As I said above, on our drive from the Knoxville airport we received a call from my nephew and then from my sister. My sister was in the hospital.
(At this point I think I need to list a cast of characters or it will get too confusing to write.
M – My oldest sister, mother of my three nephews. She lives half the time in Virginia near where we used to live, and half the time in Minnesota, with a generous amount of visiting her oldest son in Colorado.
S – My sister two years older than me. Single and lives in Minnesota.
K – My younger sister. Lives in Minnesota with her husband and five adopted children.
E – My oldest nephew. Lives in Colorado with his wife and children. He’s the one that helped us move into our new house.
A – My middle nephew. Lives in Virginia with his wife and son. Has been spending summers in Minnesota while his wife goes to classes for a degree she has been working on.
A2 – My youngest nephew. Lives in Minnesota with his wife and kids.)
The first call was from A. My sister S was in the hospital. She hadn’t been feeling well and when she didn’t respond to texts or calls on Thursday, M and A2 went to check on her. She was on her couch passed out, breathing but non-responsive. They called 911.
M called not long after that. S was first taken to a local hospital, but they saw a few things they didn’t think they could handle and almost right away transferred her to the U of M hospital. She had some infection they couldn’t identify, and her blood sugar was over 700. She remained mostly non-responsive with a few moments when she would squeeze her hand when prompted. They transferred her to the ICU not long after arriving at the U emergency room.
M and A2 were with her at the first hospital and K made it there before she was transferred. M and K went to the U and stayed there with S. When M called us, the doctors didn’t know what the infection was, why it caused a spike in her blood sugar, or when all this started. Basically, all they knew was the blood sugar had to come down.
I asked M if I should turn around and fly there, but she said while things were obviously serious there wasn’t any immediate danger of S dying. We decided to continue our vacation, but obviously, this was always on our minds.
Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday, all the updates were basically the same – still non-responsive, blood sugar slowly coming down, still not sure what the infection is but treating it with heavy duty antibiotics, not sure what caused everything. It was frustrating that I didn’t know anything more and not being there, but I knew M and K were handling things and it wouldn’t make a difference if I went there.
M and K stayed with S in the ICU Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Not surprisingly, sleeping accommodations were not ideal. They got no more than a few cat-naps the whole time. By Saturday afternoon, S’s blood sugar had come down enough (still high at +300) and she was somewhat responsive, but couldn’t recognize anyone, that they felt comfortable going home to sleep. Plus, K had her family and needed to be with them.
Sunday morning brought dramatic improvement. S was alert and could hold conversations. She remembered M and K’s names, but was very confused about why and how she was in the hospital. She was cognitively very slow and couldn’t remember a lot of things. But by Sunday evening she had regained almost all of her cognitive ability. This was very good news.
We talked to M while driving home from the Phoenix airport. She gave us an update and filled in a lot of details. The doctors still didn’t know what caused the infection or if it caused the conditions that allowed the blood sugar to spike, or if the blood sugar rise allowed the infection to get worse. Either way, the two things worked together to make each of them worse. I asked M if I should come to help out and she said yes. M was scheduled to go to Colorado to visit E on Thursday and would feel better about going there if I was in Minnesota to help K handle things. So when we got home I booked a ticket to go to Minnesota on Wednesday.
We don’t know when things started, or when they escalated, but S was in trouble for a while. M and K had just seen her on Sunday when the three of them took K’s and A2’s daughters to a play. S mentioned not feeling great, but otherwise seemed fine. But when they thought about it, it had been a couple of months since anyone had been to S’s house. If they had gone there at any time in the previous few weeks, they would have known something was wrong.
S’s house was a mess. Not your ordinary mess, S was never very neat, but a don’t do anything for several weeks mess. Unwashed dishes were piled in the sink and the counter. Her bedroom was filed with dirty clothes on the floor and no sheets on the bed. S has Type 2 diabetes. She had unused blood testing strips dating back to 2015. She admitted to us that she rarely tested for the past few years and not at all for months. So how long has this been going on that she was functional enough to go to work and interact with the family, but not able to take care of herself at home? Is there another issue that caused her to care about anything at home, or was there a long slow increase in her blood sugar that caused a mental disconnect? We don’t know. But that house needed a major cleaning. M and K started on Monday. They spent several hours there both Monday and Tuesday. I joined them on Thursday. It’s in pretty good shape now but still needs some work before S gets back home.
Part of the reason M wanted me here (besides I wanted to see and help S) was that there was a lot going on for everyone else that was here in Minnesota. K has her own family and job to attend to. A sold a house he owned in St. Paul (he and his wife lived there for 10 weeks for two summers while she went to school, A2 maintained it and did some improvements, and they sold it for a fair profit, everything that kid does works out) and the closing was this week. And then they were packing up their RV to get back to VA because his wife’s teaching job starts up again next week. A2 is busy with his family and work. So that leaves me to be on call and stay on top of things for S.
S is still in the hospital but moved out of the ICU on Sunday night. Her blood sugar is under control for now, but she’s not strong enough to take care of herself yet – it was a big accomplishment when she was able to walk up three stairs yesterday with the aid of a cane, but it totally wiped her out. They are waiting for a bed to open up in a rehab center and then they will cut her loose.
S she has to have a new normal in her life, we just need to figure out what that means. It obviously includes faithful monitoring of her blood sugar, but there needs to be other life changes as well. The doctors still don’t know what caused what or where the infection came from, but I worry she might have other mental issues that started her down this path. We’ll all just need to be more mindful of paying attention to make sure she doesn’t slip back into a situation where this could happen again.
I leave here on Tuesday. Hopefully S gets transferred to rehab before I leave. M returns to Minnesota Tuesday night.
On Wednesday we have our 30-day walkthrough on our house with our builder. Thursday my wife leaves for a 10-day trip to Tbilisi. Maybe we’ll get into a routine when she returns and finish setting up our new house.
That’s not usually something to get excited about, but for a while it was a pretty lonely street. I’m not sure if the sample size is large enough to call it a trend, but we previously purchased two houses together and each time it was new construction and we were one of the first ones to move in. This time was no different.
Our little area of the development has about 50 lots that are more or less cut in half by the street entering the area off of the main road of the development. All of the 25 houses to the south of the street were completed and occupied several months before we moved in. We were the second people to close on their house for this half, but the other people didn’t move in right away. So, there were 11 houses on our side of the street, nine on the other side, and five backing to those houses before you get to the completed ones. We are right in the middle of our side, essentially as far away from occupied houses as you can get, with no one else living there and construction going on all around us. But that has changed.
As of today, the people across the street have moved in, three houses to our right have been moved into, four more had their brick driveways put in at the end of last week (this is the last major thing that gets done) and should close this week, and three others have the driveway prepped so it shouldn’t be too long for them. The rest of the houses are in various stages of being finished. The construction supervisor told me that they all should be finished by sometime in October. No more construction happening on the street will be a good thing.
Now, we all need to get our landscaping done. All of the houses come with a dirt yard. This is new for me, but I guess it’s standard in many places. We have 90 days from our closing to get the front yard approved and done. Requirements are minimal, but it does need to be approved so you just can’t slap anything in. We’ve contracted with a landscaper and hope to get started in a couple of weeks. The people across the street had theirs started on Friday. Everyone else is still dirt.
Update on my sister: While in the hospital waiting for a rehab bed to open up, she made enough progress that they sent her home instead. Looking back, this is not surprising. She did not have to relearn how to do anything, she just had to regain strength. When she was able to go up and down a flight of stairs, even though one time wipes her out, they cut her loose. The PT, OT, and home health nurse come to her place several times a week. M is keeping her on track with lifestyle changes. All in all, things are very, very positive considering where she was at a little more than two weeks ago.
We’ve made quite a bit of progress settling into our new house. The last month had periods where nothing seemed to happen and then a bunch of stuff happened all at once.
Part of the reason for the slow times was my wife’s travel schedule. After she returned from Tbilisi she was home for two days and then off to Seattle for a week. Her being gone isn’t usually an issue; I just move forward doing things that need to get done. But with the new house it’s kind of different.
We generally make decisions and do things together, not independently. It’s not that we don’t trust each other to do the right thing, we just like doing stuff together. A lot of stuff we can make the decision together and then if she’s gone I can carry it out. But with things like hanging pictures, I’d prefer if she was there. So, it wasn’t until the second week in September that there were finally pictures on the walls. We also picked out ceiling fans for the bedrooms, office, and the great room. It’s amazing how much different/better the house feels with the pictures up and the fans installed. Next on the agenda is a new light over the dining table and pendant lights over the kitchen peninsula. We also need three or four stools in front of the peninsula. When she gets home from her current trip to Los Angeles next Friday we’ll start working on that.
The landscaping is now done. It ended up looking really nice. One more thing that makes a big difference in how it feels to live in the house. A dirt yard with weeds is not a pleasant thing to look at. It is a little strange not having grass, but we knew the standard yard here was crushed rock and saw no reason to try to grow grass. We ended up having four trees, two large bushes, 3 rose bushes, and 32 other assorted bushes and plants split between the front of the house and the back. There’s a short retaining wall in the front defining the yard into two tiers instead of a slope. The wall is anchored by two very large boulders on each end, and there are 13 other smaller boulders placed around the yard (again, split between the front and back). The back patio was tripled in size with pavers and a walkway was put in from the driveway through the gate to the door on the side of the garage. Plus, tons of rock were spread over the entire yard. And an irrigation system was put in to water all the trees and plants because we live in a desert. It ended up costing a lot of money, but we had budgeted for it and now that it’s done it is well worth the price.
The neighborhood is coming along. There are now nine houses occupied and it looks like two more will close this week. Landscaping is done on three houses (including ours) and three are being worked on now. It looks like about seven more weeks before all the houses are lived in. It will be good when all the contractor vehicles are gone.
Another thing that takes time away from doing things around the house is helping out with my in-laws. Besides doing things at their house, there’s an endless list of doctors’ appointments to go to. Many of them my mother-in-law can drive to, but sometimes there are conflicts and I need to take my father-in-law. And now that we’re here, she’s starting to get some of the stuff done she needs. The big recent thing for her was cataract surgery. Things have changed since I first remember my grandmother having her cataracts out 40 years ago. It was a big ordeal then. Now, it’s an outpatient procedure and two days after it’s done you can drive again. But, I was the driver for those days. Only one eye was done at a time with a couple of weeks in between. I don’t mind doing any of this, but it does tend to take up large chunks of your day.
The next thing to help with is, on Sunday I’m driving the in-laws and four of their friends to Phoenix so they can catch an early Monday flight to Cabo. Six old people in the car with me for two hours is not my idea of a nice Sunday drive. But, like I’ve said, I’m happy to help out.
Last weekend was the wedding of my wife’s oldest daughter. The venue was the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. It was an outdoor ceremony by Jackson Lake with the lake, Mount Moran and Grand Teton in the background. It was probably the most beautiful setting for a wedding that I’ve ever been to.
Of course we traveled there with the in-laws. My mother-in-law had convinced herself that flying there was too complicated so that meant a road trip. Three days up, three days there, and three days back (seven days total as there was overlap). Lots of stops on the way and she insisted that we needed to change drivers every couple of hours. Not my preferred way to travel, but what are you going to do?
My relationship with my wife’s daughter has always been interesting. She was fourteen when my wife and I met; and while I think she always liked me, she also saw me as a symbol of why her parents would never get back together. Add in that she didn’t live with us in Virginia but with her father in California meant that we didn’t have a chance to develop a close relationship. Things improved some when she came to Virginia to go to college, but mixed in with the time when we got along fine were times that were definitely tense. Over the years since she graduated things have evolved to where we are in a very good spot. I’m the one she comes to for help with her taxes and other financial questions. We’ve vacationed with her and her now husband several times. And if she calls to talk to her mother (this is daily if my wife is in the country) and I answer, we chat a bit before I give the phone to her mom. I didn’t have an official role at the wedding (she still has a father for that) other than to look good standing next to the mother of the bride, but there were several things she and her husband did that let me know they did not forget about me. It was a very happy day for everyone.
Five years after the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 added 900,00 square miles of land to the United States, the 1853 Gadsden Purchase was the last major territorial expansion of the continental US. The Purchase solidified the southern border of the US and provided the land needed for a southern continental railroad. It also brought calls for the expanded New Mexico Territory to be split in half as many felt the territorial government based in Santa Fe could not adequately administer the new areas in the south and west.
Several proposals were sent to the federal government to form a new Arizona Territory, but none were acted on by Congress as the population was considered too small. In March of 1861, conventions were held in Tucson and Mesilla by people in favor of joining the newly formed Confederate States of America. A resolution was passed declaring the area south of the 34th parallel the Provisional Confederate Territory of Arizona with its capital at Mesilla, and petitioned the Confederate Congress for admission. The Confederacy, seeing an opportunity for expansion westward to the Pacific, passed legislation authorizing the organization of the Arizona Territory in January 1862, and in February the territory was officially formed by proclamation of President Jefferson Davis.
The response by the US government was swift. The battle of Glorieta Pass, March 26-28, 1862, effectively ended Confederate military presence in the Territory and resulted in the Confederate Territorial Government relocating to Texas by July. Also, in March 1862, the US House passed legislation to create the United States Arizona Territory using the north-south border of the 107th meridian. By using a north-south border, the government sought to deny the existence of the Confederate territory. A final bill was passed by the Senate in February 1863 and on February 24 President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law.
Choosing a capital for the new US territory was left up to the first governor, John Goodwin (Goodwin replaced John Gurley, Lincoln’s initial appointee as governor, when Gurley died before leaving Ohio for Arizona). A temporary capital was set up at Fort Whipple, and in 1864 was moved 20 miles south (along with Fort Whipple) to an area along Granite Creek and a new town was formed.
Located 100 miles north of Phoenix, and 4,000+ feet higher in elevation, Prescott (PRES-kit) was the capital of Arizona Territory until 1867, and then again from 1877 to 1889. Today Prescott has a population of about 45,000, with surrounding towns bringing the total area population to about 125,000. Prescott is located at the north end of the Bradshaw Mountains and is surrounded by the 1.25 million-acre Prescott National Forest.
Temperatures in Prescott are generally about 20 degrees cooler than in Phoenix. Summer highs are in the 90s with winter highs in the mid-50s to mid-60s. While not technically a desert, the climate is arid, averaging less than 20 inches of precipitation per year.
The topography around Prescott is classified as “basin and range”. This is a landscape featuring stark changes in elevation between narrow mountain ranges and flat, arid valleys (basins). The valleys near Prescott are at about 5,000 ft in elevation. The various mountain ranges nearby rapidly rise to over 7,000 ft.
The Bradshaw Mountains located to the south of the Prescott area give way to the Sierra Prieta to the southwest and west of downtown. Extending 14 miles to the northwest beginning at the Hassayampa river to the south, the “Sierry Petes” extend north towards the Williamson Valley ending at Granite Mountain.
Granite Mountain is the high of point of Sierra Prieta, with its summit at 7,628 ft, and is part of the Granite Mountain Wilderness in the Prescott National Forrest. Granite Mountain Trail #261 is a popular but difficult 4.1 mile trail that begins at Granite Basin and goes through Blair Pass and takes several hours to complete. To reach the summit you need to go “off trail” and follow an unofficial route to the top. The southwest face of the mountain is popular with rock climbers and features climbs ranging from 100 to 500 ft. Peregrine Falcons nest along the cliff faces of the mountain and some trails and climbs may be closed in the winter and spring to allow the birds to nest.
Granite Mountain is one of the dominating physical features of the Prescott area.
A morning view from the northeast just south of Chino Valley.
Neighborhood Update: All but four of the houses in our area have had their sales completed. Two of those look to be ready for next week, and the other two should be closed by the end of the month. One strange thing is that it seems at least four of the completed houses don't have anyone living in them. Someone came by and put in blinds on the windows but no one has moved in. I met the owners of one house that closed shortly after ours did. They currently live in Maryland and won't be moving here for another two years when the guy retires from the military. Until then this is just a "vacation" house although I haven't seen them there again. They at least moved furniture in unlike the other ones that seem to be vacant.
Still plenty of construction in the community - they have just started across the main road and behind us - but at least now there will be no construction trucks parked on the street. No to mention no more dumpsters and port-a-potties lining the street.
Earlier, right before we left Virginia, I posted this.
Originally Posted by Didace
Tomorrow morning, we - my wife, myself, a dog, and two cats - hit the road. First stop - a motel outside of Nashville.
It’s possible you noticed it in an earlier posting, or from some things I have posted in OOT, but reading the above you may have thought, “Doesn’t he have two dogs?” The answer is, yes/maybe? The situation is a little unusual and to best explain it we need to go back to when we got our first dog 20 years ago.
When we decided it was time to get a dog, I knew what I wanted to do. For whatever reason, a Labrador Retriever was the only dog I wanted. I did my research and visited several breeders. I new I wanted someplace that didn’t just churn out puppies for sale (no puppy mills for me), but that was dedicated to producing quality dogs. Some people feel it’s best to go to the animal shelter for a puppy, but for me I wanted to know where my dog came from.
I settled on a breeder that also did retriever training, obedience training, and operated a boarding kennel. Besides liking her when I talked to her, if the puppies she sold weren’t the best quality her reputation and training businesses would suffer. It ended up being a good choice – we chose a planned litter and before long Sparky was on his way home from us.
One of the things that appealed to me about where we got Sparky was having a dog with Champion retrievers in his pedigree. Not that I’d ever do anything with the pedigree, but getting to say “His grandfather was a National Champion” was sort of cool. The problem with having all these Field Champion and Master Hunters in his bloodline was that he was really smart and strong willed. So much so that I was having a hard time training him properly. (I know so much more about training now than I did then.) So, when he was about six-months old we called up the breeder and sent him down for a several week “boot camp”. At our first allowed visit the change was remarkable. He was a perfectly behaved dog. While we were there the breeder asked us something that we had never thought to consider.
“You know, I’ve thrown a few bumpers for him and I think he’s got some real talent. Would you consider having him train for Hunt Tests?” (Bumpers are what is used to train retrievers. Basically, a foot-long rubber cylinder with a cord on the end that you use to throw it instead of a bird for them to fetch while training.) After some discussion on what it would entail – staying at the kennel for long stretches of time and traveling to Hunt Tests – we said we’d think about it. After a few days my wife called the breeder and told her she really didn’t want to be without a dog (getting a dog was my idea, but she ended up in love with them) for extended periods of time. After a few seconds of thought the breeder said, “Well, I’m planning on keeping a pup from Stella’s last litter. Would you like to take her home while we see if Sparky has anything?” Stella was Sparky’s mom and this new litter was also sired by Sparky’s father. (She almost never did back-to-back breedings of her dogs, preferring to wait at least 18-months, but this was Stella’s last litter before retiring.) We thought about it and in a few weeks Maddie came home with us while Sparky started his retriever training.
That’s how we first ended up owning one dog and “co-owning” another. Sparky ended up being really good and Maddie did as well. Maddie lived with us when she wasn’t training, which was less and less the better she got as they both only needed tune ups before tests, or having puppies (three beautiful litters). After many years, Sparky developed cancer and eventually we had to put him down. After a couple of years with only one aging dog, we decided it was time to get one more and made the call.
An upcoming litter was from a daughter of Maddie. It took about a second for us to say, yes, we want one of these. So about four months later we headed down to the kennel to pick up Rocko. While we were there the breeder said, “I’m keeping one of the females. Do you want to take her home just like before?” I looked at my wife, but she didn’t hesitate before saying “Yes!”. So instead of bringing one puppy home, we were now bringing two, Rocko and Margie. (Maddie was still with us then. She died a couple of years later.)
When we made the decision to move from Virginia, we knew that Margie would need to stay behind. Maddie had ended up living with us full time after she was retired, but Margie was not yet five-years old. After going back and forth with the breeder – she insisted we take Margie so as not to separate her and Rocko, but Margie was not only legally her dog, she was not yet ready to be retired – we agreed that Margie would stay in Virginia and have another litter (she had one previously) and after that we would make arrangements for Margie to come and live with us.
And that is how we left Virginia with only one dog. A good thing too, apparently Margie started coming into season the day we left. We would have had to turn around and bring her back. It would have been a difficult trip with her and Rocko together in the back of the car and in hotel rooms.
We settled in to our new home with just Rocko. Margie had her puppies in Virginia. After Christmas we started talking to the breeder about what we were going to do. She still insisted Margie come live with us – she always wants what is best for her dogs and Rocko and Margie were inseparable. I had thought that I’d need to drive out to get Margie, but the breeder had a different idea. After some unfortunate incidents a few years ago, most airlines stopped shipping pets in the hold of the airplane. The airlines got together and set some standards for shipping live animals and, as I found out, it now works really well. Cost is a bit high, but it’s better than an eight-day road trip. After all the arrangements and certifications were taken care of, Margie was booked on a flight to Phoenix. The day of her arrival we headed down to pick her up.
I didn’t know what to expect. It had been more than six months since we had seen her. And she’d had a long day flying. Instead of picking her up at the regular terminal, we had to go to the freight depot. She was there shortly after the plane arrived at the gate. Probably faster than people got their luggage. She was pretty subdued – how do you explain to a dog that’s never flown before what is happening – but recognized us right away. We had left Rocko at home and had decided that we should bring them together in the back yard for their “first” meeting. I don’t think there was any hesitation in them recognizing each other. It was if they had never been apart. It’s always hard, a usually pointless, to put human emotions on animals, but Rocko is obviously happier now that his sister is with him again. He was fine before, but now there seems to be just a little more spring in his step. You could also say the same about both my wife and me.
Margie has settled in nicely. We had her spayed and she has recovered with no issues. She has settled right into our routine – morning walks with me throwing for them and afternoon walks of just running – like she has been here since day one. Here’s a picture of the dynamic duo from this morning.
Watching someone slowly die is a strange experience.
My father-in-law had his first stroke – or rather, a series of small strokes over several days – about three and a half years ago. He came through that pretty well, as well as could be expected. He had a loss of strength on his right side. His leg would drag a bit and fine-motor skills in his hand were greatly reduced. But he seemed more or less the same mentally and he could get around using a walker without much help.
It wasn’t too long before we realized that he wasn’t doing any physical therapy on his own and his recovery suffered when the PT benefits expired. He wouldn’t do any of the hand exercises he was given and didn’t even try to use his walker unless he was told to. So he would decline and then more PT was prescribed and the cycle started again. (We later learned that a thing that happens sometimes with stroke victims is their brain changes in a way that if they think about doing something, they will end up believing they already did it. He was convinced he was putting in the work when he was doing nothing.)
Of course, he was slowly declining. It can’t all be blamed on him not putting in any effort. At his age stroke victims generally live no more than five years after the initial stroke. He also had other health problems over the years – kidney cancer resulting in a transplant, prostate cancer, various skin cancers, hepatitis, kidney stones and other maladies resulting from living a hard life. So, it wasn’t a surprise when eventually he had another stroke.
It was a little before Labor Day when, shortly after my mother-in-law left him at the PT facility for some work, she got a call asking her to come back. He could not stand at all and was slurring his words. He was having another stroke. He was taken to the hospital and things were pretty dire. It happened the same as the first time where there were small strokes over the next two days. My MIL and wife thought that a few times he wasn’t going to make it. But after a week in the hospital, he was recovered enough to go to a rehab center. This time the loss of strength on his right side was more pronounced and his left side was noticeably weaker as well. He also had trouble talking. Not because he couldn’t think of the words to say, but his muscles in his throat and around his vocal cords were not working correctly. This would later cause problems with swallowing.
After a couple of weeks in the rehab facility, he was declared strong enough to go home. This time he was much weaker and could do no more than a few steps with his walker. PT came to the house twice a week, but it really wasn’t doing much good. He was starting to fade physically and his mind was slowly starting to slip.
We were at their house for dinner the Thursday before Thanksgiving. His two adult sons who live in southern California were also visiting for the weekend. We had left to go home and had been gone for about 15 minutes when we got a call – they had called 911 and were probably taking him to the emergency room. He had suddenly started vomiting and lost consciousness.
It turned out there were two problems. First, he had developed pneumonia. This was most likely caused by his inability to swallow properly. Liquids and bits of food made it into his lungs and resulted in a bacterial infection. Second, a kidney stone became lodged and a second infection took hold. The infections led to him developing sepsis and he started to go into septic shock.
They treated the infections with antibiotics. A stint was put in that allowed him to pass urine, but the stone was still lodged. The septic shock was arrested, but damage had been done and his organs were starting to fail. My MIL agreed with the doctors that there was nothing else they could do that wouldn’t cause more harm. It was now time to work out how he would live the end of his life.
He first went to a nursing facility. But after a few days and all of his doctors agreeing there was no treatment that would result in a quality extension of his life, he was released for hospice care. He was coming home to die.
It was the 3rd of December when he came home. The hospice provider had brought a hospital bed and other equipment to the house. A nurse would initially come by twice a week to check on things, and a nursing assistant would also come by twice a week to provide of personal care. The nursing facility had told my MIL that he could get out of bed and into his wheelchair with “min-assist”. That is either a term that means something to them other than what it seems, or he declined rapidly on getting home. My MIL could neither get him out of or into bed by herself. We decided that I would drive to their house every morning to help her until he was back in bed for the day.
At first the routine was that I would help him out of bed, he would come out to the kitchen to eat, and then after a while he would be ready to go back to bed. Some days, he would sleep for 23 hours. Other times he might be awake for five or six hours. Sometimes he was agitated all day, other days were more docile. He mostly didn’t eat. My MIL would make him breakfast and try to feed him, but I doubt he ever had more than 300-400 calories in solid food a day. Liquids were a little better. She could get him to drink some, but I don’t think he ever had more than 20 ounces a day.
The week before Christmas his mind started to slip even more. He was worried about the truck and trailer he parked on the freeway and said we needed to go pick it up. He also started to ask questions about their other house and wondered when we were going there. He always recognized his wife and he knew me every day. I’m not sure if he knew who I was other than the guy that was there all the time to pick him up out of bed. He also recognized my wife and called her by name. But I don’t think he knew any of his friends that stopped by or his two sons when they came the weekend before Christmas.
The Monday after Christmas he seemed to rally a bit. He was more alert and could assist physically at least a little bit. This, we were told, was not unusual in end-of-life situations. It’s not a sign of real improvement, but instead the end could be approaching quickly.
During the day on New Year’s Eve, he seemed to be better physically, but mentally he really lost it. He went to his computer because he needed to find something. My wife sat with him through an incredibly frustrating hour. He complained that the builder that built their house had stolen the plans and built an exact copy somewhere in the California desert. He knew it was an exact copy because he had counted all the nails in each house and the totals matched. He had been to the house and knew he could find it again using Google maps if he could just zoom in the right way. It was important that he find it because he had received a tax bill for it and also a sales flyer. Something had to be done. He finally calmed down after my MIL gave him some anti-anxiety medicine and it started to work. I got him into bed and he slept most of the day.
In the morning on the 1st, there was a total change. He was barely communicative and provided no help getting out of bed and into the wheelchair. He refused to eat and had only the smallest amount of fluids. I got him back into bed and he went to sleep right away. That morning was the last time he was in his wheelchair.
If I had met him under any other circumstances, he would have been a best an acquaintance that I barely tolerated. He was very opinionated, and his opinions were based on things he heard once that were not true (but don’t try to tell him that). He was quick to become annoyed and took other people for granted. He wasn’t all bad. He was often kind and generous. You just never knew who you were going to get. He had a poor relationship with two of his sons and no relationship with a third. Over the years I have discussed it with my wife, and we agree that he would have been a very hard man to grow up with as a father.
My wife called him her dad. In truth, he was her mom’s third husband. She likes to say she had a biological-jerk, a step-jerk, and a dad. Her mom seemed to pick out the wrong type of men, but the third one seemed to work – they were married for almost 40 years. My wife had no illusions about him, she saw him clearly for what he was. But he came into her life at the right time for her, and the right time for him, to give her what she needed. She loved him and my MIL loved him, and that was good enough for me. So I acted in such a way that neither he nor her mother knew that I felt any different than they did.
When we went over the afternoon of the 1st, it was obvious he was fading. My wife had decided she would start staying the night to support her mom. I would continue to stay at our house and drive back and forth at least twice a day so I could take care of the pets and other things we needed to get done. On the 2nd the nurse was there. She confirmed that he was “actively dying”. It’s such a strange phrase and I had never heard it before. But absence an acute event, it’s the stage where your body is shutting down before death. It usually lasts two to five days. On the 3rd, he was almost totally non-responsive. The nurse said it was fair to describe it as being in a coma.
After dinner on the 5th, I went in to check him and say goodbye before I left. He was breathing rapidly with short little breaths and a gurgling sound. This was more or less standard for the prior two days along with periods of longer breaths spaced out. My MIL and been thinking for the past several nights that it would be the last night. After checking him this night I thought things had changed some and this might be it. It took me 30 minutes to get home. I’d been there about 10 minutes when the phone rang. It was my wife. He was gone.
Waiting for first the hospice nurse and then the funeral home transport to arrive was surreal. You’re sitting around waiting with a dead body in the next room. The nurse and the transport people were not only professional but also kind. Maybe they were good actors after doing it so many times, but I thought they gave the situation all the humble respect it deserved.
My MIL, of course, broke down at first. It had been building for three and a half years and had accelerated over the last few months. She had already mourned him several times thinking this was it, but when it actually happens it all comes out. When she was ready to leave the bedroom I had to help her walk to the living room and sit down. She had recovered pretty well by the time she went to bed. She was having a little difficulty with her feelings, but my wife told her it was okay to be both sad and relieved, one didn’t cancel the other. That seemed to help.
Watching my MIL as I helped her during these final weeks was interesting. She knew he was dying and was obviously frustrated both that it was happening and that it was taking so long. But she always him treated with such loving tenderness. He couldn’t do anything on his own, from getting out of bed to eating to going to the bathroom to cleaning himself. I ended up believing it was a very special thing to watch. And since she wasn’t physically strong enough to do it by herself, I did all I could to make it easier on her. What else could I do? So I picked him up so she could clean him and the bedding. I helped make him as comfortable as we could. I ran all her errands and did all her shopping so that she could stay with him – she only left the house once in a month. He was as helpless as a baby and no matter what I thought of him before, giving what little help I could was the absolute very least I could do.
Thanks for sharing that Didace. Sorry for your family's loss. I can relate to quite a bit of that. I'm the caretaker for my 100yo grandmother who is still in pretty damned good shape, but noticably on the downhill slope and picking up speed every day.