Dad had a terrible childhood. His mother never liked him, favoring his sisters over him (but not by much). He started to run away to escape her from the time he was 7 and when he would return she would call the authorities on him and he would be dragged off to a group home or juvenile hall.
He never had a safe and nurturing home. He didn’t know love. And he ran through his life, creating all kinds of turmoil because he didn’t know any better.
Then my mom found him. And he continued his ways with her for years…until she wouldn’t take anymore. She divorced him after 21 years together and remarried him two years later, after he realized that no one loved and took care of him the way she did.
He slowly emerged from that shell of a man to become the man he had always been inside. Late, but not too late.
This was a man whose brilliance knew no limits. If he had known a loving home as a child, he could have gone to college. He would have certainly made an impact in the scientific community. Instead, he spent every free moment in the garage building incredible inventions and discovering new and better ways to do things.
On December 26th, 2009 he became terminally ill. This man, whose mind was always working, had to slow down and relinquish most of his duties.
I watched him over the course of the last ten months of his life as he became more and more dependent on us for his very survival. At first, he fought it. But as his breath became more and more labored, he started to accept it (much to mom’s chagrin—she was afraid he was giving up).
Just before summer, he started closing his eyes much of the day. This really scared mom…again, she thought he was giving up. I tried to explain that this is part of the process of dying—that he was taking stock of his life and coming to terms with his past and with his present condition. But after 62 years with this man, she could not envision life without him. If he fought harder, maybe he would stay longer.
This is not uncommon—loved ones don’t want to let go—we love them too much.
By summer he was in a wheelchair any time we left the house. My dog Molly and I would take him for walks along the greenbelt and it was a wonderful opportunity to just be with him.
Toward the end, he was more like a small child with a big brain than a grown and dying man. I watched as his health declined and saw that as his illness progressed, he fought less and less. At the end, he had not only come to terms with his situation but this normally proud man showed no embarrassment as we had to help him in every aspect of his life.
Dad died October 29th, 2010—three days after their 63rd wedding anniversary. I’m sure he hung on just to make it to that day. We never know why some things are so important to the dying like making it to a certain date, or going to a particular place, or eating certain foods.
When assisting a dying loved one, take requests seriously. Do whatever is needed to help this person overcome the fear of dying. Be willing to talk and listen about their fears and about dying.
Find a local Hospice center. They not only have facilities to care for a dying loved one, but they will also come to your home and help with almost every need you or your loved one might have.