Although this is not the most cheerful topic I've written about, it is a necessary one. Setting goals and being proactive, to me, is an important part of grieving and moving through complex feelings related to the loss of someone I loved dearly.
So, from October through January, five of my short-term goals are:
1. Go through all of Dad's homilies and create a book. Copies of the book will be given to family members as well as those who would be interested in reading his homilies. All of the homilies were written while he was a Deacon for about 15 years.
2. Do a countdown to Halloween with a focus on doing activities that are meaningful. Every year we would get together as a family for a Halloween dinner. The children would change into costumes and go out trick-or-treating. This was a happy time when the grandchildren could show their grandparents their costumes; and we could spend time together as a family.
This year, I'd like to do something similar to the Countdown to Christmas...but, perhaps, a shorter duration (1 week versus 24 days). I'd like to try to create some positive memories to replace difficult ones from last year (see #5 below).
Sophia and Olivia in costumes with
my Mom and Dad/their Nana and Papa.
(Taken on October 31, 2010.)
Dad with an eagle
at the Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota.
He was very excited to see and learn about the eagles.
(Taken on July 19, 2010.)
4. Host Thanksgiving. This will be the first Thanksgiving since Dad's death. Even though he wasn't able to be with us last Thanksgiving since he was in the nursing home, this is the first Thanksgiving that he truly isn't with us.
Honestly...my goal is just to make it through the day. Having a higher expectation that it will be "fun" or "a celebration" is too much the first year after his death. That being said, I'd like to do some things that positively remind me of Dad (e.g., make some food I always made for him that I knew he enjoyed; make the dressing he taught me to make; have all the bird feeders filled since he loved birds).
The last Thanksgiving Dad was at the farm.
(Taken on November 25, 2010.)
5. Reduce the number of activities and commitments from October 1st to Epiphany to reflect upon and deal with grief of Dad's death. This will be a highly stressful and emotionally-difficult time period because of dates firmly etched in my mind:
=> October 3, 2011 - I had to take Dad to the nursing home. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the ride to the nursing home was incredibly sad, not to mention the time waiting in the lobby.
It was made even more difficult when Dad had a period of awareness while waiting in the reception area. He looked at me and said, "I will miss home" and I knew he knew where he was and why he was there. It was a horrible feeling because this was not where he wanted to be;
=> October 9, 2011 - The last time we gathered as a family for a birthday party;
=> October 15, 2011 - The day Dad didn't know me even though I told him my name and that I was his daughter. Despite this, we had a good visit together and two of my favorite pictures of him when he was at the nursing home are from that day - one in which he is genuinely smiling as he's listening to what I'm saying
Dad and Mom. Sophia took this picture of them.
(Taken on October 15, 2011.)
and one of him holding a picture he painted of an autumn tree;
Dad with an autumn tree he painted.
He used to be able to paint very well, and
we used to have one of his paintings over the fireplace.
Alzheimer's Disease truly takes skills
we take for granted away which is sad to watch.
Despite the difference in skill, I have this painting on my wall
and enjoy seeing it because it reminds me
of how proud my dad looks holding the painting he did.
(Taken on October 15, 2011.)
“Ann Marie, Dad. It’s Ann Marie,” I said gently. “It’s okay,” I said trying to acknowledge that he couldn’t say my name.
Within five minutes of being on the phone with him he asked his Stephen Minister (who also was in the room with him) if he knew who was on the phone.
On many levels, it was such a sad conversation for me. It represented an end to conversations on the phone with Dad that I enjoyed for so many decades...and of being called by my name by Dad. He always seemed so excited when I called and would announce to Mom that I was on the phone: "Dorothy! It's Ann Marie!" I miss hearing that. A lot.
=> October 20, 2011 - The last time Sophia, Olivia, Mom, and I spent with Dad where he was walking, able to look at the birds, enjoyed seeing Eenie and Shadow (two of our cats), and smiled authentically;
Dad, Shadow, and Sophia.
(Taken on October 20, 2011.)
=> October 23, 2011 - The day I was called by the nursing home to tell me that Dad was transported to the hospital after an outburst at the nursing home. I sat with him in a locked ward while he was in full restraints while the medicine to calm him took effect. (Dad was a very peaceful, calm man so this behavior was very out of character...the disease clearly had full control of him at that point.)
My head was resting on the metal bars of the hospital bed, and he took his hand and gently touched my hair. Then he spoke a grammatically-correct sentence (the first one I had heard in a very long time...probably well over a year): "I am sorry I ruined your life," he said.
Of all the things he could have said...that was not the one I wanted to hear. It, truly, is the farthest thing from reality. Yet, probably to him - as he realized he was in wrist and ankle restraints and in a dark, quiet room - that it probably looked dismal. Although I assured him he didn't ruin my life, and that I was so happy he was my dad...this one sentence he said still haunts me and is upsetting to me today.
=> October 24, 2011 - The day I was called by the hospital he was transferred to (the geriatric psychiatric unit which treated seniors who have Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, depression, and a host of other diseases of the mind/memory) saying I needed to come right away because he had to be put in full restraints again and couldn't be calmed down. I sat next to him in his bed to comfort him until he fell asleep.
=> October 23-November 4, 2011 - the days he was in geriatric psychiatric unit and then returned to the nursing home. Out of all the days there, there was only one near the beginning where he seemed to recognize me when I came to visit him. He waved towards me and told the nurse who was feeding him, "Look who's here!" That was the last time I heard him say a full sentence and show recognition of me - albeit for a brief moment.
The amount and variety of medication used to reduce the stress and anxiety from Alzheimer's Disease basically left Dad unable to walk, hold his head up, feed himself, smile, and talk. For all practical purposes, Dad's personality and "spirit" was taken away during this time period.
Seeing other seniors in the unit was equally as disheartening, sad, and emotionally difficult. It was a period of seeing suffering, fear, anxiety, depression, and stress at its worst. Likewise, it also was a time that I saw respect for and dignity taken away from those who deserved better during the last part of their lives.
Sophia was feeding Papa (my Dad) since
he no longer could feed himself.
(Taken on November 4, 2011.)
Dad, Eenie, and Sophia.
(Taken on November 12, 2011.)
Took him outside since it was a nice day. The nurses helped get him into a jacket and put a heated blanket on his lap to help him stay warm. We took him on the swing. Although he seemed to enjoy the movement of the swing, it was a bittersweet time. It would be the last time he went outside.
Dad on the swing with Olivia and Maureen.
(Taken on November 12, 2011.)
November 27, 2011 - Sophia, Olivia, Mom, and I visited Dad. Sophia played the Edelweiss on the harp:
Dad listening to Sophia play the harp.
(Taken on November 27, 2011.)
and both the girls and I played a song on the piano for Dad and Mom.
Olivia playing her Christmas recital piece
for Mom and Dad.
(Taken on November 27, 2011.)
It was the last time the girls saw their grandfather. (They were able to talk to him on the phone the day before he died and say goodbye to him.)
=> November 28, 2011 - Dad was put on hospice care;
=> Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's Eve/New Year's Day - The holidays spent without Dad because he was in the nursing home and his needs far exceeded what we would have been able to handle on our own...not to mention not having a vehicle to transport a wheelchair in;
Dad holding my hand on Christmas Day.
(Taken on December 25, 2011.)
December 15, 2011 - This was the last day I saw Dad's eyes open for a prolonged period. I made a scrapbook for him with pictures of people and things I thought he'd like to see.
Dad looking the album I made for him.
(Taken on December 15, 2011.)
=> New Year's Eve - I spent this holiday evening with him (after visiting my mom in the hospital due to complications from diabetes). That's when he said his last word to me: "Yes" when I asked him if he wanted something to drink;
=> New Year's Day - I got the call that said I needed to come in because he was dying and it was time to say "goodbye";
=> From January 1st-5th - I remained at his bedside until he died at 6:57 a.m. on January 5, 2012. (I remain very thankful to my brother to this day for staying with Dad and Mom for four hours each night - from 8 p.m. until midnight - so I could sleep in the family lounge; and then be able to spend the other 20 hours of each day with Dad and Mom and ensure that both were receiving the medical care they needed.)
Dad's hand in my hand.
(Taken on January 2, 2012.)
=> January 6, 2012 - Would have been Dad's 80th birthday. It is also Epiphany and he always referred to himself as an Epiphany Baby.
During happier times...
Dad and Mom with Sophia and Olivia
on their First Communion.
(Taken on January 9, 2010.)