Tuesday, January 3, 2012


New Year's Day afternoon, after spending the night and morning helping care for my stepfather, I made the return trip to VA.  I knew there was another gap in nursing coverage that was to occur from 4PM until midnight today, but Mom assured me she would be alright giving him his meds during that time....I should go home and take care of my stuff.  I had a feeling I'd be returning soon.

This afternoon I called to see how Mom was doing and it was clear she was not as sure of herself with the upcoming gap in coverage as she'd thought...she'd really appreciate if I'd come back and take care of the meds.  So I packed up my gear and made the three hour drive.  About two hours into the drive, my daughter called to let me know Mom had sent out an email letting everyone know that my stepfather had passed away while I was en-route.  I called Mom so see whether she wanted me to turn around or to continue on...she opted for the latter, asking that I help her in the next couple of days making the arrangements for the funeral, etc.

When I got to Mom's house I was happy to see that she seemed to be in a good place.  John's passing was a peaceful one, at home, with his wife/companion of 34 years and their three "kitties."  He was 89 1/2 years old and had seen a lot, and lived a lot of life.  His passing leaves Mom with a definite void in her life, but I am thankful they had such a good long time together.

Mom and I went out to eat at their favorite restaurant.  Everyone knows them there....they eat there several times a week and have been doing so since 1984 when they moved to this area.  They are treated as family there and it was obvious the folks at the restaurant were genuinely saddened by John's passing.  I have little doubt there will be a few of them attending his funeral.  Tonight, when Mom went to pay for our supper with a gift card from my brother and his family (an exceptional gift I must say!) the restaurant owner refused it...dinner was on him.

Back at the house the difference from only a day ago was obvious.  The dining room which had become the makeshift bedroom still had the hospital bed as its main feature, but the once puffing and gurgling oxygen machine now sat silently in the corner, and the hospital bed was stripped bare.  The house was quiet.  The three cats moseyed about on soft paws, adding no sound to the suddenly quiet house.

But Mom filled the quiet with talk of what's next, what she loved about John, stories of their lives together, etc.  It was a good evening of talk, laughter, and a little bit of teary eyes.  I stayed with her until about 10 PM and then headed over to my Dad's and stepmother's to spend the night.  I'll pick Mom up tomorrow morning to start the long day of "arrangements." Before I head to bed myself, I wanted to write about what I found to be some of John's most amazing talents.

From the time I first met him, until the very end, John would sit down on the couch, and within a few minutes, be nodding off.  Mom, never at a loss for words, would fill every waking hour with "conversation."  John would snooze as Mom would share her thoughts, stories, tales, etc.  Invariably, Mom would get to a point in a story she was trying to tell, that would require clarification.... "what kind of car was Tom driving when he met us at the restaurant in 1993?" (or some other completely irrelevant detail).  Mom would ask this question in the middle of her story, and John would immediately awaken from his nap, answer the question correctly and without hesitation, and then drift back off to sleep.  It was truly bewildering how he could keep up with her stories even as he slept.

The other talent that amazed me was his ability, within a very short time of meeting a person, to discover someone they knew in common.  Time and again he'd meet one of my friends and chat with them for a few minutes only to discover he'd attended school with one of their relatives, or had been shipmates in the Navy with one of their friend's father.  Even when he met Joe, he soon established that he knew a guy Joe knew from his work in Yosemite....the world simply was a very small place to John and he never forgot a person.  When I remarked about this to Mom this evening, she said that he was always truly interested in the people he met, and always wanted to keep in contact....their Christmas card list is over 600 names long....

John's passing means a new era for Mom.  I don't know what the future holds for her, but I know that the past 34 years have been good ones, and for that I am very happy.  I am glad to have been able to know John.  He touched a lot of lives and will be remembered for a long time.  I am very happy that he passed peacefully, and that his was neither a prolonged illness, nor a sudden accidental death.  Passing is never easy for those left behind, but Mom was able to help him pass the way he wanted to...at home, with his loved ones.

Rest In Peace John.
From the Occasion of His 85th Birthday Party

John Meeting the Youngest Family Member Eloise 12/20/2011

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Different New Year's Eve

We weren't planning on any big deal for New Year's Eve this year.  We spent the day piddling around place, insulating the well house, repairing a flat tire on one of the mowers, and that type of thing.  It was just a slow, relaxing day, a little sad, because my dog, Killian, appears to be approaching her end of life.  She is, after all, 16 years old, but, well, you know...sad to see the once "forever a puppy" suddenly shutting down.  Still, the weather was beautiful, especially for this time of year, and we spent our day enjoying the warmth, before the predicted deep freeze heads our way.

After we ate supper, I called my Mom -- my step father is at home, in hospice, and I wanted to see how she was holding up.  Mom is taking this as well as can be expected, I suppose.  John is 89 years old and, up until about six weeks ago, was doing pretty well for a man of that age.  But after taking a couple of falls in the house, he ended up in the hospital and then rehab, where, after falling again, he was subjected to more testing.  The testing revealed that his cancer has metastasized.  And so, some ten days before Christmas, the house was made ready to accommodate his hospital bed, and the home hospice care began.

Tonight, when I spoke with Mom, she reported that he'd entered a new phase, different from when we'd visited on December 20th.  Then, John had been able to engage in meaningful dialog, though only for a very short period of time.  Now, Mom told me, he really was sleeping almost 100% of the time.  We chatted for a while, and she told me that he is now having critical care at home, but that, due to the holiday weekend, there were some gaps in coverage.

I've never experienced hospice before.  I am learning through Mom's experience, but, being three hours away, it is hard to know how I can help.  It seems that one of the major "issues" is that John has to be turned twice daily (at a minimum) to ensure he does not suffer bed sores.  This turning is apparently quite painful to him, and so he has been prescribed morphine, to be administered in the mouth, just before they turn him.  The problem is that the morphine must be administered by either an RN or a family member.  The caregivers that spend 24 X 7 here, when the critical care RN is not here, are not allowed to administer it.

Mom is expected to do the administration of the morphine whenever the RN is not here.  While John was still alert, she was able to have him help her hold the syringe in his mouth and help her administer the dosage.  But now that he is unable to help, she is on her own.  Mom has issues with falling herself, and cannot easily bend over John for the amount of time required to administer the meds....she is scared she will fall on him, or fall backward and end up in the hospital herself.

So, I offered to drive up to MD and "cover" the shift that is being left uncovered by an RN, due to the holidays.  The decision was made at 8:00 PM and by 8:45 PM I was on my way.

I'm not a fan of driving at night, and I am most assuredly not a fan of driving on New Year's Eve...nevertheless, it was something I felt strongly I wanted to do to help Mom and John.  Thankfully, the drive was pretty easy, and I arrived here just after midnight.

Mom and I sat up and talked about anything and everything she wanted to talk about, until she was tired enough to head to bed...at 3 AM.  I think she needed the company as much as anything.  Now that she is in bed, I am sitting here in the living room, listening to the mechanical sounds of the oxygen delivery and the CPAP machine, and something that sounds like running water...not sure what that is.  John, as far as I know, is unaware I am even here.  Sitting right next to his bed is Andrew, the night caregiver - quiet and attentive.

Happy New Year?  I don't know.  I'm glad Mom is able to grant John's wish to spend his final days at home.  I'm glad the "long term care" for which they paid premiums for so long has made it possible for her to grant him this wish.  On the other hand, the complete upheaval of the house and their routine, added to the stress of knowing the end is near, is taking its toll on Mom.  Still, she remains as upbeat as possible, given the circumstances.

And so, I am spending New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, experiencing something different from any of my previous 53 such New Year's.  I'm guessing it will not be remembered as, "my favorite New Year's ever," but, as they say, it is what it is.

I hope everyone has a healthy and happy 2012.