Before I post an essay, I craft it in a Word document, then read it over and re-write it, then work on a different essay, then probably move some stuff around some more on the first one, before finally deciding it is ready to bring over here to be posted. This post is coming straight from the gut, right into the blog.
Those of you who know and love me, or just read my first blog, know that I have been caring for my father through the various stages of his dementia and decline for thirteen years. Let me repeat that – thirteen years! He was so very fit when the dementia hit him – no illnesses, no heart problems, nothing – that it has taken this long for his body to completely break down.
Then a few weeks ago, I was told by his doctor that Dad probably had about six months to live. At that time, I began to mentally and emotionally prepare myself, but it still had the feeling of, “when it happens,” or, “in a while.” So when I heard from his caregiver today that he hasn’t eaten a real meal in a week or two – has really only been ingesting meal-replacement shakes – and that she thought my sister and I might want to start visiting more often because he was quickly declining…I was startled to realize I felt shock, and grief.
So it’s really happening, and probably even sooner than I expected. This thing I’ve been expecting, and preparing for, and knew was coming, and – let’s face it – hoping for for the last thirteen years. And it still hurts.
I think I’ve got everything lined up and ready to go. I’ve signed the POLST, everyone knows our wishes, I have a funeral home chosen, and I even know his epitaph (see past post.) I’m ready to give him the death I think he would have wanted. I don’t think there’s anything else I could have done, any way I could have cared for him better, and I truly can’t wait for him to be free of his dementia prison. But it’s still weird.
What is interesting to me, as a group facilitator/bereavement counselor/caregiver counselor, is how different it is when it is happening to you. During my hospice work, I sat by many bedsides, comforted many family members, and watched as people seemed to improve one day, only to die the next. I’ve heard the stories from my group members about the deaths of their loved ones, and comforted them as best I could through my personal experiences. My own mother died when I was nineteen! And yet, this is all new.
I can’t help but think of After. Since my conversation with the doctor, I’ve been pondering what it will be like not to be a caregiver anymore, not to be on-call 24/7, not to be “holding” him and his health with my energy. I realized that I have a reserve of energy always waiting: even when I’m feeling my RA because I’ve done a lot, and I feel exhausted at the end of the day… there’s still that reserve, ready and waiting in case I get a phone call, or have to take action. I wonder what it will be like to have that energy for me.
While intellectually I know that nobody lives forever, it was really starting to feel like he would; lying in his recliner in his room, snoozing to the sound of classical music on his radio, a few hours away from his next meal. Living and not living. I’ve been saying goodbye to him for thirteen years. Anticipatory grief can be somewhat useful in that you can prepare for the loss and do a little but of your grieving along the way, but it’s still not the real deal.
I think there’s a voice inside my head saying, “Finally! It’s time, I can let go and actually feel those feelings that have been waiting – in reserve, getting prepared, ready when it happens – all these years.”
Finally, it’s time.