I moved away from Cheyenne a little over seven months ago. There were a lot of tearful goodbyes - and some downright sobfests.
Probably the most difficult - yet understated - farewell was with my dad. We went to Subway one afternoon, talked, picked up the newly-repaired central vacuum for my house, then drove back to his apartment building's parking lot.
He said he wasn't good at goodbyes, so he simply shook my hand in the car, and we told each other "I love you."
As I drove away, I wondered if I'd ever see him alive again.
We have of course talked several times since then, and traded some emails, but he's suffered from despair. With health problems and a lack of projects to keep him busy, he had been telling me that he felt "like a leech on society," having "nothing to contribute anymore," etc.
Less than a month ago, I told him he was always welcome to follow me to Fort Wayne, just as he'd come to Cheyenne over ten years ago. He said he'd consider it, but I doubted he'd take me up on it.
Two days later, he wrote me this email:Hi Son,
It has been so painful to make this decision, but I see no other choice. You know I don’t ask favors from anyone. I must come to live with you. I am praying for God’s guidance.
I can get around the apartment slowly and with effort but must keep myself supported. Most of the time I rise I get dizzy and must wait for my head to clear for fear of falling again. All of this exertion is taking a toll on the rest of my body as well, tiring easily and short of breath. My appetite is small so I eat very little. Even after my foot mends, negotiating the stairs will be difficult. I doubt I’ll be doing any driving.
This will be a tremendous change in your life again. My presence will seriously impede your social and domestic life and I truly apologize. I had planned for it to be otherwise. Since it difficult for me to maintain my concentration, I’m leaving my life in your hands.
...(deleted financial stuff)...
I will need a ground floor bedroom and bath. I’ll buy a twin bed and linens there, as well as a computer desk. The only things I will bring are a computer and small TV set besides a few personal items and files. It would be nice to bring my small Lazy Boy (will it fit in your vehicle?).
...(deleted family stuff)...
Since you’ll have to move first, you set the schedule. Just be aware that I’m quite anxious, and can’t exist way much longer.
Again I apologize for this tremendous imposition and can’t thank you enough for your consideration.
I Love you!
Of course, I agreed and immediately began making preparations.
Over the next couple days, he followed up with various preparatory emails like:My thoughts on furniture for the bedroom include: Twin bed with linen (no headboard required); And small dresser (42”), without mirror. We can shop for a computer desk later (I won’t have a printer).
I knew my life would change, but he's my dad. His personality and tendency to thoughtlessly say hurtful things would be difficult to live with in such close proximity, but again, he's my dad and he needs me.
I tore down my weight cage, moved my bedroom into the den, bought a bed and furniture for him, and awaited his arrival.
But last Sunday, the passenger riding in the U-Haul with my son Jason was not the man I expected to see. He seemed to have aged 20 years in the last seven months. That is no exaggeration - if anything, it's a gross understatement.
Something has happened to my dad in a very short period of time. Something terrible.
At long last, his body has violently and viciously retaliated against decades of alcoholism and tobacco addiction.
It took him over 20 minutes to navigate the ten second walk from the parking lot to my front door. He had trouble concentrating and communicating. His emails had seemed coherent, so what was going on?
On Tuesday, we got him to the hospital. He was dehydrated, and a lot of things in his blood were out of whack. By that evening, he was in the ICU. I figured that once he got stabilized, he would be back to normal again.
But even while the doctors were getting his levels back to normal, he was continuing to plummet.
He can now barely stand, and can no longer take a step unassisted. He has lost all control of his bodily functions, drooling unintentionally and messing in his pants constantly. He shakes continually as if suffering from an advanced stage of Parkinson's. He has lost most memory, and can't maintain a thought long enough to get out an entire sentence.
The man who designed ventilation systems for Katharine Hepburn and drafted the blueprints for Calvary Chapel Cheyenne can no longer read or hold a pen, much less sign his name.
His body is racked with pain, his spine is rapidly degenerating, his lungs are filling with fluid, and plaque is quickly building up in his heart. He can hardly speak, and when he does, it's mostly the nonsense of delirium. About the only coherent thing he says is when I'm leaving: "I love you too, Son."
After five days in the hospital, he has been moved to a nursing home, where I suspect he will soon be completely bedridden, and most likely die in a matter of weeks or months.
As you might imagine, I'm experiencing a range of emotions I was not expecting to.
I'm confused because I don't know how such a downhill slide has occured in just three weeks.
I am filled with sorrow that each day I'm losing more and more of my dad. Each time I see him, I wonder if this is the time he won't recognize me.
I'm fearful of the financial responsibility as I look through his files and see things like thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, knowing that years ago he put my name on many of his accounts.
I ache over the thought of him in pain, and my inability to spend every minute of the day in the nursing home to give him drinks of water and ensure that he is being attended to.
I am angry over his failure to stop smoking and drinking in spite of the many times I begged him to over the last twenty years.
I feel guilty that I feel angry, and angry that I feel guilty.
But I'm not writing this to sort out my feelings. I'm really just giving an update to those who care about my dad. If you care for either one of us, please pray.