It is a fascinating experience and a privilege to watch my 95 year old father trending downwards. When I talk with my sisters, Vi and Linda, I realize that each of us is going through a precious and unique time with him. And each of us is increasingly impacted as we understand somewhat more completely who he is.
In his almost 6 years at Menno Hospital, we could say that he has a number of times teased the nurses and care aides, leading them to believe he was about to draw his last breath, and then reviving to virtually his former self. When he was in bed or in a Broda chair continuously for about two months, unable to speak above a whisper, he really was not expected to come back. But he did, and I can only conclude that his physical reserves have been quite extraordinary.
Now it seems that the battles of the last 5 years, including the prostate cancer and the various drugs, have depleted the reserves to a dangerous level. His PSA count is pretty much out of sight, his haemoglobin levels are low etc., his voice is again weak, he has little appetite, and he tires quickly.
Even so, he is still interested in the world around him, including American politics. Recently he asked me “What is Obama doing?” I need to pay more attention to what is happening on the other side of the 49th parallel so I can answer his questions.
He also asks about our families, especially our spouses. His frequent question to me is, “what is Linda doing today?”
Quite often when he appears very weary and is asked if he wants to go back to bed, he says, “I don’t know.” My sister Linda tried to sort out what he was thinking and he finally said, “I don’t want to waste my time.” This seems to suggest that he knows the number of days left to him is shrinking more rapidly than he would want.
On Sunday Vi brought her daughter Nicola and her boyfriend Adam to visit Dad. Adam, a PHd student in mathematics at UBC had not met Dad or the rest of the family before this. When we asked him about his studies, Dad became quite interested and asked a number of questions. It was evident he has not let go.
Yesterday he said to me, “what shall I do?” When I asked him what he had in mind he began talking about work. He thought he shouldn’t just be sitting in his bed. He should be accomplishing something. I reminded him of how hard he had worked as an equipment operator, the courses he had taken in night school, his involvement with his family and church. Then he said, “I guess it’s alright if I just sit here.”
Our friend Gail continues to do breakfast with him on week days. She has recently finished reading ”The Epicentre” to him, a book about the Middle East. It is pretty involved and requires some understanding of politics. He stayed with her mentally throughout the book.
Dad is used to being active and useful physically. He has always reached out to people, whether it was in his church, in the community, or until recently at Menno Hospital. The challenge for him now is to accept the fact that he can no longer make a difference in the lives of others.
I speak to him sometimes of the impact he has had, and still has, on the care aides. He has always shown an interest in them when they come into his room to wake him and get him ready for the day. Many times they have expressed their caring and respect for him when we talk with them.
I’ve been surprised at times when people at Menno Hospital who I don’t know address me by name and obviously know who I am. This includes both visitors and workers. I’ve come to understand that because everyone knows Jacob, many people also know me. Often complete strangers ask me how my Dad is doing.
Dad still says “I like to live.” He does not speak of dying, although recently he said to me “I miss Ann.” (my mom). I would like to know more of what is going on behind the scenes in his mind but I only get small snatches these days.
Much of the time he is uncomfortable physically, frequently he has pain in his back. It really is not a good time in the life of a once strong man who still wants to push onward,inspite of being totally dependent on others for every physical need.
I realize that in writing this, I’m attempting to more fully understand who my Dad has become. I’ve observed him as a father, as a skilled heavy equipment operator, as an active member of his church and community, and now as a man whose life is trending downward.
I really cannot adequately describe who he has become. I do know though that although his voice is very quiet, his example still speaks to those around him.