Wednesday, August 12, 2015
John Braden Waite - April 6, 1928 to January 7, 2015
In his 60's (and maybe 50's) I think Dad often worried about descending into dementia, as had his mother. Then his two older sisters, Arabell and Edith, did, too. By about his early 70's Dad and Mom knew that Dad was beginning the long, gentle slide. Cancer got twin brother Bob at age 69, so we'll never know if this was to be a shared disease. But then cancer didn't get Dad. Older brother, Erwin, seemed to be dementia free, but died at age 82 partly from complications of an auto accident. Oldest brother Stephen lived to age 89, always sharp as a tack to the end.
One feature of Dad's dementia in his 70's was that he began to have trouble with short term memory, but could clearly recall many events from his childhood and young adulthood. One defining event in his later 70's was when he decided to drive himself from the Manor in Milwaukie across the Willamette, over the west hills, and into Beaverton to visit us. He ended up at a major intersection about 3-4 miles away and called from a pay phone: "I'm having some trouble here," he reported. "I can't seem to find my way." The keys and car went away soon after that.
Over the next couple years he began to loose the ability to manage any financial affairs. Mom, bless her heart, and despite her increasing challenges with Parkinson's, was his guide. But Dad still knew and recognized family members. Even into his early to nearly mid-80's he remembered details about family members and asked about them. For example, he still asked about my teaching career, about my daughters - his granddaughters - and about the great-granddaughter he saw in-person several times a year, and more frequently on Skype.
By his mid-80's, Dad could no longer remember how to sign his name. The dementia caused some personality changes that increasingly wore on Mom - and their fellow Manor residents. For example, Dad would become angry about others getting in and out of "his" elevator.
Mom was a rock through all of this. She was the anchor chained to Dad. Because of Mom's physical challenges due to Parkinson's, and Dad's excellent physical condition, Dad was the sail that took them where they needed to go. Without any disrespect, I characterized them together as the brain and the body. Neither could function without the other.
Bless my brother Richard and Mom for taking the steps to get Dad moved into Memory Care at the Manor. Weeks after moving out of their apartment and into the Health Center, Dad seemed to be declining quickly. By later in August he qualified for Hospice Care. But he rebounded and seemed to settle in to the new routines, partly because of a new medication that calmed him. Mom visited him daily, which Dad looked forward to greatly. They chatted and held hands. It was very hard to know how much understanding Dad had of these events. But as we would find out later, he may have had much understanding but was unable to express it.
As Mom fell and broke her hip in early November 2014, she was no longer able to visit him. Between that event and her death on December 4, we toyed with the idea of bringing Dad to visit her. We felt that Dad would not understand, and especially that the moving about would upset to his routine. Again, based on events to come, I wish that we had tried.
Because Dad and Mom's out of town children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were in town in early December (at the time of Mom's death) and again later for the holidays, Dad enjoyed many visitors and many extra visits. Sometimes he was "with it" and sometimes not. We treasured these visits and treasure the memories of them.
Here are some of the highlights.
Sister Nanci and friend Brian were back for Mom's graveside service at about Christmas. Brian and a fellow musician played some old folk and bluegrass favorites at that ceremony. Several days later, we had quite a crowd at Dad's Manor Memory Care unit to sing songs with Dad. As we came in, Dad was sitting in the common area in a rolling chair, head down non-responsive.
We sang a bunch of songs: She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain, Mares-y-dotes, My Bonnie..., Crawdad Hole, and others. Dad really perked up. He even sang along and sang the refrain to Coming Around the Mountain. (A big wish later: that we had sung Home On The Range, which we used to sing as kids with Dad).
Even weeks after Mom's death, we had still not told Dad about Mom's death. We struggled with this a lot, but felt that he would not understand. But for this visit I had brought a photo of Mom to show Dad. We told him that Mom "had gone home" (passed away). He looked at me like a he REALLY did understand. His eyes spoke that he understood. "Good for her," he said.
Well into this musical session, Dad looked at me and said, "it's time for me to go." We had been there for quite a while, and I assumed that Dad meant that HE was done and it was time for US to go. I looked at Dad and asked, "go where Dad?" Dad looked back and, with his thumb, pointed down to the ground. We knew what he meant because he used to joke about that when his cognitive awareness was stronger. In those days he would add, "down to the ground."
"Mom's coming to get you," we told Dad a number of times.
Later, Nanci and Brian's final visit was on their way to the airport on about January 2. With Brian's mandolin, they sang familiar songs. This time in his room, Dad was dressed. He had felt some physical pain, and didn't want to get up. Nan held Dad's hand. He greeted them, said hello, and wanted to kiss Nan. Nan held Dad's hand the whole time and he squeezed back the whole time. Dad hummed a bit, mouthed the words, but was not as animated this time.
In the middle of it all, during the singing, Dad randomly looked around the room, and started randomly waiving his hand. "I don't need all this stuff. I want you to take all this stuff, this is for you," he said. Without those words, it was like Dad was saying, "I'm ready to go, this is goodbye". He had spoken in complete sentences, something he had not been doing for months. He really seemed lucid, communicating "this is it, I've had it, I'm done".
When it was time to say goodbye, he perked up. He looked directly at Nan. Nan said, "I love you, Daddy." "I love you too, sweetheart." Dad really seemed like he knew what was happening and he was ready to go, he was done and ready to say goodbye. He said "goodbye" in a very final way, in a strong, Dad voice.
After Christmas, Maureen, Jon, and the great-grandchildren made a final visit before they had to travel back home. A major highlight of this visit - I wish I could have been there - was that Dad told them, out of the blue, "I have to get back to Janet." Wow.
Brother Richard heard from Manor staff that Dad was heard having "conversations" with some imaginary person in his room. Maybe Dad and Mom were talking again.
Dad knew more than we gave him credit for. He just could not express his understanding. I wish for a redo.
Just as I flew with Mom, I flew with Dad, too. That's coming on the next post.