October 16, 2013

A life no one would ever choose

On Sunday I took SB to see my dad. It had been a while, and she asked to see him. I was a bit hesitant. I have been going once a week to visit with him and while physically he has stabilized, mentally he continues to go downhill.

There is less of the man he was before remaining each time I see him. He is someone I do not recognize most of the time.

His affect is agitated. Almost hostile. He does not welcome visits. There is little to no conversation when I do go to see him, and he makes it clear when he is ready for me to leave.

His behavior is increasingly bizarre. He becomes obsessed with things that are not reality. But it is impossible and ill-advised to attempt to reason with him. He dresses and undresses frequently. Wanders around aimlessly. Continues to spend much of his time in bed.

The majority of the time, when I arrive my dad has been wearing nothing more than an adult diaper. So I felt the need to prepare SB for that possibility. At first, when I explained how sometimes adults can require diapers, she laughed.

Then she became serious and said, "BaBop is someone very special to me. I am not going to laugh at him for wearing a diaper. I love him."

As we entered the facility where he lives, a man was also arriving with two young children. SB smiled and greeted them. Then she said, "My Mommy's Daddy has dementia. We are coming to visit him."

When we went it was late afternoon. Not typically a good time for my dad or anyone with dementia. Thankfully, he was doing fairly well. He was dressed and sitting in his chair. He recognized SB and embraced her.

My father does not display positive emotions at this point. I have not seen him smile or laugh or appear happy for some time. But I could tell he was pleased to see SB.

He did become irritated as she went around the room touching his things. He doesn't like that, and I did my best to keep her from doing so. The visit was short, as they all are now. But it went well. I'm glad dad and SB had the opportunity to see each other again.

There were many hugs and kisses.

As we were leaving, I noticed the man in the room next to my dad was clearly near death. There was a hospice nurse sitting in a chair just outside the door. His family members were beside his bed, stroking his arms. Music was playing in the room.

A woman I guessed to be his daughter came out as we were leaving, and ended up walking to the parking lot alongside us. I was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat, and she turned out to be a fan from southern Illinois.

Before we got to our car, I built up the courage to ask, "Is that your father next to mine?"

"Yes. Is that your dad? He is so sweet! He comes in and asks about my dad regularly."

"I sense you are coming to the end of your journey."

"We are. It won't be long now. He has had nothing to eat or drink for five days."

"I'm sorry. Your family will be in my prayers. I understand what it must be like. We thought we would be in the same place with my dad by now."

"Thank you," she replied. "It will be a blessing when he goes. This is no way to live, and he never would have chosen it."

"Neither would my dad," I said, nodding.

It is something no one would ever choose. And yet seniors by the thousands end their days like my dad. I read recently that scientists in Britain had been able to stop brain degeneration in mice. It is a major breakthrough, though it will be years before we will know if there are applications for humans.

The news offers no hope for my family today, but it does for many who could possibly be spared from this hell. And for that I am happy.

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