“Today I Learned…”: Wisdom Gained From an End of Life Story
Journal entries in loving memory of my dad, Roger Allen Anderson (November 10, 1933 – August 29, 2019).
Today I learned that Raspberry Pear baby food can save your dad’s life after he refuses the feeding tube and can’t swallow anything else. He’s been taken out of the ICU. Dad needs to move into assisted living now.
Today I learned that when a cranky old man at an assisted living facility gets angry and shouts so loud that everyone in the dining room can hear, then stomps back to his room, that your father is a salve to his problem. When we got back to dad’s room, I watched him draw a picture for Peter and hand deliver it to him. Peter’s angry disposition melted before our eyes. Dad made a new friend. This man needed love and dad gave it to him. Dad’s example inspires me. Dad is the new move-in, but he’s already making a difference in this place. (Peter soon became a family friend and joined us in future family celebrations).
Today I learned how important it is to visit an assisted living facility very often where your elderly parent is staying. It’s important because the more often you are there, the more attentive the staff will be to your loved one. When you don’t show up, things happen, like he misses a meal because someone forgets to bring him to the dining room, or he’s not been given his 10:00 PM medicine until 3:00 AM, or when he pushes the emergency call button around his neck while lying on the floor bleeding in the middle of the night – 10,000 excuses are made. I’m told this happens everywhere. Sometimes I just wanna move a cot in right next to you and stay with you. I’m so sorry dad.
Today I learned that if your dad wants to introduce you twice-weekly to the same people at his assisted living facility that you should not correct him saying, “Yes, we’ve met so many hundreds of times before!” Instead, kindly, and ever so patiently, smile and reach out your hand, again, and again, and again. Few there ever remember meeting me before anyway.
Today I learned that Medicare covers diabetic supplies. Dad’s been bleeding out hundreds of dollars per month. For. Twenty. Years.
Today I learned that dad is drinking three Ensures and one Boost per day. Maybe that’s why he has chronic diarrhea. Doctors have been adjusting his medications to try to solve this problem—and there you have it. ‘Well, it tastes good,” he says… “like a shake!” Maybe this is also why he is hardly ever hungry and is skipping out ever so frequently on meals in the dining room. Did I mention, we just returned from Costco after having bought three cases of these little cans of awfully expensive shakes? He’s not underweight, so one a day would Ensure his health just fine.
Today dad called me and said, “Honey, what are the names of those little drinks I like? I’m just not sure.” “Ensure?” I said. We had a great chuckle.
Today I learned how important it is to not always have in mind a plan when I go to visit dad. Spontaneity is important. Today when I picked up dad, I said, “So what shall we do? Let’s get out!” Dad wanted a Diet Coke, and me a Fanta Orange, so we stopped at King Soopers to get a cold drink, then decided to go to Harvey Park. We sat under a tree drinking our sodas and talked about the trees and other memories at this park, and we laughed a lot. It was one of the best days of my life. Spontaneity is important.
Today I learned that dad has five pair of nail clippers, I think we can let a few go.
Today I learned how important it is to make friends with other people at the assisted living facility. Some people have no one to visit them. When you make friends with them you learn things. You learn from their wisdom and you get to help take care of some of their needs—even helping them eat. Then you learn they have family nearby, but they are just too busy to stop by the assisted living facility. Oh, how I wish I could have a word….
Today I learned how important it is to try to get your loved one outside. To go look at the moon, to play ‘I Spy’ at the table outside, to go on a short walk with the walker—to get some fresh air. Dad hasn’t been outside for weeks. This makes me sad.
Today I learned that sometimes to get something checked off my to-do list, I just need to let it go. I’ve had dad’s reimbursements for medical supplies on my to-do list since last July when I bought his rollator. I’ve submitted to Medicare months ago and no response. Called Kaiser and they sent new form, but I’m supposed to submit what I got for Medicare. The run around. So, I decided not to run with them. I’m out of this race and it feels good. It was $140.00 well spent on dad, but not worth any more of my time to get reimbursed.
Today I learned how important it is to look into your father’s eyes and memorize what they look like.
Today I learned the most special items to my dad are his ruler, his colored pencils, his pencils, his printer, ink, paper, mats to frame his drawings, and tape. The most important things to my dad are the things he uses to create gits to give to other people.
Today I learned how important it is to share your gifts and talents with others. I watched dad draw pictures for people at the assisted living facility. He’s been nicknamed the “welcoming committee” now. Whenever someone new comes to the facility, he draws him/her a picture and puts their name on the back with a message. Many pictures are hung in the offices of the staff. I see dad’s drawings all around this place now. People stop me in the hallway and say, “Your dad was so kind to draw me a picture! I have it on my dresser!” Dad uses his gift of drawing to love, to serve, to make a difference. And he is – big time.
Today I learned why mom and dad had five kids. Because every single one of us are needed to help take care of dad right now!
Today I learned how loving a doctor can be when she learns to play a song on the piano she knows would mean the world to dad. Then she calls him down to sit by the piano and plays and sings it for him! What a loving doctor. (She played Ave Maria for us at his celebration of life, too. God bless her soul.)
Today I learned that some nurses become like family. They watch out for your dad. They watch out for his needs. They bring him special drinks and sneak him ice cream sometimes. They get in trouble because they hang out in his room talking to him too much. Thank you, God, for these special nurses.
Today I learned how important it is to have a conversation with your elderly parent about their finances. It’s important because I discovered that dad did not have beneficiaries listed on his accounts that he worked so hard to save for. In fact, mom was listed as a beneficiary on his property (she passed 11 years ago). Dad was so grateful to learn this information so we could set his accounts up how he wanted his funds distributed after he was gone. It was a good and important conversation. We went to banks and made lots of phone calls. Nothing is going to probate. Nothing. His money is going where he wants it to go after he passes.
Today I learned that when it comes to investing your elderly father’s money, maybe it’s best to leave it right where it’s at, in his Money Market Account and CD’s, free from a financial advisor who recommends an annuity for an 84-year-old approaching stage four kidney disease. Yep—she is touting “fiduciary responsibility” to work for the best interest of dad. But dad has no time to generate income to make up for the loss of fee to set the dang thing up. Glad I took some investment classes to understand how ridiculous this would be for dad. Fiduciary responsibility? Bull. Why does everyone want to take advantage of my elderly father?
Today I learned that POD & TOD are not the same thing. An investment account is usually listed as Transfer on Death to a beneficiary, not Payable on Death like a savings account would be.
Today I learned how difficult it is for my dad to hand over his checkbook and accounting because he can’t do it anymore. Dad has always loved writing his checks, keeping a meticulous expenditure record. But he’s realizing he can’t do anymore. He said, “I was writing a check and I forgot what to do next.” I drove home crying with his checkbook in hand. He said he thinks he’s losing his mind, and truth is, he is a little bit.
Today I learned that there are (at least one I know of) lawyers who prey on elderly folk convincing them of the need to set up a Trust for their heirs. Yes, if it is a good idea for some families, but not for ours. And not with her. $6,000 it cost him. Today we stopped the annual bleeding of $375 annual fee for “maintenance” of the Trust. Hey lawyer—did you know that no assets were ever put into dad’s Trust in the first place? Way to go—set him up with a Trust with nothing in it! Took me weeks to figure that out after studying how Trusts work. No wonder you couldn’t look me in the eye either time we met. You even took advantage of dad while he drew you cards of thanks multiple times per year. Unbelievable.
Today I learned that, when sprawled out on the couch and praying, “God just please help me,” that that’s enough of a prayer to get an immediate answer. I thought of my friend who is a paralegal for an estate lawyer.
Today I learned that there are decent lawyers who help people without charging them a fee because they realize your dad has been scammed out of thousands of dollars. Dad’s Trust is now revoked. More financial bleeding staunched. Of course, dad tipped him, rightfully.
Today I learned how sweet it is to clasp hands with your father and touch forehead to forehead after buttoning up his shirt because his fingers can’t do it anymore. We stand there still, forehead to forehead, while he cries tears of gratitude because his needs have been met for the day. Then we stand there for longer while I cry, too. This will be one of my sweetest memories with him.
Today I learned that my fast and prayer were answered from decades ago. I was 23 when I fasted for six days for my relationship with my dad to become one of love. We did not have a great relationship when I was a kid and teen. In fact, I hated him. So, I fasted and prayed for six days. Today, I can’t even imagine ever hating my father. I love him now so, so much with all of my heart. Both of our hearts have been healing during his two years at the assisted living facility. We’ve spent so much time together and have gotten to know each other very well. Thank you, God, for giving us this time together before he dies. Thank you for answering my prayer from thirty years ago and for healing my broken heart. And probably his.
Today I learned how special it is to hear, “I love you so, so much honey,” before hanging up the phone with dad, and how good it feels to say, “I love you so, so much too, dad,” and mean it.
Today I learned what true bravery is. I watched my dad see doctor after doctor, being poked with needles, never complaining, but instead giving them pictures he drew and making them laugh. He told them all how much he appreciated them, all while hurting from so many various things. My dad is a hero.
Today I learned what touches a doctor’s heart—that one man could have such an impact on a whole assisted living facility. This doctor visits his patients from room to room and sees all these drawings by the same artist. He finds out who it is and visits dad thanking him for helping his patients stay positive and feel loved. The doctor then leaves with a picture in hand of Saint Luke—the doctor.
Today I learned how much a chocolate milkshake from Arby’s means to dad.
Today I saw the Spirit move my dad during lunch and dinner, to stand up and ask for attention in the dining room so that he could say a prayer on National Day of Prayer. My dad is introverted. I sat stunned. Many came up to him afterward to thank him, several were crying. Dad prayed mostly for peace.
Today I learned my dad has 12,000 batteries under his bed. Mercy.
Today I learned how important it is to ask your dad about his last wishes. So, I asked dad, “What are some things that you’d like to do before you die, dad?” He responded, “I’d love to have some chocolate ice cream bars in my freezer!” “No dad, I mean what are some special things you’d like to see happen before you pass? Would you like to have a special dinner with all of your kids?” “Oh yes, let’s do that!” So, my brothers came from out of town and we set up a dinner in a quiet area at Olive Garden. Each of us made a toast to dad telling him of all the things we loved and appreciated about him. We shared memories and laughed. He was radiant! He was in his glory with his five kids and their spouses present all at the same time. I’m thankful the hospice team suggested I ask him this question. I understand now why. It was beautiful. (And, he always had chocolate ice cream bars in his freezer from that day forward).
Today I learned how important it is to take a drive with your dad. He’s so cooped up in that room and he can’t walk very well. So, we drove to the mountains and he was mesmerized. He hadn’t been to the mountains for years. We even stopped and had lunch near Red Rocks. Nicole was with us or I couldn’t have gotten him out of the car and into the restaurant by myself. Even with two of us—holy cow!
Today I learned how important it is to let your dad make as many decisions as he can for himself unless he refers to someone for help. Let him keep as much independence as possible. So much has been taken from him – his home, his routines etc. Let him make the calls until he can’t. Then give him options and let him choose. Do not decide for him until it’s obvious he can’t decide for himself.
Today I learned how important it is to be there for doctor visits so you know what’s going on. Then you can have great conversations with the doctor and help make decisions on behalf of your dad’s health.
Today I learned that when people make mistakes, it’s an opportunity for me to extend mercy, because I make them too.
Today I learned you can graduate from hospice. Now what? He should still be in hospice!
Today I learned how important it is to touch your father’s shoulder, to touch your father’s hand, to kiss your father’s forehead. Dad has so little physical touch in his life right now, he needs every little bit he can get from his family.
Today I learned there are gazillions of Saints and I think dad has drawn each and every one of them.
Today I learned how important it is to be an advocate for your loved one. Dad doesn’t understand a lot of things people are talking to him about and he needs some help—he needs some clarification—he needs to not be rushed in making a decision—he needs to bounce ideas off of someone—he needs someone to go to bat for him when people just brush him off. The elderly need an advocate.
Today I learned how important it is to befriend another lady in the dining room who has family living nearby with her grandchildren, yet they never come by to see her. Today, it was just as important to visit with her as it was with dad.
Today I saw my dad thank every single person who did something for him. He always taught us growing up to write a thank you note whenever someone does something nice for you. Today he exhibited that.
Today I learned that no day is predictable. I dread for my phone to ring and I expect something bad has happened to dad. I’m on high alert. How I wish I could bring him here. But I can’t take care of him. He needs professional help.
Today my heart is sinking because dad is declining. I’ve gotten a call every day the past ten days from the facility. He is falling almost every day, and they’re not giving him the help they promised. Today I learned we need to put him in 24-hour care. I learned that when assisted living facilities say that they can care for your loved one till the end of their life, they’re not always telling the truth. They like to think that they can, but they don’t do it. So, to 24-hour care we go. Another move. Dear God, we are so tired. Please help us.
Today I learned that when the body starts shutting down to die, you just aren’t hungry. You can’t force your loved one to eat, so you revert back to methods of feeding a child and say, “Come on dad, just one more bite.” But he’s not hungry—his body is shutting down. It’s hard to let him go. But he doesn’t wanna be forced to eat. Drinking calories at this point is the best way to get nutrients into him. So even though he’s diabetic, we let him have ice cream shakes, whatever he wants. He’s lost so much weight now. Now is the time for Ensure!
Today, again, I am so grateful that mom and dad had five kids. I don’t know how only one of us could take care of all of his needs. I’m so thankful for my siblings and teamwork in helping my dad live another day.
Today I learned that when watching your loved one suffer, you get to the point where you begin to pray, “God please take him. Please take him now to stop the suffering. He has had enough.”
Today dad is not responding to anyone. He is just sleeping. They say it’s gonna be soon now. So, I just talked to him hoping that he hears me. I thank him for taking care of us over the course of our lives. I tell him he’s gonna get to see mom soon—it’s what he’s been waiting for all these years. He’s held on eleven years longer than mom. He just wants to be with his love and still wears his wedding band. He never wanted to die before his appointed time, but he’s always missed mom immensely. It’ll be soon. We tell him, you’ll get to see mom soon.”
Today dad still isn’t responding. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and told him how much I love him. The whole family’s been in and out today—friends have come. He was given his last rites by the priest. Christina and I were there. Hospice has been very kind. The 24-hour care facility brought in fruit and cheese and crackers, and a whole spread that melted our hearts, though our grief dissipates our hunger. We all sat privately by dad’s bed to talk to him and say good-bye. We knew this was probably our last time seeing him, and to say goodbye. So today I said goodbye to my dad. Tears won’t stop flowing. I need to write a poem. (I wrote Slipping)
Tonight Jenny called. She and Stephen couldn’t go earlier in the day to say goodbye to dad, but she went tonight. She and Steven prayed for dad and read verses of scripture to him. The nurses came in to turn him so he wouldn’t get bed sores, and to change him. They asked Jen and Stephen to leave for a few minutes. When dad was turned, he woke up for the first time in a few days. The nurse told him his granddaughter was outside of the room and would he like to see her. His face lit up with a smile and nodded his head yes. So, Jenny and Steven went back into the room and Jenny called me to tell me he was semi-alert with one eye open. I asked to talk to dad knowing he couldn’t talk back. I said, “Dad I love you so, so much. It’s okay if you let go now. We will be okay. I love you dad. Goodbye.” Jenny hung up the phone, said goodbye to her grandpa, then left. Fifteen minutes later I got a phone call from the 24-hour care facility that dad had passed. Jenny and Steven ushered him into heaven with scripture and prayer. Now he is safe with his King and mom. Amen.
Today I learned that my phone won’t be ringing as much as it used to. I won’t be hearing my dad’s voice ever again, except for saved messages. I learned how important it is to save and record messages so you can hear your father’s voice over and over and over and over and over again. This is a good thing.
Today I learned how special it is to have two of my father’s shirts that I can wear on sad days to comfort and hug me.
Today I learned that dad is still with me every day. I hear him in my head say, “Turn off the water!” or “Did you write that thank you note yet?” or “Come hold the flashlight for me,” while he changed the oil underneath the car. So many memories that will stay with me forever. Most of all I will remember his example of love.
I miss you dad. Happy one-year heavenly birthday. I love you so, so much! And I mean it.