In Memoriam to my mother and father
Update: Three years ago today, my father entertained family and had a stroke an hour later. Two months later, they both had died, one from disease, the other from loneliness. This is the story of their last days together.
My father had a severe stroke in a year ago today; he had been taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s. Really, neither of us (i.e., my sister and I) knew the extent of that care. He seldom complained, but we came to see how much care she needed: from showering, to getting dressed, to eating. She couldn’t have been good company for him because she couldn’t even follow a TV show. Every time I visited, I would go over family photographs with her. She knew she had a family, but she couldn’t place the names and faces. It was extremely frustrating to her.
Yet, they didn’t want to move to assisted living or even to a spare room at my sister’s house — they valued their independence right up until the end. My father had retired when he was 50 and he and my mother have been inseparable for the past 37 years. Just before his stroke, he had been entertaining family that afternoon just as he loved to do. Friends, family, food, drink … that was how he preferred to live his life.
In her state of mind, my mother never did adjust after my father’s stroke, even though my sister took her in and gave her good care. Several weeks later, she had a mild problem (intestinal blockage) — in retrospect, the doctor may have overreacted and sent her to the hospital, where they took their time tending to her. One night, she tried to get out of bed, fell down, and broke her hip. That’s how she ended up in the same rehab center where my father was staying. My mother’s Alzheimer was getting progressively worse there.
Yet, she recognized my father. She would wheel her chair right up to him, caress his face, hold hands, proclaim her love, and tell him to get better. It was so touching, the center staff would gather around just to witness it.
My father passed away peacefully around 7:35 on a Monday night in June — I was the only family member there.
Right afterwards my mother (who is at the same rehab center in a room directly across the hall), woke up from a deep sleep and started crying out “Chuck Chuck”. Any other time you could have asked her for her husband’s name, but the queen would have guessed Rumpelstiltskin’s name before my mother would have guessed “Chuck”. But this night, the name was spoken with confidence and authority.
I went to her to give her a hug and she embraced and kissed me, over and over, repeatedly calling “Chuck”.
Her touches and kisses were full of passion … and sadness. She refused to lighten her grip on me. “Don’t leave me” and “I love you, baby”, she said, over and over. The intensity was both unexpected and overpowering as it gave me a glimpse into their life together, a part that they kept hidden from the children. It had to have come from a deep and primordial part of her mind that, once freed of its inhibitions, displayed itself in all its raw emotion.
I’m sure there was an intense spiritual bond between the two of them at that moment.
At some deep level she became aware that my father — her husband — had died, without anyone having told her. She was never the same and was constantly crying. The last conversation I had with her was a week later. We were sitting outside at the rehab center when she suddenly got one of her lucid moments. She looked at me and asked “Papa died, didn’t he?” I had to answer truthfully. With that she started crying. I was never able to hold another conversation with her, and within 10 days, as her ultimate act of devotion she passed away herself, dying from heartache and grief.
The final end of the story only came few months later. It was common for me to dream, but this one was particularly vivid.
I was with Nana and Papa at a large arena for a sporting event … we were waiting in the lobby holding tickets for the lower level at cheap seats.
We decided to exchange them for $50 seats on the upper level. I went with Nana upstairs. There I ran into my two sons who had already made the exchange. They had seats numbered 4, 5 and 6. Nana stood behind them, silent and ethereal, with her arms outstretched.
I went downstairs to fetch Papa. Though he looked pale and shuffled slowly as we walked, I thought to myself: “He doesn’t seem so bad considering he just had a stroke.”
Then I realized that there were only three seats … for me and the two boys and my mother was already there. There was no place there for my father. I slowly led him up …