191002 Dad Passed Away
The previous official post was in 2018 Dec, and it was just a copy of a news article that caught my eye. The Hun suggested I write this. I suppose it is for my own edification when I read it next time.
A good friend asked me if I had any guilt about this event. I replied just some selfish regrets. Here is one. I've been dropping in on Mom and Dad for ages. Dad hasn't been well for the last 24 months. No pain, but always exhausted. He would rarely talk to me, and when he did it was correctional in some way. I regret not taking a few more pictures when he was still alive and mobile. In many respects he looked the same in death as he did in life, when he was sleeping or resting. His eyes would be mostly open, perhaps closed 25%. He didn't see well anyway, so his eyes didn't reflect much.
Dad's trip downhill began at least two years ago, but I will start around Sep 18. I think Mom had taken him to an appointment at Sunnybrook Hospital, and they were just going back into the house. Their home has six steps before the front door. For reasons unclear at that time (and at this time!), he collapsed slowly. So no bruising, no crying out. Mom was already trying to help him up the stairs, but wasn't able to hold all of his weight, so she could only give him a gentle landing. My brother was nearby, and helped get him up and inside. In spite of their success, he was never the same after this event. He had a favourite thing each morning: A fried egg, two slices of bacon, and toast. He would prepare this himself. This stopped after the incident.
This part of the story has unclear timing. They got a call from Sunnybrook, suggesting he go directly to any emergency ward, as his blood potassium was very low, and his blood pressure was very high. Mom called for an ambulance, and he was admitted into the Humber River facility.
Since my folks see doctors all of the time, I didn't see anything more urgent about this particular event. I supposed that he would be released in a day or two.
Humber put Dad into a cancer ward. I was surprised how many people each nurse had to care for. One night the girl said '20' to me. I guess two people phoned in unable to work. Mom called us not only to tell us the room number and location details, but also begged me to go see him, as the nurses were not feeding him. When I checked this out for myself, I was polite and the nurse said that she didn't do the feeding until after she administered medication for all of the patients in her care. That was okay with me. But we were visiting, and someone in a different uniform came in to take the untouched tray away, as it was almost 900pm. This confirmed my mother's report, rather than the nurse's. I was firm with the food tech: "I've got this, I'll leave the tray somewhere for you." He wanted to take it, but I said, "Please." And then he left the room.
I have no experience feeding, but Dad was eager and hungry. He could talk, but saved it for words like 'Wait' and 'Stop'. He really liked the fruit cups, and really didn't like the roast beef. I tasted some, and it was tough and without salt, even though it looked pretty and had gravy. When not eating, he was usually half awake half asleep. But as long as we were visiting, we tried to keep talking. I later reported to Mother that the nurse would feed Dad after she gave everyone their meds. But I also made a great effort to visit daily to feed him.
He had good days and bad days. On a good day, he would talk a little more than Stop and Wait, and asked how Mother was, and how we were. The Hun was able to wake him from his stupor by saying certain things (Boo!) and I was able to get his feet to dance in bed by playing Scottish Country Dance music. Even yesterday, when he was at his worst, his hands were directing the music like a conductor's.
His worst was when his face was a frozen mask, mouth locked into the shape Oh, held so long that the lips and interior were dry and stretched. Prior to yesterday, we would give him one or two very small ice cubes, which he loved. He'd close his mouth, and suck on them until they were gone. When we tried this yesterday, his mouth did not close, and we got admonished by the nurse. They had something near his bed, a tube of Biotene, a goo which helps moisten a mouth without enough of its own saliva. His mouth and lips looked better after this coating, but he didn't respond at all. Just slow gurgle breaths.
I took a picture of the different medications he was getting. I recognised the salbutamol, as I use that myself. The nurse was giving him a very small injection Hydro Morphone nightly. I found this curious, as I can't imagine how this stuff helps someone breathe better. It's also called Dilaudid. It's a very strong form of Morphine.
For years I have been asking my folks to come downtown on a Friday night to see how I run an English Country Dance, or if someone else was leading, just to see it in action. Neither was interested. But this is one of my selfish regrets.
Mom and Dad loved dancing. They went to the Board of Education programs at the nearby high school. This only stopped about a year ago, perhaps less than that even. Mom pressured Dad, and he would get through it by taking a Tylenol prior to dance. They also used to attend a yearly function of their Benefit Society, but I think they missed going to it for two years on account of Dad's health. The last time they did go, I was told a story of someone they knew who was taken away from the dinner in an ambulance on account of a heart attack.
Since my visit to the United States (as an adult), my folks have kept pet exotic birds. Their first one was Coco, a huge white Cockatoo. I wanted to write Huge White Chicken as this is what we all called it. It was smart and playful and wonderful until they acquired Rocky, a 'Big Green Chicken.' They started accepting birds that were no longer wanted by their owners. The birds themselves didn't care much for this, and showed their feelings by feather plucking and a lot of loud squawking. In spite of this, their place was home to about forty birds for a while.
When Dad's health visibly got worse, he was unable to care for his birds. This isn't a matter of ownership. The birds either liked Mom or liked Dad, but never liked Both. It was common to see them both with beak bites on their arms. You see, when Mom wasn't well, Dad would try to feed Mom's birds, and the other way too.
I found it hard to visit them during this. To make it possible to hear the television, they would raise the volume over that of the birds. I don't care for TV at the best of times, and I'm not a big fan of 'American Television.' So I'm not all about Judge Judy, Jerry Springer, and the DNA testing guy (Joseph Douchebag, You ARE the Father).
I would ask them to turn down or mute the box when I was there, but they really looked forward to their shows. They loved their birds too.
In spite of the above, when it became clear that my mother would have to do this all alone now, she worked hard at finding people who would take care of the birds forever. This made her sad, but she was realistic too. We took the last three birds to the Toronto Animal Shelter. Even though she thought it was arranged, they were upset she just showed up asking for the birds to be taken. They grudgingly took one (and the fee too). We called the River St Humane Society, and they were much kinder. They also had a small army of volunteers who would walk the animals and be friends to them. They took the last two birds for adoption.
Another regret I had was that I wanted my folks to come together with me to Ikea. In particular, their cafeteria. Ikea food isn't for everyone, but the folks, and Dad in particular would have loved it. Small meatballs in sauce, with a side of Lingonberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. This is something he would have considered the best thing ever. But often our friends and family don't do as we invite or suggest. Like all of us, it has to be more organic, and they have to discover it for themselves. Otherwise it's a low priority.
I got an idea. One day, I was able to take Mom out, while Dad rested at home. We went to the Ikea near where I am, North of Steeles, West of Jane St. First I showed her the ice cream bar on the ground floor. You can get hot dogs, pizza, cinnamon rolls and soft drinks. Only. Then we took the escalator upstairs, and I introduced my mother to the cafeteria staff who wear white chef's attire. (Some people believe this shouldn't be just a work uniform, but should be earned) I showed her the way through the servery, and how you can sit near or far from the picturesque windows. This is how I first found out that Mom has vertigo, and gets frightened by being too close to the edge, even of a window.
Dad never got there.
Like most major cities, ours has a Wheel (chair) Trans system, where you may order a taxi-like door to door service for the cost of a single transit fare. My city makes it Very Very Hard for people to get signed up for this. My parents got letters from their specialists explaining why they qualified for this programme, and the bureaucrats, before their eyes, discarded the letters without looking. I can't tell you how to succeed nor how to fail at this process. It made me very upset. My mom can only walk a short distance before running out of breath. Dad at the time had brand new knees, but wasn't up to the long walk to the bus stop, and the longer walks inside the subway stations.
I rarely got asked to provide transportation, but got such a request this particular day. Both Mom and Dad were effervescent with stories and friendly chatter in the car with me. They had some kind of important meeting with a specialist at Humber River Health, and didn't want to take a taxi nor Uber. It was considered, and they got a modern smart phone for that, although that's as far as Uber went. I regret not taking some pictures that day. It was fun for all of us, even if the doctor had bad news for Dad. I think that was when he was first diagnosed with a new lung cancer, and they didn't want to do much for it on account of his age.
An early retained memory of Dad and Mom must be when I was two or three years old. They were playing with me in their bedroom. I was kind of trapped on the bed, and they kept knocking me down each time I stood upright. I don't remember if I was talking or not.
Another one was when just Mom and I were on a plane to go see Auntie Pearl and Uncle Davy. I think they lived in Hollywood or Canoga Park. I didn't understand why Father couldn't come too. This was so long ago, I remember coughing on the smoky cabin air, and drinking very good chocolate milk from a glass cup too big for me to hold alone.
Television was interesting for me when I was young. I accepted that I had no say in what I could see. Dad wasn't allowed to choose either. He wanted to watch any sports. It didn't matter, as within a few short minutes, he'd be entirely asleep. Until the channel was changed to something else, and then he'd wake up with a start.
My father talked about fixing televisions with me a few times. He had three tube testers from different suppliers. Also a full garage of useful tubes. He was able to fix them easily, but not able to get anyone to pay for this service. At some point, transistors replaced tubes, and while Dad wanted to learn how to do it, he didn't think he'd have any more success collecting for service, so he didn't upgrade his talent.
He did decide to go back to school, and went to University of Toronto's night program. He was great at most of the courses. He was fond of Astronomy and Mathematics. He had trouble with Literature, and after two or three registrations, he gave up on that. Since this English was a requirement for his university track, this ended his time at U of T as well.
Dad has never really cared for food. He ate it, but it wasn't important to him. There were more foods he disliked than he liked.
He once explained that food when he was a child was on a weekly schedule. They always had roast chicken on Friday night. Since it wasn't what that family cared for, there were also leftovers and that was served on Saturday night. So he only liked chicken breast, but not very much, since it was Chicken.
I can still remember the taste and smell of pizza when we got it at home. It was always far too hot, but I'd try it anyway, and always hurt the roof of my mouth. Dad liked the dried red chili peppers. Mom thought this was like shaking poison onto good food. I remember the crusts. They had a fresh bread aroma that I don't smell so often on pizza now.
But what did he like? Pasta. He made it sometimes. He used to like Diet Coke/Pepsi, and suddenly gave that up. This might have been at a doctor's request. He used to like strong smelling cheese, like Limburger. He also liked making Mom smell it; she would scream; he would laugh. As we all grew up, his cheese became more and more mild. Even two years ago, I don't remember him wanting any. This used to be a favourite thing, eaten with interesting olives and crusty bread.
We lived on Beaconsfield St, and Dad's hardware store was on Queen St W perhaps five stores west of the intersection. The hardware store was easy enough to run for him. He know how to fix almost anything, and so people looking for the right oil, the right paint, the right screws could get these things, with enough advice to do the job. In 1960 you could actually take care of a family on $50 a week. That was not a lot of money, but it sufficient if you didn't waste anything.
Upstairs from the store were apartments, and the tenant was drinking, smoking, fell asleep, and the building caught fire. The fire didn't damage his store, but all of the water did.
He got work with other hardware stores, including with my Uncle Izzie, who was married to Ruth, Dad's sister. While he may have made more money, we also needed more money. Times were changing everywhere, and in Toronto in particular. Even when you work for a friend or for family, it's always less pleasant than working for yourself. He became a commission salesman for plumbing parts, but stopped doing that when the firm took over each major account he landed. Oh, he would still have to visit them and take their major orders, but he no longer got commission for their purchase. Eventually he got work for a house building company just outside of Toronto. His job was to supervise tradesmen, or to do their work when something required this. Again, he was good at this stuff.
When we were young, and Dad worked six days a week, he would take us all for a long ride each Sunday. One I particularly recall was the opening day of highway 122. I don't even know what it's current name/number is, but the road had a certain sound, and it was new and smelled fresh from tar. The lines weren't painted yet, just dots where they would be filled in later. I suppose it was in the news, but it was a surprise for us kids. It's possible we went on the just opened the Queen Elizabeth Way too. Cars felt different. Nobody cared about seat belts. Adults smoked in front. It seemed just as natural as anything we do now.
More stories are starting to surface, but they're not Dad's stories, but other family events, such as when Dad's parents, that is, my grandparents, came over for some holilday meal. I remember Mom's role, but cannot remember Dad's.
We didn't have a perfect relationship, but I'm missing him right now. I was hoping sharing my story here would help that.
2015 is upon us.