In late September, on my birthday, my father was deemed eligible for hospice. He is in the final stages of dementia. Today, I talked with the hospice nurse and the nurse practitioner about changes to Dad’s meds. I also got a call from a nurse at Putnam Farm, the assisted living facility where Dad has lived the last five years. He had fallen again, the second time in five days. They call me anytime there’s been a fall or other significant event.
The folks at Putnam Farm have gotten to know Dad well over the last five years, and I am glad they knew him when he sang robustly at entertainment, worked on crossword puzzles, and chatted about the photos of his grandchildren and great-granddaughter.
The hospice folks will know him as someone dying from a cruel disease, speaking mostly in word salad, angry and snappish at times, confused and bewildered about how, when, or why to brush his teeth.
My children have known him for about 20+ years, as Pa, their grandfather who wrote poems about them, who sent them a few dollars for good report cards, and who loves them unconditionally.
I have known him for almost 60 years, as my dad, devoted to his family and his faith, working as a purchasing manager for 45 years, playing piano and singing so many songs (“Danny Boy” was always on the top of the list). In his retirement, he was a lay chaplain at a correctional facility for years; they named a volunteer award after him. He was a tireless helper to my mother as she died from cancer, giving her medications, helping her with the oxygen tank, washing her hair, praying with her. He would have loved to have been an English teacher, but was pointed toward a business administration degree.
Hospice people are wonderful. They helped my mother in a compassionate way, relieving her pain, retaining her dignity, right up until she died on Christmas Day, 2003. She and Dad had been married for 50 years.
Dad doesn’t really know the hospice people helping him now. Alzheimer’s makes fear a part of daily life, as the loss of memory can make everyone a stranger. The nurses, social worker, and chaplain work to keep Dad comfortable and pain-free; sometimes he understands that, often he doesn’t, and can get scared or angry. The people caring for him notice when he is calm and alert more than when he is sleepy or in pain: being in pain, or being tired, are his more common states of being these days.
Music therapy is among hospice’s offerings, and that is a blessing. I know he recently enjoyed hearing the music and singing, and tapping on a small drum, as you can see here. Who knows what memories might have been kindled for him?
The hospice folks probably can’t picture him surrounded by his friends decades ago as he sat at the piano in our living room, playing “Those Were the Days” and “It’s a Sin to Tell A Lie.” They don’t remember him playing the drums along to his Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz albums.
Here’s another photo taken during that hospice-sponsored music therapy: Dad reaching to comfort the person next to him. That’s who Dad was, and is.