In 2010 I had a dog die a tragic and profound death. Within a span of about a week and half or so, she went through the process of her nervous system shutting down, one system at a time, until she could no longer breathe. In hindsight, I believe that it was a brain stem lesion from chronic infection from a tick disease, though this “shut down” pattern can be seen with brain stem tumors, and can also be strikingly similar to the way parts of the nervous system degenerates in dementia.
What I wish I knew then, in the middle of everything, was that she was in the process of dying. I spent so much time trying to save her, that I wasn’t able to understand that we had few tomorrows left, until the very last ones.
In the years before 2009, medical issues for my parents were ongoing, but periods of intensity were short term. We got through them, with time to recover, until the next issue came up. But in 2009, everything changed, for them, and for me personally too – what followed for me was nothing but loss. Throughout all of my own issues, the intensity of my parents’ situation continued to increase and place more demands on all of us. My parents took turns being in and out of hospitals during this time, and I don’t have the words to describe the crazy that that is, as both get very delirious with hospital stays. To this day, my dad still believes that one hospital was running a daycare on the floor at night, the other hospital was running a gambling operation, and he couldn’t speak his mind at the rehab facility because they would hear him and his life would then be in danger. After being home and recovering, my mom would later understand (or at least she did) that her delusions, which were more frightening, were not real. However, my dad still believes that his delusions are true.
Sometimes, we get caught in trying to survive the now to make things better, not realizing that this point in life is not an acute event. In 2009, my life changed from being surround by a series of sprints, but to a marathon defined by the pace of the decline of my parents. It took several years for my sister and I to realize that. It took us awhile to realize that things aren’t going to get better and that they will only get worse – this is the new reality, and we have to better plan for the long-term and pace ourselves.
My Dad remarked the other day that after Mom comes home from the rehab facility she could sit on the front porch and watch him mow the lawn. There is such sadness in that thought to me, LOL, ignoring the fact that that is something that mom would never enjoy (and would probably kill her allergies). He still thinks that he is going to get better, rather than get worse, and has a level of denial about mom’s current functionality. Mom is the woman with nine lives, but that isn’t stopping her obvious decline. Dad is caught in the Now, not understanding the Tomorrow, or at least trying very hard to not face it.