drove out of there with a brand new Cadillac.

No one out-sells my dad.

That self-assurance translated to his family relationships too. My Aunt Judy recently told me that “your dad would always take the baked beans at a picnic and hide under a tree and eat them.” Of course he did! He was not concerned about social graces or that others might want the baked beans! Many years later, Dad would always bring the baked beans to our Thanksgiving dinners and after hearing this story, I suspect he stole Aunt Judy’s recipe. Oh dad!

Once Dad became a grandpa there was no end of crazy antics! He was not one to ooh and aah while I was pregnant but once Rachel popped out he went bananas. He loved being around her and my brother’s kids who came later. All three of them have moments to remember of their “crazy grandpa.”

For as seemingly self-centered he was, he was almost magical in his ability to mail out birthday and holiday cards so they arrived on the exact day we were celebrating.

Rachel said, “He would call me every Halloween and pretend to be Frankenstein, no matter how old I was!” And he did! Rachel was in college and still getting those calls from Frankenstein. We joke now how much he would love seeing Rachel get married but would be flirting mercilessly with all of her bridesmaids. 

Dad’s oldest brother took Dad’s death very hard. Uncle Ernie is the patriarch of the family and takes his role very seriously. He is kind and family-oriented and beloved. His memory of Dad especially touched my heart. “Being silly kind of runs in the family. Al had a great sense of humor and he could make you laugh. He really was Dad's favorite son. He was so proud of Al's ability. I miss him a lot. I do wish I could have seen him more often.”

As he lay dying in the hospital, Dad would pop up off the pillow, out of his confused state and ask, “Am I dying? Am I dying?’ I reassured him he would be fine and he would turn his head to Rachel, giving her a shrug and flashing a grin that told us he was accepting this experience just like every other unexpected and crazy experience in his life.  

The night before his funeral I had a dream of him flying through the sky in his red convertible and giving me a wave with that same grin on his face.

Each of us has these moments that stay with us and sharing them with one another is what connects our family.

That and love. Love, no matter how crazy the antics or frustrating the behavior, will always connect us.

Wishing you many moments to remember and love.

Happy Father’s Day!

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