2016 Left A Hole In My Life
It’s been far too long since I’ve posted anything. It wasn’t for lack of moments of inspiration. I thought of plenty things to write about both involving the events of my life in 2016 as well as tidbits I wanted to share. And it never happened. As bad as the year started with Dad’s stroke in March, it really went off the rails as the year drew to a gray close.
I don’t know where to begin but I will go ahead and say that as 2016 ended, we lost my father. He never managed to find any equilibrium in his health post-stroke. We limped from one health crisis to the next. It wasn’t for lack of desire on his part. He worked hard at recovering. He managed to succeed at speech therapy well enough to get to eat some of the things he loved again during a brief window in late summer. For two months he could speak well enough to reminisce with us about the past. I got to hear him laugh and tell jokes again. And life almost seemed normal.
The past may have been clear but the present was a muddle for him. His eyesight was damaged by the stroke as well as reasoning skills. For some reason, it was the eyesight that was particularly upsetting to me. It was permanent, not something that he would ever recover. With time he might have adjusted but there would always be a gap in what he was seeing. His ability to put things in logical time order was gone. So he might remember someone had visited but it could have been yesterday or a month ago. While the past was solid, his mind post-stroke was like a jumbled file cabinet. All the details were there but he might or might not find them.
Still for a short time there were happy moments in there where I could almost forget how much our life had been altered. And when I felt sorry for myself I would try to remember that no one’s life was altered as much as his was. One of his top hopes for recovery was simply to be able to use the bathroom again. What a simple dignity to lose in life… That was up there with his plans to drive again and return to work. I never had the heart to tell him how unlikely those dreams were. I encouraged any of his dreams that I thought would motivate him to get well enough to come home to us.
To some degree, I am an over-planner and over-researcher. At first I didn’t question he’d recover, but we were still in early days when I was reading medical articles about stroke survival rates and stroke therapy. And the more I read, the more I knew the odds were against him surviving a handful of years with his age and the severity of his stroke… I hoped he’d beat the statistics, but it was not to be. Maybe I could have been happier if I had been ignorant but I spent much of the year trying to be positive when deep down I had a dread of what lay ahead.
For a time after his stroke, I was angry with him for not going to the doctor more often. I had asked him to go to get his hearing checked a year or so before. I had no idea anything else might be an issue. But we discovered the night of his stroke that he had undiagnosed high blood pressure. Granted, he walked at least two miles every day and tried to watch what he ate. So I guess he may have felt he was doing enough. But by the time he breathed his last, I had reconciled my feelings on that matter.
As the months passed, at every turn we found out about a new health issue that lay between him and his survival. The worst was probably the clogged arteries in his neck. I was standing there while the ultrasound technician scanned them and although I’m no doctor I could tell things were not right before the doctor even spoke to us. As the list grew, I realized that we might have had a few more years but they would have been years he spent knowing he was sick. In a strange way, I feel better that he had no idea how sick he was until the very end.
After that brief window, he spent the last three months of his life in and out of the hospital and lost all the ground he had regained. And it became clearer with each hospital stay that he didn’t have the strength to start over again. He had the will mind you. Up until the last month, he spoke often to me about getting restarted in therapy, but his body was just not up to the challenge. After two bouts of pneumonia and multiple urinary tract infections, his kidneys finally gave up. We spent December waiting for the end which came on the 29th. The end was peaceful if protracted. And my Mom and I were both by his bed when he took his last breath. After weeks of knowing the end was in sight it was still quite sudden and days later I still feel like I’m in a state of shock.
And there’s a huge hole in our lives that will never be filled. Mom lost a husband of 50 years and I lost a rock in my life, too. We knew as well as anyone the day was coming but there’s simply no preparation equal to the task. Somehow we’ll have to face 2017 and a new world.