My mom died 11 years ago. Once my dad was unable to teach his BYU math classes, unable to be called to service missions, unable to drive, and unable to follow detailed conversations, he decided his time had come. He was ready to move on. He missed his sweetheart and wanted to be reunited with her ASAP.
His body didn’t exactly go along with the plan.
On April 28th, he was admitted into hospice care. He has lived with us for over three years (since a terrible car accident — and the cessation of his incessant driving) and we are determined to have him here for the rest of his life, if possible. My dad is the most wonderful man and has done so much to make his stay here not only full of love, but truly easy on me. The hospice company (Brighton) has already gone above and beyond the call of duty and provided wonderful support. Dad has joked about wanting “to take a pill so I can go be with your mom” for years. So I thought I was ready for all of this. Circle of life and all that.
Then the mail came. Or, really, it didn’t come.
Since moving here on February 3, 2011, my dad has been obsessed with mail. He would go the mailbox two or three times a day to check — rain or shine, dry or icy, often sneaking out against my protestations citing safety hazards — to bring in the load and distribute it. Lots was always for him because he has historically been a sucker for every plea for charitable giving — whether legitimate or questionable — so he is on everyone’s mailing list.
When he had his second sudden decline on April 28th (the nurse thinks it was a second TIAA (the first occurring April 15th)), he became unable to get the mail, or even support his weight. Three days later I wondered that my inbox had been conveniently empty for some time and finally it dawned on me that my “mailman” was no longer in service.
I despondently wandered out to the mailbox to collect the goods and came back with three days worth of envelopes. I proceeded to do Dad’s job of mail distribution.
In the process I came across a magazine. His magazine. I stared down at the May 2014 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society and realized that — for the first time in forever — he wouldn’t read it cover to cover. A huge cloud surrounded me. He’d never ruminate on “Is Big Data Enough? A Reflection on the Changing Role of Mathematics in Applications” or “What is a Spectrahedron?” How can they continue to publish without him being a part of it?
The next morning when I went to the door to let the hospice aid in — getting started in on my fairly new role of real caregiving, the porch lights were still on. Ever since the energy crisis of the 1970s, my dad was like a moth to the flame. If he could detect a lightbulb burning — and he could no matter where is was — he would find the switch and turn it off. He did this even if I had told him a hundred times the porch lights were left on overnight for security, even if I was working in my office, even if the room was too dark to read comfortably. But now the porch lights are all still burning brightly long after the sun comes up in the morning. Our carbon footprint will make Al Gore’s head spin.
As I sat at my desk late that night, working on a client’s site, I expected to hear the plunk of his cane and the shuffle of his slippers as he did one of his multiple nightly walks about the house. He would always wake up three or four times a night and walk about to get himself sleepy. Invariably, he’d sense the light in my office and start making his way there to douse the light to keep American energy solvent. But he never came.
Years ago, when signs of his aging were hard to deny, I came to terms with the fact that one day Dad would join Mom in a happy reunion on the other side. I knew he’d never teach from his last textbook again. I knew he would not be here for birthdays or weddings or even Christmas, even though he’d never missed a baby blessing, an ordination, a baptism, or a sealing not matter where in the country it happened. I knew I would miss him, but also knew he would be thrilled to move to the next phase and it was all part of The Plan.
What I did not anticipate, what I did not even think about, was that I would miss him every single day in little, tiny ways that I would not have guessed. I would miss all the routines and the everyday. As Caleb said to me today, “Mom, I’m afraid it will just never be the same again.” Indeed it will not.
I didn’t know that whenever I hear the Perry Mason theme song, I’d wish I could remind him to turn the volume to a low roar so it didn’t wake the kids.
It didn’t occur to me that I’d give anything to cajole him into taking a shower one more time, to hear him say, “I just did!” so I could look in his bathroom at the bone dry shower and respond, “No, you didn’t, Dad. Come on, it’s a shower day,” only to wait for him to finally give in when I “threatened” to go in with him and help him do it.
Who would have known that every pair of bushy eyebrow I see will remind me of him — and I’ll feel compelled to comb then down.
I didn’t realize that the “guest room” we built in 2010 will forever now be “grandpa’s room.”
I had no idea that being a caregiver to your parents means you will forever live with many of the same regrets you live with after parenting your children — ever mindful of all the things you should have done and all the things you shouldn’t have done, while navigating the minefield of parenting your parents.
The last week has been spent mostly making him comfortable with lots of “I love you” going back and forth and lots of kisses and hair stroking and watching him summoning up all his strength to smile when he could no longer speak.
My dad is next door in his room right now, in a rented hospital bed. Every few minutes I check on him and ask him how is is doing and if he needs anything. He moves his mouth a bit and tries to raise his eyelids, but he’s too tired and it’s too hard. I stroke his hands and tell him I love him. He whispers back that he loves me, too. I know that’s what he’s saying — even though it’s no longer perceptible — because that’s what he’s always said.
I am so glad to know that some day I will see him again as he really is. There is more to life than now.
Update: If you’d care to see the obituary, you can find it here: Hal G Moore obituary