When your parents are dying.

My dad didn’t die on my birthday. I’m glad. It’s selfish, I know, but I didn’t want those two things tied forever in my memory.

He wasn’t dead yesterday; I don’t know how things are going to go today.

I love swimming. I love being in the water. As I child, I wanted a pool more than anything and I thought my parents were selfish and cruel for not supplying one. As an adult and parent, I applaud that decision. A pool is an insurance nightmare and a time suck. We had an above-ground one for a few years. I got very tired of fighting with algae.

I do, however, love to float. Perhaps a lottery win and pool service? But I digress.

I loved going to the beach in Vancouver. English Bay was our go-to. It had great sand, lovely water, and a fun albeit terrifying slide. Kitsilano became a popular alternate once the new pool was installed. It’s a thing of beauty.

My dad loves to swim as well. My mom not so much. She has a thing about getting water in her ears. It gets stuck for days and makes her a little insane. Fair enough. My dad, however, is all about living the water life.

My dad loves to sail: it’s the passion (aside from my mother) of his life. They had a sailboat they spent much of each summer in, up until last year. It had become difficult for them. Aging seems to be about loss too often.

He loves swimming, especially in the ocean. “Cleans out the sinuses.” He’d worry about me when I’d jump off the side of the boat while at anchor. “Mind the current,” he’d say. It was an important warning: they can be severe in the waters around Vancouver. At times I’ve swum with all my might to simply stay in place. The eddies act like nature’s treadmill.

My dad used to play shark with us when we were small. He was the shark, of course. I felt a mix of terror, happiness, and love as he chased us through the water. He was relentless, slow and steady in his pursuit until we panicked. He’d separate my brothers and me, picking us off one by one to toss us giggling into the depths. Occasionally, we’d try and help a sibling out, leaping on dad to drag him down under the surface. Sometimes he’d let us.

My dad is a large man. Not fat, though he’s carried a bit of excess in the belly off and on. He’s a fan of the baked good. He’s a fan of whip cream. But he’s tall, six feet and a bit, broad through the shoulders and chest the way men get if they work their bodies hard in their early and mid-twenties. He’s trained as a teacher and pursued that career to acclaim for forty years, but he’s also been a cowboy, a printer, a sailor, and a glass maker. He has a great many stories.

I don’t want them to be gone.

He’s been sick since he had pneumonia seven months ago and now his heart is seriously failing. The medical system and the doctors that were supposed to help failed. He fell through the cracks, partially, I believe, because he was older.

The ugly truth of our medical system is that we triage people with actuary tables and older people get placed farther down the list. After all, if you transfer or ignore a problem often enough, it goes away.

RIP to the problems our medical system ignored.

He’s not a large man anymore. He’s lost height. He’s lost so much weight. He’s one-hundred and fifty pounds now. We help him in and out of bed, to the bathroom, in and out of chairs. That I can do so breaks my heart. I’m a small person. How is it that we’re at a place where I can physically manage my parents like they’re my child?

I can see his ribs and that feature I pursued so fervently with my eating disorder makes me want to scream. His legs are like bone, the muscles nearly gone and the skin loose. Everything is loose. He’s disappearing.

Dad and Sam, 2006.

He’s in the ICU now. We’ve been in and out of the hospital for the past few weeks and mostly, they acted annoyed to see him. But the pneumonia is back, which they missed, and the aortic valve that started failing six months ago is getting worse, and the mitral valve is going now, too.

It’s hard to live without a heart and they let him get so sick, I’m not sure they can help him anymore. This is what the doctor was trying to tell me yesterday. I’m the second point of communication now. My parents are old. My parents are dying – my mother is too, and isn’t that just a punch in the crotch – and so the doctors carbon me. Or approach me first. Dementia and memory issues make that somewhat necessary now.

That breaks the heart as well. So much about aging and ill parents hurts it.

Yesterday, my dad said “no” to efforts at resuscitation. He’s always said yes, even up until two days ago. My mother has a DNR – she doesn’t want heroic measures when stage four lung cancer kills her. My dad always wanted to fight. But he’s talked to me for the last two days as best he can about what I need to do when he’s gone.

It’s hard to talk when you’re in heart failure. It’s agony holding space to listen.

Holding space for these conversations with my parents is a killer. I’ve taken up margaritas.

My dad’s tired, scared, and sad. Every breath hurts him right now. Each moment is a struggle. He has monitors and wires everywhere. He’s on so many drugs. It’s good that they care now. I wish someone had cared last week.

A strap around his head is monitoring something or other. Another on his chest monitors something else. The oxygen alarm goes off nearly constantly. In through the nose, out through the mouth. My mother stands beside him, holding his hand, saying it over and over. There’s an inflatable blanket keeping him warm that I’d find fascinating if the person under it wasn’t my dad.

He’s so gray. He’s in pain. I don’t want him to hurt.

I don’t want my current now.


16 thoughts on “When your parents are dying.

Add yours

  1. Oh, Em, I’m so sorry. What a beautifully written tribute to your dad you’ve posted here that touches my heart so deeply about the days, decisions and fatigue you must be experiencing. My dad went in an accident so I don’t know the particular trials you are going through but I know that it’s no fun to join the club of losing a parent. Sending lots of good thoughts — and also birthday wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry to hear that the situation with your father is so dire that you dread every day.
    I never blamed my parents for not having a pool – the climate wasn’t conducive to that. However, we did have a pumped-up pool every now and again (it would get somehow punctured so often that it didn’t always make financial sense to keep buying new ones). However, I always dreamed of having one as an adult. I was actually thinking about it just yesterday as I took my morning swim in the community pool. Yes, I really would use mine regularly. But the maintenance as you mention…

    Floating is the best! Have you tried a sensory deprivation tank? It’s something that’s on my list because it magnifies the floating and nothing else matters. (There is no one to just cannonball into the pool as you’re floating…)

    Water in the ear is a real thing and it drives me crazy for days, too. But, I find ways to keep it to a minimum. Though I dislike inserting anything into my ear, I found swimmer’s earplugs quite life-changing (at least when they stay in).

    😦 Beautiful post but such a painful ending… So sorry to hear things are that bad. You mentioning the blanket reminded me of swaddling – it’s meant to help people calm down and feel more secure. Have you tried that for yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny you mention sensory deprivation tanks – we have a company in town. YOu can go and hang out for different stretches of time. I keep meaning to check it out…

      Wrapped up tight or a heavy blanket is a great idea. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. H Em, I am so sad he is in ICU and ou’re having to deal with all of this. I know it isnthe cycle of life, but it ill never be easy.

    You are so right about the lack of care once you reach a certain age. My dad turned 84 during his last hospitalization. I remember an argument with one of his doctors who tried to convince me all 84-year olds are the same.i hope I made him think, but I doubt it. They have that triage mindset. I undersrand the need for triage. Still, let all factors be considered based on that patient, not on all of the past ones. I kmow my dad would not have survived a lot longer, but I wanted him able to sit in his recliner with his family around him as he watched basketball games on TV. A month more. That would have been such a gift.

    Take care of yourself. You are in the hardest of times. Sending hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

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