Friday, February 27, 2009


It has been an interesting 48 hours.

My father is ill (though not gravely so, at least not yet) and it has dropped in my lap some undone emotional work I had not anticipated. I have been busy processing all of this, all of what it means, and all of the possible outcomes.

Last night I posted my initial feelings about this development. As the hands on the clock have completed another circle, I have learned more.

First, my father's wife is utterly incapable of dealing with this reality. She sent her daughters - my half-sisters, aged 26 and 20 - to Boston to deal with this. She stayed home. It seems she cannot deal with what is going down.

It is a heavy burden indeed that F, the oldest of the two, has been saddled with. It is unfair, it is a rotten thing, and it is not her job. But the situation calls for a mature adult, and she has stepped up to fill that role when it seems that others cannot or will not. Bless her for that. She is very strong and will need every bit of that strength in the coming months and years.

My father has dementia to the point where his doctors will not accept his consent for any procedures or treatments. Consent must be given by a family member, in this case, the oldest of my half-sisters.

That segment of my father's family is traumatized by all of this, and understandably so. This is a lot to digest - as exemplified in my post of last night. This powerful man is so reduced that he is not to be trusted to make decisions regarding his own care. That's pretty harsh. Especially so when he has loomed so large for so many years.

I spent last night and this morning doing some hard and heavy thinking. What is it my father - the original guy, not the reduced version presently with us - what is it he would want? I remember him saying that he did not want to linger, but preferred to go quickly. I suppose we all want that to some degree. He was a proud man, despite his insecurities. To spend his end years gradually fading away and losing his dignity is not what he wants. That much I know.

But who am I to say that?

I am his first-born, true. But I have been estranged from him for over a quarter century. We have each spent a fair amount of that time wishing for bad things to happen to each other and taking quiet (or not-so-quiet) glee in them when they did. We have not been involved in each other's lives for a very long time. What authority, then, have I to step in and say "He'd have wanted xyz..."? I don't know.

What I do know is that his wife is paralyzed and in denial. His other kids are still of an age where they do not want to lose their dad. All of them want to hang onto this man for as long as they can. I understand that. No, really, I do. There are people in my life about whom I feel that way. I will hang onto them, kicking and screaming, for as long as is humanly possible.

And no, my father is not one of them.

This does not mean I want to go in and kick the plug out of the wall today. Let's just say I've already done a fair amount of mourning and letting go of my father over the years. I have mourned the loss of a father who might have been capable of expressing love. I have mourned the fact that I never had a father who said "I am proud of you." I have mourned the fact that I was not wanted. I have done a lot of mourning already - for things that were and are now gone and for things that never were. I have mourned lost opportunities and lost relationships and holidays and birthdays spent never acknowledging each other. I have reached out, I have turned the other cheek, I have stood up and been honorable and I have been rebuffed. I mourned it all. And I moved forward.

Which puts me in a very different place than his current family, who must now come to terms with his frailty and mortality. They must also come to terms with their own feelings of loss and denial and all of those five stages that Kubler-Ross lady wrote about in her book.

It will likely be as difficult for them as it was for me, and more so as they watch my father fade away before them. He is there and he is not. He is in turns coherent and delusional, friendly and hostile, swagger and scared. And it is only going to get worse.

I find it odd that I am the one who seems most willing and able to advocate for those wishes my father made very clear throughout his life. I am the one most removed, yet I am the one inclined to go to bat for him when he is unable to represent himself. And I am the one who is going to step into this situation and say the unpopular thing. That he would have already been horrified that he was deemed unfit to make his own decisions. That his three daughters and his wife were going to have to make his decisions would be profoundly offensive to his old-school sexist world.

But I was thinking today about what he'd want. He would want some sonofabitch to go in, grab the doctor by the shirtfront, and explain that this guy was not going to be nursed to death over the course of thirty years. Don't drown him with treatments, don't hook him up to tubes and respirators and things to feed him and take away his shit and all the rest. Let him go on his own terms. If he has a stroke, keep him comfortable, but otherwise leave him be. If his heart stops, don't break his ribs or zap him with paddles to get it started again. Let him go. He is a man, not an infant to be coddled or indulged. Treat him like a man, with dignity and respect. Honor what he wants.

He'd want someone to go in and have a fit if that's what it takes, to make sure his wishes are honored and followed. I think we may need to have some kind of a family meeting with my father's physicians after he gets home from Boston. I may need to be my father's sonofabitch.

It is not a role I ever imagined I would play. But I think it goes a long way toward my efforts to forgive him for the anger, the abuse, the bullying. If I can advocate for him, this last time, I think I'd feel good about that. And I dearly hope someone would advocate like that on my behalf.

It is the right thing for me to do.


Robin said...

No words, just hugs. Lots of 'em.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Ah, Dawn! I'm so sorry. I have a father like that. I feel much the same way. Glad you're stepping up, though. It helps the conscience in the long run. Hope I'll be able to do that when/if the time comes. -C

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're alright.


Carlita said...

Wow. You are amazing. I will be thinking of you.

dolphyngyrl said...


It's very possible that, because you are so removed from him, you CAN step in and do the unpopular thing. Because you are not invested one way or the other, but you do know him and understand his character well enough to be able to see what it is he would want, and not be blinded by your own interests.


How did you ever grow up to be so much stronger and better than him?

What a marvel you are.


Gladys said...

Wow! Honey you are one brave cookie. I would want you in my corner.

We are seeing this right now in my family with my MIL. Only her daughters are ready to put her in her coffin and nail it shut before she figures a way out. So sad. It is all too sad.


msladydeborah said...

I know you are dealing with a lot at this moment.
My prayers go out for you to have peace of mind.

When and if you are called upon on behalf of your dad, you'll know what to do.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Wishing you well with this decision. It's a tough one. My grandmother went the multiple stroke/dementia route and she is also one that did not want to linger. Unfortunately, she did... for six years. But she had my dad and many who loved her.
I'm glad you're going to advocate for your dad, even though he did nothing in this life to deserve such kindness from you.
Don't forget to take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hugs from me as well.

Both Charlie and I had miserable relationships with our fathers and over the past 2 years, more issues brought back up.

With Charlie, it was via his father's "acrimonious and potentially harmful to our disabled daughter" will- for me, it was my mentally ill/ chemically dependant sister's reappearence after a decade away and eventual suicide. 2 years later, I'm starting to learn to trust people's motives again- the rug was rudely ripped out from under for awhile.

Any time you need, email me.

Bill said...

What movie was I watching, just last month in fact, a French movie I think, where this woman who had just been released from prison went to live with her younger sister. In one scene they went to visit their mother in a nursing home. The mother had dementia and usually didn't recognize the younger daughter but she instantly recognized the older daughter whom she had disowned years before forgetting everything. While the younger daughter was out of the room, the mother lovingly embraced and begged this older daughter to get her out of there. The older daughter stood there in shock and horror and didn't tell the younger daughter what had happened. Needless to say she didn't honor her mother's request even though any one of us in that same situation would have made that same request. Get me out of here.
Dementia in old age is one of the unanswerable cruelties of life, both for the sufferer and for the people who care about the sufferer. All are the victims. There are no solutions, only coping.
Make sure that the decisions you make aren't based on you and your needs, especially not on your need to be passionate towards your father. Don't fall into that trap. In his right mind he would never want you burdened with his problem, with his disability. Remember that.