Friday, June 18, 2010

The Long and Short Goodbye.


It was 2005 when my husband and I were given the news: we were losing our fathers.

Mine was in a nursing home in Kansas.

He was a diabetic with congestive heart failure and colon cancer that could not be removed. At 90, he was folding in on himself, talking less and less, eating fewer foods, the light in his eyes growing dimmer.

A tough midwestern farmer, he had rarely been sick. He carried bales of hay as if they weighed only a few pounds. He could lift a plow with one arm and drag it to the tractor’s hitch. In the winter, he hoisted great stacks of wood through the snow and into the house to build fires that would keep us warm for hours.

Now, his muscles betrayed him and he couldn’t lift his own body into a wheelchair, but had to depend on others to do it.

My sisters and I each went back to say goodbye, to say thank you, to kiss him farewell. Then, those of us who lived far away went back to our homes to go about our daily tasks, to our daily routines. However, the thought that he was dying permeated our lives like a frustrating, static-filled TV show that was always on.

We hastened the pace of our lives, running errands, throwing ourselves into our jobs, taking care of our children with such ferocity, all in the attempt to drown out the knowledge none of us wanted to face.

But in the quiet of our cars, in the time just before sleep, when we were idle for a moment at the sink after supper, we recognized the hum of the truth that awaited us and we prepared ourselves for it.


My husband’s father turned 74 that same year. He looked healthy and strong, his eyes shone bright when he opened the door to welcome us. “Come into this house!” he said. He played golf and loved to exercise with his sons. His upbeat demeanor had always affected everyone and we stood there, looking at him, thinking, the doctors can’t be right.

That was the year he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Though he tried to glide through life as he used to, we finally saw his mind began to snag on questions that rose up to trap and snare his brain. Soon, visits to the doctor became cruel games of trivia. What street do you live on? What year is it? Who is president? What is your full name?

A brilliant lawyer in his earlier years, he spent his days arguing cases, studying statutes, attending conferences. Now he tried to remember what his toothbrush was used for. He was the mayor of his community and headed up the arduous task of building a new fire station. As a city council member, he kept track of numbers, fact, and schedules. As a friend and neighbor, he kept up on news, taking care to remember people’s names and the names of their children.

That same man now needed to be reminded of what day it was and to remember to shower in the morning. Driving was impossible and so he depended on other people to take him places—places he often did not remember going to.

And his sons stood beside him and watched him slowly disappear, over-compensating with reassuring remarks whenever he forgot something. They watched as the father they knew slowly leaked out, dissolved, leaving a familiar-looking shell.


We were both losing our fathers, and we struggled with the hard flint of this stubborn reality in our own ways.

Though I prided myself on my appearance of maturity and resignation, more than occasionally the petulant little girl inside of me who did not want her daddy to go, rose up and shattered that fa├žade. I often went to my room, sat in a corner and cried, butting my head against the intractable rules of nature.

After hearing his father’s diagnosis, my husband searched.

Night after night, he sat in a darkened living room and stared into the glowing screen of a computer, hoping to find cures, hoping to find studies, praying to find medical trials. He spent hours and hours in the darkness with only hope by his side. He knew enough about the disease to recognize that would eventually happen, but at that moment he was unwilling to accept it. He saw acceptance as defeat and as a form of disloyalty to his father.

Acceptance would mean grieving for his father and to grieve for someone when that person is still alive, still shaking your hand in greeting, even if he does not recognize you, is at best incongruous, and at worst, a betrayal.


It was 2005 and we were both losing our fathers. The terrible tickets were in our hands and we waited for the calls to begin our trips into this territory, unknown to us.


My father’s death came on Father’s Day that year.

It was painful and I grieved, but along with that grief came the knowledge that the highway I traveled, though complicated and difficult, was natural. It was recognizable. People nodded. They understood. They had in their vocabulary familiar, well-meaning packets of words that they freely and sincerely gave to me. There was comfort there and an odd, unspoken kinship with others who had gone through the same thing.

Five years later, my husband’s loss continues.

For awhile he traveled in hope as took the blue highways, the small web-like roads that led in and out of anticipation and inevitable setbacks, but then just like the web-liked pathways of his father’s brain, those roads were clogged, blocked, cut off completely, leaving only the flat, unrelenting terrain of reality.

His father is now in a nursing home. He sits day after day, unresponsive.


His father is there.

His father is not there.


His father has gone.

His father remains.


The long and lonely journey continues.


72 comments:

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Such tender outpouring of love for the fathers. They deserve a place in our hearts. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Miller said...

we lost Ts mom about 2 years ago...it was a long goodbye...painful...stirring quite the memories this morning....a touching post...

Elisabeth said...

Betty this is such an exquisite post. The sadness of your respective losses, the love you each hold for your fathers shines through and their capacity now lost is a reminder of the men they once were.

I feel a tinge of jealousy, as much as there were times when I might have admired my father I never had sch a father as yours, nor did my husband have such a father as your husband's.

It is sad to lose such wonderful men but their legacies live on in you and your children. This is a glorious memorial to two men, courageous I imagine in life and in death. Thank you.

June said...

A very moving post here.

I always think that guilt and shame are free-floating everywhere when Death starts knocking on the door.
I imagine your father's frustration with being helped. I know your husband's helpless sadness at his father being there/not there.
A parent's death is a rite of passage, rife with woulda/coulda/shouldas.
I find this quote comes to mind:
“Acceptance of one's life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.” ~Dr. Paul Tournier

Jennifer Shirk said...

Aww...your post made me tear up. I can't imagine having a parent with Alzheimer’s.

Mamma has spoken said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father and father in law! I too have had to watch a parent pass away. My mother died of cancer several years ago. It was a painful, long death. Even though it's been 12 years, I still miss her every day. I can't go to her grave because the pain is still unbearable.
My heart goes out to you and hubby during this time.

BigSis said...

Wow - I am so touched by your words. And, now I want to tell my dad and grandfathers (both still alive at ages 89 and 91) how much I love them! I likely won't be able to wish all three a happy father's day next year.

Hugs to you!

Piedmont Writer said...

I am so sorry for both your losses.

Talei said...

OMG Betty, did I mention how happy I am I found your blog. Your words here are so honest and from the heart, you made me tear up too. It is so hard to lose a parent,someone who has walked with you all your lives. Sending peaceful thoughts to you and your family.

Madi and Mom said...

BB what absolutely breathtaking tribute to two Fathers who raised you both well!!!

I can certainly identify with this. On the Monday after Father's Day in 2008 by Dad went to the ER...within 36 hours he was in surgery for 8 hours, intensive care for 11 days, then in the hospital for another month. Followed by 6 weeks of rehab. I thought I would be saying goodbye in 2008. Now 2 years later he and Mom are both living at home again at about 85% of how they were. Each day he has had since 2008 has been a gift. Mom was also very sick in 2008. Life is just a mystery.

My thoughts with your husband and he continues the journey with his precious Dad...
Happy Father's Day to him too.
Madi and Mom

Linda said...

I know that journey very well myself. My father passed away many years ago...37 years to be exact. I think of him often and know in my heart that he knows of my life today. Your words are so touching.

HulaBuns said...

This is very touching. Thank you for sharing such personal experiences. I'm sorry for your losses. My Father has CHF, diabetes and has colon cancer as well. He has been lucky enough (so far) that they have removed the cancer in his colon successfully.

Much hugs to you. :)

sarahjayne smythe said...

What a heartbreaking, beautiful tribute to your fathers. While we all travel the journey, that doesn't make it easier. My husband is currently grieving the loss of his father, and while his passing as he did was a blessing compared to the alternative of a long, drawn out battle with cancer, that doesn't in the short term make it easier to lose your loved one.

My heart and hope and thoughts go out to you and your husband as you continue to face this particular stretch of your personal journies.

anna @ frosted petunias said...

Betty this post is touching, beautiful and brave. A heartfelt tribute to 2 incredible men. My father passed away 6 years ago. He was a difficult man to love and I envy the closeness and admiration you shared with yours. But I still have fond memories and over time have been able to remember more of the good and appreciate that he did his best. Thank you for sharing your story.

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

You just pulled on some of my memories, Betty.
I lost my dad about four years ago.
I couldn't ever come to terms with it.
What a powerful tribute to your father!
(((Hugs!)))
B xx

Leanne said...

Betty, what a tribute to both of these men. Thank you for sharing these very personal stories with us. I often struggle with the "why" in life...and my "why" is rarely answered. I'll be thinking of both of these fathers this weekend, along with my own. Thank you, again, for telling us about them. Thinking of you . . .

Ally said...

Awww, Betty I want to hug you and HOB so badly right now. I'm crying :( I know this feeling as we watch my grandma fade. She was/is like a second mother to me. Slipping day by day I wait for her to not remember who I am. I know it's coming soon. She's forgotten most of my cousins who don't visit with her or call. We celebrate her birthday and she doesn't know who the party is for but claps her hands like a child and sings. It is so painful. My heart goes out to you and I thank you for this beautiful post with tears in my eyes.

Old Kitty said...

What a lovely tribute to both your dads. I am so sorry to hear about your loss of your dad BB. What a remarkable man! He comes across as strong and powerful and yet totally loved and completely missed by you and your sisters. He remains in your heart forever.

I'm also very sorry to hear about HOB's father. Alzheimer's is a cruel, cruel affliction. It lays waste to the most brilliant of minds. It's truly awful.

My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

Take care
x

DrSoosie said...

I was just telling a friend of mine that I do not remember my father being strong and healthy. He has been quite ill for the last 25 years and sometimes I try to conjure up the image of the strong, towering man who was always my strength and came to my rescue. Now I see a fragile man with glimmers of the dad I once knew. It is so hard to reconcile in your mind;s eye the view of your dad ingrained since childhood and the one now present as an adult. i am lucky. My dad is still alive with a sound mind. But i sometimes feel like you described...a ticking clock waiting for the day when he will no longer be here to be my dad.

Noelle said...

What a beautiful post.

I hate hate hate alzheimers. I think it's one of the worst diseases on this planet...

I remember when my grandma had been silent for over 5 years. I think she knew she wasn't making sense and just stopped talking. One day I was changing her diaper and I was talking to her and out of the blue she looked at me directly and said, "I love you."

I've always thought of that as God's gift to help buffer the reality of the disease.

God bless you and your husband Betty.

Crystal Cook said...

I'm so sorry for you Betty. This is such a beautiful and moving post. :)

Ashley King said...

Betty, you paint a picture so well.... I admire that so much about you.... the images are so real....

It reminds me of The Notebook. It reminds me of working in a nursing home. It reminds me of my own father.

i know there really are no words that i can say that would make any of what you've gone through any easier, but we are all here for you.... i empathize with what you have gone through, and continue to go through....

hugs and love from orange county!!

Writing Without Periods! said...

What a wonderful post. You have such a gift for writing. I think both fathers would be very proud to be honored like this. Thank you for introducing them to me.
Mary

Betty said...

My mother has Alzheimer´s and I know what you are writing about here. It is just that, a long good bye. It is so hard too see....and not be able to DO anything.

Ms. Anthropy said...

I'm not sure how to say this so it will be understood, but I'm going to try. When someone we love, has an illness or disease that causes suffering, losing them is horrible, but knowing they will never suffer again, is a relief. Losing someone still with us is difficult to deal with. It's hard to initiate the grieving process without guilt, because, they are still here, but not HERE. Hope that makes a little sense. Thoughts and prayers.

KleinsteMotte said...

Father's Day. Your tribute is moving. I don't know what it's like to have a dad in adult life. Mine dies suddenly when I was barely 16 but the memory of him is always there.I wonder how it might have been to have him longer. I will visit his grave on Sunday.Buddy is at high risk for Alzheimers.

Beth Zimmerman said...

Betty,
What a beautiful, and heart wrenching post, in tribute to both of your fathers!
Love you!
Beth

faye said...

This was so well written and touching.I hardly know what to say.
I lost my sister Feb.17 of this year.
Still trying to accept that she is gone. So many times I reach for the
phone to call her and then I stop.
Not a day goes by, sometimes not even an hour that I don't think about her .

Long goodbye or short goodbye,
it is never easy.

Marlene said...

You've brought tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful person. I just know it.

Feeling Just Right said...

Betty, my dear, the pain in this post makes me so sad. Let me give you a tight hug.

I am praying for both your fathers today. I am praying that they both may be well, where they are now. I am praying for happier tomorrows for both of them.

I am praying that HOB and you get to feel the love you both felt as children, with your daddys again, be in in your alone moments- in the car, at the sink, just before you sleep... Feel it.

Aging Mommy said...

Oh Betty, you write so beautifully about the joyful things in life and so poignantly about the very sad facts of life too. I never really appreciated what Alzheimer's is like until I read Still Alice and then I understood just how awful a disease this is. I am so sorry for you and your husband dealing with this, it must be so hard to know someone you love so much is here but at the same time so very much no longer here also.

Susan Fields said...

What an amazing post, Betty. Both my parents are still healthy, but I know that day is coming, and I can't even bear to think about it. I remember watching my grandmother struggle with Alzheimer's for years and what that did to my mother. You've written an wonderful tribute here.

Jimmy said...

You have delt with some conditions that hit close to home with me, the diabetes your Father had has been with me about thirty four years and the side effects are numerous, the Alzheimers we are helping Cindy's Mom cope with and it is a learning experience every day.

Excellent Post Betty, Thank You for sharing this tribute to both of your Fathers, I will be praying for both of you and HOB's Father.

Ann said...

Such a touching post. It made me think back on my own fathers passing. I can not imagine what your husband must be going through watching his father fade before his eyes in such a slow process.
Beautiful tribute to the fathers

Pat said...

This is such a wonderful tribute to your Dad, and father-in-law.

You are so right when you say that there was a "kinship" with others that had experienced a loss. I felt like I had joined a club of those who had lost their parents. I felt like I didn't show enough sympathy when friends lost their parents. How could I possibly have understood until I, too, experienced it?

My father died a slow, 2 year death with lymphoma.

My father-in-law is 99 years old and is showing signs of dementia, and his kidneys are shutting down. Yet he holds on. Who understands life?

Tabor said...

I lost both my parents a few years ago. One to cancer and one to old age. My husband lost his father to old age and his mother to senility like AlZ. So sorry for you journey and I know what is is/was like.

Pedaling said...

wow, that was a powerful, so truthful post.
i can perfectly relate to your experience with you losing your dad---
i lost mine last June on the 7th (my moms b-day) and how you expressed your thoughts & reactions are very, very close to mine.

i think, we had it easier than your husband.

thank you for sharing this.

slommler said...

What a moving tribute to both of your fathers.
Hugging you both!!!
SueAnn

Kazzy said...

So well-written, with warmth and reality all in one. I fear the day my dad goes. He is one of my real rocks. Best wishes.

Lourie said...

I just do not know what to say. Your words are beautiful and it stirs the heart. I just can't even imagine.

blueviolet said...

You turned something so heart wrenching and painful into a beautiful story. This very much explains why when a friend received condolences on her mother's death she answered that she had grieved over and lost her mother years prior to that moment. At the present time, she was feeling just peace.

Miriam in KS said...

Beautiful tribute to your fathers.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Oh, Betty...I'm so sorry...You will be in my thoughts much this weekend! And I will continue to keep you and your husband in my prayers...what a difficult and ongoing loss...You've expressed it so beautifully...but the ache is there, I know. My heart is with you. Love, Janine XO

Joanna Jenkins said...

That pulled on my heartstrings, Betty. Your tribute is lovely and sad and... big sigh.

Beautifully written,
jj

Muthering Heights said...

This is so touching...I'm very sorry for both losses. :(

My grandmother has Alzheimer's also...it is such a painful thing. I will pray for your family over this hard weekend!

Daisy said...

Oh Betty, hugs to you. This must be such a difficult time of year for you. My heart goes out to you. You touched me to the core with this post. My father passed away five years ago--- four days after his and my mom's 50th wedding anniversary. He had Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's. The story you tell here sounds so much like my own and his. Now my mom is in a nursing home. She's 79 years old has had several mini strokes. Today I went with her to an appointment with the neurologist. He diagnosed her as also having Parkinson's. I've already been down this road once. I don't want to go down it again, but I have no choice. It stretches out before me. You are not alone. I'll be thinking of you this weekend.

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

Betty, so sad but so beautifully written, as always. Getting older sure teaches you about love and loss.

The Retired One said...

What a moving and touching post. I completely understand. It was similar with us. Only my Dad's death was sudden. The morning of one Thanksgiving, he told my mom that he "had the worst headache he ever had in his life"...he went into the bathroom for aspirin and keeled over from a massive stroke. He died a few hours later in the E.R. and we all went home to my house where I had turned the turkey down in the oven hours earlier. I still have the phone message on my phone where he had called only an hour before telling me he was bringing over rolls for our dinner. I can't bear to hear it, and it was ten years ago.
My husband's father slowly left us through the cruel world of Parkinsons. Like Alzheimers, after it robbed his body of things he once enjoyed, it robbed his thought processes and speech.
We have both lost our moms to cancer which were other difficult journeys as well.
But I know one thing. None of all four of them would ever have wanted to lose their children before they left us. They would think it unnatural.

gayle said...

You have written a beautiful post in honor of you father and father in law! We all suffer the same ......yet different!

A Tale of Two Cities said...

Painful to read, but so poignant. My heart aches this weekend too, as I remember my dad whom I lost 3 years ago. Thank you for putting into beautiful words what I was pondering in my heart.

Debi

Donna B said...

Oh Betty. What a beautifully written essay! You should have it published. What a tribute! So touching and heart wrenching. I could so relate to your post, especially the parts of crying in your room. I cannot imagine both of you getting the news of your Fathers together! My heart goes out to your husband, as I am on the same dead end path with my Father.

You really poured your heart into this post. It was extremely emotional for me to read. Tears readily flow when I read and empathize with the torture endured from this hideous disease.

My heart goes out to you and your husband and my arms want to hug you both. This post was so very touching. It is really beautifully and well written. You described the anguish of Alzheimer's better than I have ever read. I did the exact same thing as your husband did, researching the net, when my Dad was diagnosed. Thank you so much for this post. God Bless all of you.

Joyful said...

This post was hard for me to read as my mother is ailing and steadily going down in health. I cherish our time together and her mind is still intact. Thank goodness. It is always hard to lose a parent and Alzheimer's seems an especially cruel disease. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Hugs

Jesson And Rey Ann said...

magnificent post, im done reading this for 15 minutes and more if im not mistaken!!!

Powdered Toast Man said...

That was a very touching and well written post. I feel ur pain. I lost my father to diabetes 13 years ago, I was 12. Some years fathers day is tough and others it isn't.

Peggy K said...

I hope you know how many lives you touch with your words!! Such a beautiful tribute to both men. Thank you for sharing your heart with us!! Whether your words make us laugh or cry, I look forward to reading your blog each day. You stir my emotions!!!

Debbie said...

Oh Betty, how sad and heartbreaking for both of you. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

Liz said...

Oh, BB. Such a difficult and emotional time for you both.

You write so beautifully, too.

Poetic Shutterbug said...

This was a heart wrenching yet touching post and a beautiful tribute to your fathers.

citymouse said...

I read this yesterday at work but I can't comment from there, so I made a point of coming back today.

I still have my dad but during this past year I loss both my mom and younger brother. I was really touched by your ability to capture the different feelings of loss people go through. While my mother's death was unexpected, she had raised her children and had played with all her grandchildren. People knew what to say and how to react. The loss of my brother was much more like what HOB is going through. He had fought cancer for 3 years and seemed to be winning that battle until he woke up one day and it was clear that wasn't the case. Watching someone you love disappear in front of you is the worse kind of loss. Every part of you wants to reach out and fix something, anything but it never happens.

Sending sweet, friendly thoughts to both you and HOB today and tomorrow. In the face of loss, all we can really do is celebrate the good parts of life. I hope your Fathers day weekend is filled with joy.

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

You have such an amazing way with words, Betty. I have no other words, but THANKS!
xoRobyn

Shan said...

This is so sad. It makes me grieve for both of you.

My own father is 62. I see how his body is failing him and it makes me worried and sad. He was a superhero to me when I was 17. I don't think many teens come to realize what their parents can or will do for them at that age, but that's when it struck me.

And here's something odd... my grandfather passed away the day before your father. In a nursing home in St. George, Utah. He always recognized my son and I when we visited, but it was never guaranteed.

Copyboy said...

So sorry for your loss, and the pain your husband has to deal with day after day.

Theresa Milstein said...

Oh wow. Such a powerful post, and the pictures are perfect to go with the words.

I'm sorry about your father and that Father's Day is also the anniversary of the day he died.

And I'm sorry for your husband. Alzheimer's is a cruel disease.

prashant said...

Such tender outpouring of love for the fathers.
Contextual Ad Network India

Joann Mannix said...

Betty, I am sorry. So sorry.

To endure such a loss, two times over, is heartbreaking.

I gasped when you said you lost your Father on Father's Day. But, then I thought your dad's memory will forever be marked on the day honoring fatherhood. In a way, there is something profoundly comforting in that, I think.

What an insidious beast Alzheimer's is. I am sorry that he physically still remains in his state. It is just such a heartbreaking disease. I hope and pray that soon a breakthrough will come in this fight, so that this terrible, terrible theft of life can be stopped in its tracks.

Carol said...

As I read about your father, I experienced the same with my mother. I found the same heart hurting moment flowing in as if it was yesterday. I know also the peace my mom felt with her last breath and her smile as she saw her Father. It was the most heart warming moment in my life. I miss both parents but know they are in a better place.

Susan said...

You put into words what most of us cannot express. Thank you, Betty, for the wonderful tribute. My dad passed away 6 months ago, last Thursday, and I miss him very much. Both my parents are gone now and I still feel like I need them with me. I wish I could write like you so that they would know how much I loved them.

Venassa said...

Those would both be difficult situations.

I get really sad watching commercials about Alzheimer's, so I cant imagine someone I love having it. It would be so hard.

Beautiful post.

Jessica said...

My grandma is on that journey as well.
I really hope I don't pull a ticket on that train.
Until then ... we smell the flowers, eh.

CRAZYMOM said...

This is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

katlupe said...

What a touching post! My own father is 91 and my FIL is 90 and I know the pain of losing them is coming. As you said it is inevitable and I can deal with that much easier than the loss of someone through Alzheimer's. I took care of Alzheimer's patients for many years in my jobs and my heart always went out to the families. It was so hard for them. Thank you for a beautiful post.

PJ said...

Hey BB! What a loving and heart-felt post! I know your dad is up their smiling. I have never had to deal withy alzheimners before, but I did lose my dad back in 92 because of complications from diabetes and pancreatic cancer. My mom passed away when she was 43 (I was 13) from Cirrhosis of the Liver. I know a little about loss, but not seeing them drift away little by little.

God Bless,
PJ