“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
– Steve Jobs
We all know that life is a process.
I’m learning, yet again, that death can be a process as well.
I’ve been my father’s primary caregiver for the last ten years of my life. And in those ten years, people have told me that I’ve wiped enough of the buttock region and answered the same question over and over with the love and patience of a bloody saint to get me some sort of front-of-the-line pass to Disneyland. I definitely don’t disagree with them, although I’d prefer a front row ticket to Lady Gaga instead.
Four of those ten years were full-time, full-on, full-everything. Pops has dementia and let me tell ya, if you’re one of the lucky ones to not know or experience dementia, consider yourself — hashtag blessed — because that disease is a real dick.
Now, I could easily go on about how sad and scathing dementia is, but I won’t and one of the biggest reasons why I won’t do that is because we’ve actually had it pretty “easy” in terms of dementia, with dad. He’s been happily living with this for ten years and when I say happy, I mean happy. The dude laughs his ass off constantly, rarely gets angry or agitated and is so easy to redirect.
It’s been almost six months since we transitioned dad into his new “home” (a State Veteran’s Home we absolutely love). A “home” I judged others for placing their loved ones in until I hit my caregiving rock bottom and harshly realized I was slowly (and some days not so slowly), killing myself with exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and I could smell a wave of depression coming closer to my shore. Not to mention the countless times I placed my marriage, husband and daughter on the back burner. Actually, I’m not sure I had any burners left because I blew those babies out a long time ago.
(Public Gratitude: Thank you, Husband — for sticking with me, our marriage, our family – I know I didn’t make it easy most of the time. Thank you for playing the long game when I could barely get up to bat at times. You forever have a free pass to make out with Scarlett Johannson if that opportunity ever presents itself.)
Dad’s adjusted well to his new digs. Every time I visit him we laugh, tell dirty jokes as he flips people off and busts a gut and at the end of our time together I squeeze him hardcore, kiss him and tell him how much I love him and then leave him with a “Ciao for now!”
Walking away and out of that building has gotten easier. At first, I could barely walk out without feeling like I was broken inside, but I kept walking and waiving. One step at a time and waiving to the nurses, knowing he’s in good hands.
We’re All Dying
Recently, The Vic’s health took a rapid decline, which took us all by surprise, because his health has been so stellar. His heart is weak and his Alzheimer’s has progressed. In the last few months, more than once — as a large, Italian family — we’ve found ourselves next to The Vic’s bedside saying “goodbye” to him, clutching his hand while we listen to Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli on blast and yes, laughing. Laughing because dad still hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Thank God.
And just when we think he won’t make it to next week, or even the next morning, he makes a comeback. And my heart fucking stops. I keep telling him that if his heart doesn’t give out, mine will in this perpetual I’m-Dying-I’m-Not-Dying process.
For reasons we sure as hell don’t know – but are no doubt grateful for — The Vic keeps making these comebacks from death’s door. Call it a surge, or hell, maybe he just wanted to rest, who the hell knows – he keeps rallying and living (sometimes better than he was before) to live another day. We never know how long it will last, or if this is dad’s new normal, but we will take it.
All of this death stuff brought me right back to when I lost my mom to cancer at twenty-four years old. Her death taught me to live and this up and down deathbed journey with my dad is turning out to be no different.
Yes, life, we know is a journey. But, death – sometimes it’s not sudden, or overnight. Often, death can be a process as well. Just like I watched cancer ravage my mom over a two-month period, death is having its own special way with my dad as well – like it does for all of us.
Because we’re all dying. Maybe not right now, or tomorrow or in the next ten years. But, we definitely know that we will die and with that thought, that knowing (as I’ve come to know too clearly) – can teach us how to live.
You see, I gave up a lot the last ten years to take care of The Vic. I could say that I’m ten years behind in my career, or that my marriage was on the brink one too many times. But, being on the other side of this caregiving expedition and holding vigil twice next to my father in the last two months, I can say with every cell of my body that I have not one regret and rode that part of my life hard and it was everything I needed to experience and then some.
And for that, my gratitude spills over.
Regret is a bitch if allowed to be.
Death is a teacher if allowed to be.
So, drop the bitch and pick-up the teacher.
Love + Deathbed Confessions,