A Son’s Eulogy to His Father

My dad always wanted to be a father. He never explicitly said that, but I could just gather it from the clues of his life.

When he was 16 he and his then girlfriend, Pam, became pregnant. The two wanted to get married but because they were so young their parents were required to give consent. Neither of which gave and the two didn’t see or speak to each other again for many years. My mother told me once that, that broke his heart.

To ease that pain my father tried to rescue a woman named Diane. She was already pregnant and my father stepped into the role of expecting dad and cared for the daughter she had. He would recount that he changed her diapers, fed her when she was hungry, and calmed her when she was fussy. She may not have been his blood but she was his is by name. And that was more than enough for him.

Then came me, when both these women were in their twenties. My parents told me repeatedly, but especially my pop, that I was wanted and planned. He joked that my mom talked him into it. “Can’t we have just one, just one little baby.” And clearly, we can see who won.

But like I said, my dad wanted to be a father.

Truthfully he was made for the role. In typical father caricature, He did like a beer or two, before he was sober. He liked to fish. He was a strong silent type, who peppered in random bits of wisdom, spoken in only short, clipped sentences. He never really was one to wax poetic about any topic. It was always precise response and right to the point.

My pop did have this uncanny ability of being right. He would tell me, after I told him how silly it was to get mad at traffic lights, “just you wait, Josh. You’ll see.” And by-god he was right. And I loved telling him how annoying it is that every light turned red in this town and they need to synchronize them.

He was truthfully, the most patient and strongest man I had ever met, and I am so happy I was able to tell him that before I couldn’t. He was my role model, and I strive to carry these very qualities.

Years before, He apologized to me once that he wasn’t a good father because he didn’t know what it was to be one. He didn’t have one when he was growing up. The only examples he did receive was an aloof, absent man who liked to drink. But him claiming that fault was/is not true. He knew what it was and what it took. And even to admit that, regardless of its validity, was someone with humility.

When I told my dad that I was gay, the very first thing he said to me, after an evening of processing this information silently, was that I was his son and he loved me no matter what.

My dad showed what it was to be a true man, with his kindness, his patience, his immense capacity for love, and admitting and owning his faults.

I tried to immortalize him in his obituary but of course, in true Josh fashion, I wasn’t concerned about double checking dates. So my dad hasn’t passed yet. That’ll be at the end of this month. So this man in this coffin is an imposter who stole my hat to complete the ruse.

He would have loved that joke. And I loved making him laugh.

One final story for those who aren’t friends with me on Facebook or have hidden me because of my incessant opinionated posts.

When I was getting the things for my father to wear for his final trip, I happened upon a tape, in a box filled with casettes, titled “dad and Joshua and mom.” I knew instantly what it was because I had found similar tapes when I was younger. My parents couldn’t afford a video camera, so my dad made due with his rad stereo and recorded audio of us just doing mundane things around the house. That night, before heading to the bar, I tasked my friend to make a trip to Target to buy a walk-man. Surprisingly and luckily, they still sell them. Once we got to the car we split the headphones and listened to the tape. On it was my 3-year-old self playing in a pool and my father talking to me. He asked me questions and talked about the next weekend when we were going up to my grandparents’ house for 4th of July.

My father went to the hospital on June 27th, a week before 4th of July. My heart started to race as I did the math to decipher when this could have happened.

When we got to the end of that side of the tape, I flipped it over and it began with my father announcing that it was a warm Sunday morning June the 26th. I broke down crying because, here was a moment of a very different morning 31 years prior, where we were having breakfast as a family.

My father may be gone, on July 28th, but he will never be forgotten. He will live on in the memories and hearts of all the lives he impacted.

Advertisements

My Life Turned on a Quarter

Today will be two weeks from the moment my entire life changed with a single phone call. The one in which a stranger left me a message from my parents line to tell me that my father was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and she was waiting with my mother for me to arrive.  Five minutes later, panicked, I called back and got the details. I told my mother that I had to do an inspection first before I could get her. I was oblivious to the seriousness of the injury. Now, knowing everything I do, I would have left immediately instead of doing my job first. But I was in denial that it could have been anything worse. (This wasn’t the first time my pop went to the emergency room.)

After rushing through my home inspection I got in my car and hurried over to my parents to retrieve my mother. For a brief moment, during my drive, I had a spark of dread that my father would be dead and I would have to take care of my mother (who has alzheimer’s.) As the anxiety began to engulf my chest, I told myself to just take things one at a time. Everything would be all right.

I arrived to my parent’s house with the security screen and front door wide open, my mother was waiting for me inside, shuffling items in the dining room. She had packed up his wallet and all of “his pills” in a basket and was ready to roll. (It turned out they were her pills and not his. But, oh well.) She was already fearing the worst, and I, uncharacteristically, told her not to think that way. We didn’t know yet, and to do so would only make it worse.

She agreed and continued to spin the lone quarter in the palm of her hand.

We arrived at the hospital, with no knowledge where to go. Even the quick description from the security guard in the E.R. was super vague and not at all helpful. When I finally figured it out, I called around and eventually found out he was in surgery.

My mother was beside herself, even then. Again I told her to not worry, we would find out what was going on when he was out.

For the next thirty minutes I calmed myself by playing a game on my phone as my mother babbled on with nonsense about “jesus” and “the Christians”… her usual go to commentary from her diminishing brain.

I am almost certain that doctor’s take a course in medical school wherein they learn to deliver bad news. The moment the surgeon removed his net cap I knew my father was gone. There wasn’t a doubt in my body. However, what I would soon learn was that he wasn’t “gone” physically, but rather mentally. He had arrived unresponsive and stayed that way until the end.

As it turned out, my father had fallen and hit his head when he had gotten up to pee in the early morning. What time that was at I have no idea. Getting a straight answer out of my mother is near impossible, and her story (which she recounts in graphic gory detail) changes each time.  My father had asked my mother for help, and her response was to run outside and call for it from anyone who might hear. She encountered a bus driver who told her the number to dial an emergency (you know, the one everyone fucking knows) and when she got back inside she forgot it completely, thus she returned to the front yard. This is where she encountered the stranger who called 911, like a normal person, and took care of my father as instructed by the emergency operator.

After the surgeon removed a portion of his skull to relieve the massive amounts of bleeding, he was moved to the ICU. Room 11 for child 11. It was there that I was handed the gauntlet to be the one to make all of my father’s decisions. My mother couldn’t even grasp what was happening, and was distracted by my father in his hospital bed. So the nurse’s calmly rattled off their assessment of the situation and asked me how we were to proceed. I wasn’t ready to make these decisions. This man’s entire existence rested in the palm of my hands.

I had concluded that the hospital should keep him on life support until my Aunt arrived to say goodbye. Once she had had her moment with him, I gave the order and they removed the tubes. I told myself I wanted to be there when he went, but I regretted it almost instantly as I watched him arch his back, take his last breath, and hear his heart slowly stop beating. It is an image I will never forget.

Today, two weeks from being told my father was mentally gone, I have to put on a brave front and lay his body in the earth. But before that, I must deliver his eulogy. One in which I most likely will not write and just deliver off the cuff; against the advisement of the preacher, but fuck him. However my own hatred to spite another person will only harm myself and I will inevitably detest myself for not even attempting bullet points.

Historic Parallels

I need to write. It has been some time and I feel all of these emotions welling up inside of me. In usual “Josh” fashion I will decompress by letting some of it out for mental relief.

Last night, when I was attempting to sleep, I would slowly drift off and then wake up in an abrupt panic. To what I can remember, one of them was that someone was in my bedroom and then the other was about my mother. After the one regarding mom I turned on my ringer, just in case.

My mother has been having delusions. She had them awhile ago in the form of thinking that my cousin, her nephew, is dead. Legitimately no longer among the living. I had to video chat with him to prove he wasn’t. My mother was elated that he wasn’t gone, however even among that proof her brain somehow turned his death into “in prison.” For whatever reason, with a few more days under our belt, that all went away and she never spoke of it again.

After her brain scan, showing the substantial decrease in brain mass, the doctor prescribed her something for the delusions. But first we had to get her off the Lexapro the previous nurse practitioner had prescribed for the misdiagnosis of “stress and depression.” Once she was weened off of that we began these. That was a nightmare.

After just the second 1/3 of the actual dose, she was becoming aggressive and manic. As a knee jerk reaction I told my father to stop it and we would try again down the road.

For awhile she was okay, but not good. It wasn’t until this past Saturday when my mother was explaning to me about seeing people in the mirror, who moved and talked, that I decided it was best to try again.

This had the same result as it had before. So much so that my father tossed one of his xanax down her throat to calm her down, because she would not sit still, would not stop crying, and was basically “freaking out” (per my dad.)

I went over to visit her the day he called and she was there, happy as a clam. I guess after getting some sleep she was doing alright and had mellowed out. We then decided to try again, but this time at night (which should have been last night.) My biggest worry is that she freaks out again, and my secondary being my father not even giving it to her because of how she had responded. The second I absolutely understand. I don’t know how I would have handled the situation at all. Especially since I don’t have a bevvy of pills at my disposal. Thank god my dad is a prescription drug addict.

Whats funny is I have been in this reality once before.  When I was six, my father had a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital. He was seeing demons coming out of the mirror and was out in the backyard swinging around a broom trying to kill them. He did the second for so long that he gave himself blisters and had to wear kitchen gloves to keep going.

When I brought this up to my mother about her seeing people in the mirror, she dismissed me out of hand. She said something to the effect of “yeah but that’s the physical realm.” The woman can barely find the words she wants to use to express what she wants to say, but she pops off with “physical realm.” (Jesus… shoot me.)

When the husband and I visited her on Tuesday, she was herself. Calm and collected. She even understood how “crazy” she had been. What we also learned is that her cousin (who she explained had been born a couple months before her and was her best childhood friend) is not long for this world, from alzheimers.

I remember my mother coming home and explaining how her cousin had acted weird at he and his wife’s 50 year wedding anniversary. It wasn’t long after that, that he was diagnosed with alzheimers. Now, he’s dying. The beginning of this tale was maybe 2 years ago. Now… He’s dying.

This last part feeds into my own diagnosis. I estimated my mother maybe had a year or 2 years left. I concluded this just by the brain scan and seeing how quickly her mental health is declining. And then hearing this… Maybe I’m not far off.

Creating Chaos

I have noticed this strange phenomenon within myself. Whenever I begin to dwell on my mother’s illness and impending decline into nothing, my thoughts immediately revert to something else. In these new thoughts I begin to pick them apart to find a problem and thus creating a new conflict to dwell over. Once I hold a “new chaos” to deal with, my mind forgets about the one that caused the process to begin.

I am certain this is an actual mental disorder related to grief but I don’t have the time nor the patience to do research. (Although, that may help with my need to focus on something else, so maybe I should do that.)

The one thing I learned from my “Ethics of Living and Dying” course in community college is that process of grief is very concrete. In the moments I begin to feel these emotions, if I momentarily remove myself from the situation, I can see what stage I currently reside. Yesterday it was anger. Today’s emotions I don’t know. Denial, most likely.

It is super humorous to me that the ONLY class I received a B grade was the one that has probably impacted my life the most. I learned so much in it that it has carried over into my real life. I see the patterns, I see the human reactions to things to death and dying. It’s truly fascinating. And even in knowing the clinical process of it I still fall right into the same groove. It’s inescapable. It’s human nature at it’s core.

Knowing that I do in fact create fabricated or exaggerated conflicts I can stop myself whenever it becomes too overwhelming. Because even though it is a momentary distraction my thoughts are still consumed by my mother and I have then “successfully” doubled the stress, and I don’t need to do that.

Turning Down a One-Way Road

So that’s that. My mother most likely has Alzheimer’s. Or so said the nurse practitioner at my mother’s follow-up MRI appointment. Quite the change of diagnosis from “it’s just stress” we had been told just a year prior. (Not even a full year.) The only good thing that came from the previous visit was a baseline to see her degression. And there is a lot.

The nurse practitioner showed me, and only me, the scale of it. I don’t know why she chose to reveal this information to just me, maybe she thought I wouldn’t have had an overreaction or that I would be able to comprehend what was happening. Whatever the reason, it is what it was.

The decline on her results was sharp. Almost entirely a straight line down from where she had been. I wish I had taken a photo or had them print it out to fully digest what I was seeing. I cannot stress this enough, it was severe.

I posted the results on twitter and the outpouring was so overwhelming. Those that had gone through something similar were the ones to offer their assistance or advice. Even some who haven’t, offered an ear to bend, fully providing (a stranger on the internet) their phone number. I am overwhelmed with love that I don’t even know how to process that. It showed me a world that seems almost counterculture to what twitter appears. It proved to me that at our core human beings are a community and will gather to care for each other.

I don’t think my mother has very long. I arrived at that conclusion by one, witnessing her descent over the past few months (which has been rapid to say the least) prior to concrete test results; and two, being haunted by those three graphs.

The part that frustrates me the most, above knowing I will lose my mother, is that there is NOTHING I can do to stop this. This is a one way road and it’s all downhill.

A Glimpse at Insanity

My mother’s mental capacity is deteriorating at an accelerated speed and I don’t know why. Her delusions are getting out of control to the point that she is speaking absolute non-sense or scary ideas (like “the voice said it and I just knew”). Her visual perception of things is also off the charts. I think I mentioned in the previous blog that she thinks her house is sinking, well she is still holding onto that fact. Even though she has accepted (to an extent) that she’s wrong. She has worked herself into a panic about getting the house clean but in the end only creates more chaos.

I am absolutely at a loss.

Yesterday, my father called me to tell me he lost his cool at her because she got confused about why she had gone into a store. For whatever reason, he sent her into buy a 7 lb. bag of ice. (Why he didn’t just do it is beyond me.) When she went in the clerk came out to ask my dad what he wanted.

The rate at which she is declining makes me think that she is either accidentally ingesting my father’s pills, having her own allergic reaction to her own medication, or there is a brain tumor. At this point though we don’t know. She has an MRI scheduled for the 24th and hopefully that can shed some light into this darkness.

The thing I find most distressing is that she is convinced she is going to die soon. So I have been commissioned, by both parents, to write out letters to her sister’s so that they know how she feels. Yet, when I went to check-up on them today she was talking about more of me writing a book about her experiences. It was so very surreal, primarily because there is almost a strange thread of logic there, it’s just decorated with baubles of “crazy.”

Duty Bound

I don’t know what to write here. I had previously tried to make some poetic entry about me facing my call to a “hero’s journey” but it felt ridiculous and just a tad over-the-top. Not to mention a little conceited as if I am some hero that can vanquish the demon I am about to face. Yet, it isn’t even my monster. It’s my mother’s.

A year ago my mother went through a slew of tests to find out why she was having such a hard time trying to find the words to speak what it was she wanted to say. She explained it to anyone that would listen that she could see what it was she wanted to verablize but could not make her mouth do it. The final diagnosis was that she was “stressed” and needed to get on anti-depressants, see a therapist, and read the bible. That last instruction was a legitimate resolution given to her by the nurse practitioner. He advised her to memorize passages to help exercise her brain. Even after all of that, did she even take his advice? No. Instead she has chosen to watch fox news and become obsessed with checking her bank account, multiple times a day, and printing it off every single time as if it was her first time viewing it in months.

At the time my family and I accepted these results because we didn’t want to bring ourselves to believe what we feared it could be, alzheimers. His thought that this was over-stress fit into the ditch of denial we had dug and we gladly lay in it, until at which time it has become blatantlty obvious that this was not the actual answer.

In that time since her first visit, it would appear we have returned to the situation even worse for the wear. My mother’s thoughts have now become consumed with paranoia and panic that the foundation to their home is sinking. She also has become consumed with shuffling and rearranging piles of paper.

The foundation thing was a sharp alarm. She took me through their house pointing out all these very, very mundane things as if there was some catastrophic event that had occured, while simultaneously alluding to the idea that some person had snuck into their house to rearrange their posessions and leave without taking a thing. Her persistent insistance was even more troubling.

The moment my heart truly sank was watching my mother sit and stare at an e-mail she had printed that contained at most five sentences. For at least fifteen minutes she read and re-read it and still could not grasp what it said. I would tell her, she would say “yeah,” shuffle through the papers and come back to that same e-mail to run through the same task.

Since then my thoughts have been obsessed with thinking of her, my parents, the situation but I refused to see why. It wasn’t until another one of my cousins, who I NEVER speak to, insisted we talk.

I learned today that my mother’s older sister has been diagnosed with alzheimer’s. Hearing that made my suspicion even more concrete. There are now too many red flags to ignore.

The thing I find most enfuriating with the situation thus far was my cousin’s phone call, wherein she implored to me to think of my mother as if I hadn’t been already. As if I lived some fanciful life with no thought or care of my parents. And in the same breath telling me that my mother wanted a baby so much and was so excited to finally have a child, and oh how she loved me, to guilt me into caring for her. These thoughts bring about a lot of anger in me, mostly being why is it that everyone else got to live their fucking life and have their children but fuck what I want or desire in my own? Now it’s all about my parents.  Their lives now run mine, as if I’m supposed to let them because they cared for me. Well, I didn’t want to be born. I didn’t ask for life. They selfishly wanted children so that, what, they could have someone to care for them and watch them fucking die?! It’s ridiculous. And if that is truly the way of life, and how things go, who the fuck is going to be my servant when I’m old? I can’t have children without a lot of fucking effort put into it, and how am I meant to make my slaves if I’m meant to be burdened by my parents?!

I say the last part in jest because the logic of “you care for your parents, like they cared for you” bull shit is irritating.

The worst part of all of this, is if I was to have children (which at this point seems pretty ridiculous to even bother) I could possibly do the same to them. I’m very nearly my mother’s age when she had me. So I could get dementia and have my brain turn to mush right when their lives are really starting. And if that were to happen I would want to be put out of my misery. Alzheimers does nothing to the one with the disease and does EVERYTHING to those watching you have it. And that to me is my own personal hell. Just like this journey will be.