Caring for Dad: The Good, the Bad, and the Great, Not In Any Order

The Bad
A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with a rare blood condition called myelodysplastic syndrome. At the time the doctor didn’t think treatment was necessary so it sort of sat in the background, something to be aware of but not overly concerning. Last summer things started falling apart. Dad contracted pneumonia and they discovered he was also very anemic. He spent some time in the hospital, received blood transfusions along with his antibiotics, and was advised to contact his ‘cancer doctor’ as Dad calls him.

At the time, Dad was living alone with an assortment of cats and dogs; three of each. He lived in a nearby but we didn’t visit often because he preferred to visit us. He stopped in almost daily and had a standing invitation to dine with us, and in the months leading up to and immediately following his hospitalization we noticed he was visiting at meal time more and more often.

Dad lost his partner of two decades a few years ago, and my brother and his family had recently moved back to town. We chalked up his visits to missing Norma and wanting to catch up on lost time with my brother.

The Good
After following up with his doctor, Dad started chemo in August. Toward the end of September my brother stopped in to visit and was concerned about how much Dad was deteriorating and the condition of the house. We went to do some emergency cleaning, and three days later Dad was installed in the guest room of our home. Dad is a gregarious person so we always worried about him living alone. With five other people in the house there is always someone to listen to his stories.

My business was already struggling. I may have been able to pull through without the distraction of caring for my dad, but I may not have. I will never know and honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I closed it up and filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Not ideal, but there it is.

We divided up the pets, my brother and sister-in-law initially taking the two young dachshunds (my daughter has since adopted one), and Norma’s son taking the ancient female cat. We brought home two cats (one stayed and one moved on), and my dad’s 16-year-old poodle, Jake.

Jake was like a creature from another planet. He was deaf and blind with bad knees and about three teeth. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth, and he hobbled around like a newborn lamb. He relied mostly on his sense of smell to guide him, and he had been ‘doing his business’ in the house for years. He quickly figured out there were rewards for ‘going’ outside, and within a few days he was pretty well house trained. He cried vociferously when Dad was gone. It sounded like a cat. He was a weird little dude and sometimes we enjoyed him, other times not so much.

More of the Bad
Over this past weekend, Jake got sick. He was struggling to breathe and having lots of accidents. Somehow he survived the weekend, but Dad made the difficult decision to have him put down. I made the appointment for the afternoon to give Dad and the family time to say goodbye, and my son drove to the vet clinic as I held Jake in his favorite blanket and loved on him all the way there. He perked up as we drove past the Dairy Queen, and I will always regret that we didn’t stop for a final treat.

The euthanasia process was mercifully quick. I, his second favorite person in the world, was with him as he passed more or less peacefully on. I say more or less because he protested as the doctor shaved a patch on his foot and poked him with the needle. I know he didn’t know what was happening, but I’m sorry he felt pain and fear at the end. I felt like a traitor telling him everything would be alright. 

More Good
Dad always says he doesn’t watch much TV, but he absolutely loves the game shows, old movies, and documentaries about almost anything. Many time throughout the day he will call to me, “Mary, come look at this”. Despite much cajoling he almost never eats at the table with us, preferring to watch Jeopardy, although I suspect it’s mostly because he can feed the dogs without anyone fussing at him.

We have him set up for a weekly ‘bubble bath’ at the local nursing home, so he stays nice and clean without having to navigate a dangerous bath or shower. His lovely silver hair shines after his bath.

He’s getting three squarish meals a day and plenty of snacks. He has put on 25 pounds in the past five months and keeps telling everyone he’s getting fat, but he’s actually about in the middle of his recommended body weight range.

The Great
Last night I sat with Dad and showed him some wonderful things on YouTube, like the video of Lukas Nelson singing his dad’s song, You Were Always On My Mind. His favorite song is Gentle on My Mind by Glen Campbell, but he had heard The Band Perry do their version and asked to see it. I don’t know where he ever heard of them, but watching it made him tear up. He also really like cat and dog videos – go figure. These things happen almost every day.

At Dad’s last visit to the doctor he was told that his prognosis was not good; he will probably live six months to two years. I got tearful. After the doctor left the room he chuckled and said, “I don’t have long to live? I didn’t see that coming!” This was one week before his 90th birthday.

Dad can be infuriating, selfish, and demanding. I think this is a more or less universal trait of Man, starting at birth and growing in intensity throughout life. But he is also kind, generous, and grateful. Caring for him has helped me and the rest of my family focus on what’s important. Would I like to write a blog post twice a week? Yes. Is it more important that easing my dad through his final days and doing what I can to alleviate his fears? No. It has helped me become more patient and to learn to ask for help. It have learned how generous and thoughtful my husband and children can be.

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