It's been three years since my father died. Those of you who have been reading for awhile will know that he had a stroke eight years before his death which resulted in paralysis in his left arm and leg. He left home to go to the hospital because he didn't feel well, and he never went home again. He did walk again, but just once: the day after his stroke his paralysis went away temporarily (possibly caused by movement of the blood clot in his brain), but then it came back, and he was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Because June is the month of my father's birth, stroke, and death, as well as Father's Day, I was already thinking about him over the past few weeks, but a post by Terry, titled Being without legs, sent me even deeper into the memory vault. Terry is currently in much the same situation my dad was -- due to a stroke, he has lost the use of his legs and his right arm, and in addition he has lost the ability to talk to make himself understood. He knows first hand what it's like.
I know only second hand, or maybe sixth hand, or even less, but before my father's stroke I didn't know anything at all. I thought wheelchairs were reasonably comfortable. They're not, for the record. Even with a special cushion designed to relieve the pressure from hours of sitting in one position, Dad was often in pain and sometimes developed pressure sores.
I also never thought about how a person would get from the bed to a wheelchair and back, or from a toilet/bathtub/examining table/optometrist's chair to and from the wheelchair. The answer in some cases is to use a mechanical lift. In other cases, humans with strong backs must do the transfer. In still other cases, a person is simply and completely barred from doing things able-bodied people take for granted.
Dad spent the eight years following his stroke wishing desperately that he could walk, and trying to get out of that wheelchair. He was consumed with getting back on his own two feet. He asked, and then begged, for crutches. A walker. Two strong people to lean on. Physio to teach him how to walk again. Assistance in sitting upright on the side of the bed so he could try to stand. We couldn't oblige with any of those things because it would have put him and his care workers in physical peril. On a couple of occasions, when left alone, his attempts to get upright caused him to slide from the wheelchair or tip it over while still in it. Luckily he never broke any bones, or his head.
It was very hard for him to be trapped in that wheelchair. It was also hard to have to watch him suffer, because suffer he truly did. Along with the pain from constant pressure on his bottom, he had pre-existing back problems (degenerated discs) which got worse from sitting all the time. But I think that he found the mental and emotional pain from loss of mobility even worse than the physical pain. He had always been an active person and in a matter of hours he lost the ability to do all the things that made his life enjoyable to that point -- gardening, puttering around the yard, cooking, walking in the woods, driving to meet friends for coffee -- and instead was reduced to watching TV, listening to the radio, and playing bingo and other "kids' games," as he called them, in the nursing home.
That is what drove me to visit him as much as I could, which was almost every day. With an ill child at home, four cats (who could not be together due to personality problems), household duties, and part-time work, plus a half hour of travel time and an hour to visit, some days I didn't know how I could keep going. But every time I entered his room, and he gave me his cheery "Hel-lo, dear!" somehow the tiredness lifted and I left after our visit with our conversation and our "Love you's" echoing in my head.
I'm so grateful for that time together. We talked about everything -- family and family history, politics, what was in the news, his memories of his life, social problems, our views on just about everything. We laughed together, and, when his favourite younger brother died after a brief, unexpected illness, we cried together. I fiercely wish he hadn't had that stroke and lost such a huge part of his life, but the silver lining was that we became so close. I was able to support him through various other health challenges, as well as at the end of his life, which was something his lady friend found it difficult to do. If I hadn't been so involved with his daily care, I know I would have found it very hard to manage those times. Instead, I had learned what would help to make him more comfortable, what his medications and issues were so that I could explain them to new medical personnel, and how to talk to him naturally during scary and uncomfortable situations instead of wondering and fumbling over what to say.
Very near the end of his life, my father told me that he had gotten up and walked to the bathroom and back on his own. He was so happy about that. I was happy for him, too, even though I knew it was either a dream or a hallucination. It was wonderful to see him smile and relax, knowing that he had walked once more.
A few weeks after Dad died, I had a dream. I am not a religious or spiritual or mystical person; I like facts and base my life around them. I find it nearly impossible to entertain the idea of any kind of afterlife, but my dream gave me a great deal of comfort in spite of that, and made me hope that maybe, just maybe, there are things that exist in spite of my arrogant skepticism, things beyond facts. In my dream, I was standing at the open door of a community hall. Inside, I could see many of the people from our home village sitting around chatting and enjoying themselves. Then my father drove up on a motorcycle. I was so glad to see him -- because in my dream I was aware he had already died -- and I went to help him, to ask where his wheelchair was. Before I got the words out, he had hopped off and walked past me, as if he didn't see me standing there, and entered the hall. He was walking just fine. Then he started to walk faster, then run, and finally I saw who he was running toward. It was his mother. He ran into her welcoming arms and they hugged each other tightly while the people in the hall clapped and cheered.
I was so happy for him in my dream. Dad and his mother were very much alike, and very close. He missed her after she passed away. He had ten brothers and sisters, and was one of the "middle" children. His older siblings left home one by one but the little ones were still being born, so for a number of years he was the oldest child at home and he helped my grandmother with the kids and the housework. Knowing how much he loved her made me happy in my dream that they were finally reunited.
Who knows? Maybe they were. Or maybe it was just my subconscious creating a happy ending. All I know for sure is that the dream gave me a sense of peace I hadn't had until then.
I still miss having my dad in my life. And I think part of the heartache is because of the way in which he spent his last years.
But I'm thankful for the time we had together, the closeness we forged, and the lessons I learned.
Love you, Dad. Rest easy.
My father's preferred form of footwear. (Photo: Pixabay)
Thanks for reading, my friends.
I'll be back on Monday with a poem about "people that we know."
Wishing you a weekend full of good memories and peace.