Saturday, September 13, 2008

Retro: Grandma is Right

A couple of weeks ago my wife's dad finally died after a long struggle with leukemia ... and coronary issues ... and lung problems ... and fluid issues ... and, well lots of other stuff. The death certificate read like a laundry list. For perspective, it was three years ago at Thanksgiving that the family came together for a 'goodbye' dinner - no one, including his various doctors, expected him to see 2004.

But his passing is only one of four stories from the last couple of weeks.

First there is the story of the brave young man. John is our nephew - he is a senior in high school and was 3 when he was a ring-bearer in our wedding. And he was there when his grandpa died. But that wasn't the bravest part. My wife argued that her dad should be DNR - something he didn't help by refusing to ever clarify while also saying he didn't want his wife to decide. When he stabilized aound 4AM and the nurse convinced Lisa's mom that we should all get a couple of hours sleep, we all left for a while and the issue of the DNR was undecided. Of course, he went into respiratory arrest while we were gone, and when we returned around 9AM we found him on a ventilator. To make a long story short, decisions needed to be made. His main doctor was away, but his associate was in, and someone Lisa's mom knew and trusted. She said it wasn't a matter of if but when he would arrest and die, on the ventilator or off. The decision was made that he would be DNR, and that the tube would be removed so he could die peacefully. That is when things got interesting. Lisa and her sister don't get along. That is just the way of things. But her sister is very difficult - her parents tend to bow to her whims so as not to deal with the fights. Lisa's mom was ready to give him the morphine and pull the tube right then. Jean wanted her Dad kept alive until her daughter could come from college in North Carolina. My wife had been pushing the DNR, so her opinion was clear. But Jean wouldn't let it go - it was about what she wanted - she opposed the DNR, and now she wanted him on the tube. She wasn't ready to let go. After a bit of lovely back and forth, she asked her son John what he thought. It didn't sound much like a question to me, it sounds like she wanted backup (certainly neither I nor her husband were chiming in!). John immediately said "Grandma is right - Christie will understand; it is what has to be done, it is the right thing to do." In an instant he transformed from little Johnny the ring-bearer to John the young man in my eyes. It was very brave - and allowed Dave to die in peace, with some amount of understanding of what was happening around him. Off the tube, he couldn't talk, but he looked around and smirked a bit now and then. And twenty minutes later he was gone, and John was holding his hand as he died.

Then there is the story of the two little boys and their godmother. Danny and Chris have four different godparents - my brother, Lisa's sister, my friend Jeff and Lisa's friend Theresa. Our siblings are useless, and Jeff is a no-show - but Theresa is a god-send. She is functionally the kids sole godparent, which is fine. She also lives in Saratoga, ~20 minutes south of Lisa's parents. So after her Dad died, we went back to get the boys, she offered to help in any way she could. She is a single person and has her own issues, but is a wonderful woman and an important part of our lives. We picked them up on Saturday and got back to the hotel after midnight. She came by around 9AM next morning, and they spent much of the day together while we did funeral arrangement stuff. And it wasn't just supervision - they spent a while swimming in the hotel pool, and then did some shopping and general hanging around and catching up before meeting us for a late lunch. Funny story - we ate at the Olive Garden, where they were going to have a 'post funeral lunch'. When the drinks came, the waitress had done nothing to differentiate the two Diet Cokes from the two Dr. Peppers. So she slid one in front of Theresa and said 'taste this, I think it is Diet Coke'. Nope, it was Dr. Pepper. So she just slides it over in front of Chris like nothing is wrong! At the wake the next day, she came after work and stayed for a while, then she and the boys headed out, changed and went to her house to play with the cats for a while, then went back to the hotel, where they were in bed by the time we came back. Finally, she was there for the funeral, and at the lunch after - she sat with us, but remained a rock of support as the boys tried to figure out where they belonged in all of this and what it meant to them. And that was hard for them - because the only GrandPa they knew was a sick and scary old guy confined to his chair. Their cousins has a relationship with him from when they were younger, but our boys didn't know that man. Still, they were mature and respectful and very well behaved - and had nearly unlimited game time. They were pall bearers and took that duty seriously - it helped them belong. I don't know if we've seen the end of the ripples from this yet, but they have done themselves proud.

Also, there is the story of two sisters who really tried. Dave would have smiled - all he wanted was for his girls to get along. And for a couple of weeks they did. Things didn't change, nothing is resolved - nor is it likely to ever be resolved - but they needed each other and made an effort to be there for their mom. Since coming home that has continued to some extent - Lisa got flowers on her birthday, Danny got a check on his, and they have talked a couple of times. But it is already apparent that things are unraveling ... but that is because the relationship is fundamentally broken. But for a couple of weeks, they really tried - and gave their dad what he always wanted. Since then they have continued to try for the past couple of weeks - because their mom is a mess. Lisa thinks she is depressed, not just greiving - and that would make sense. It makes sense because she has really been depressed for a while, and Lisa had to extract herself somewhat from dealing with her mom so much because she was getting sucked into her depression. Lisa ended up in therapy - not a bad thing, because she picked up where she had left many years before exploring the issues within her family. She and her sister were mentally and emotionally abused as kids, and the whole family lived within those roles for years. My wife shook things up when she didn't want to play anymore, and really assumed based on earlier therapy it was related to her sister. But it was her parents - heck, her Dad died never having told her he loved her! So now she and her sister need each other - they need to maintain a connection to keep the other from getting swallowed up in their mother's depression!

And finally there is the story of the invisible family. This is the toughest thing to discuss, because it bothers my wife so much. It doesn't feel so great for me either, since the situation isn't much different on my side. When we arrived at the hospital that night, we had already secured a hotel room. This is because Jean gets first 'dibs' on the house, always has. In fact, when we went back to the house later, it was clear that they had arrived and promptly taken up all three upstairs bedrooms! What had they assumed? But that is just the way of things - to cope growing up in that house, Jean constantly confronted her parents, and Lisa just blended in. Lisa has told me of her sweet sixteen - they had a couple of gifts, and her sister and father got in a fight as usual and her dad had her sister slammed against the wall by the throat ... So invisibility - being easy-going - was the strategy. But Lisa is no wallflower - all of this has made her a very strong person, and over the years she has refused to shy away any longer - and that has caused troubles in her family. But there is still stylistic differences - when we visit her parents, we ask what needs to be done and do it. Her sister decides what she wants to do and does it whether or not her parents want it. But since they will often not do anything to help themselves - her dad never got on pain management despite constant suffering, for example, and they never enlisted a visiting nurse despite having access to one - and since her sister thrived on those shouting matches, it all seemed to work out for her.

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