We lost my mom just over two years ago. (Well, not technically "lost". She died. We know exactly where her ashes are. So now that my deep-seated pedantic streak is hopefully satisfied, I will point out that emotionally that means that we lost her. She's gone. She is lost to us. Yeah. Suck it, nit-picky brain voices.)
I remember observing, a year or so before that, that we were entering the season of losing that generation: a couple of my dad's close relatives had died, and it was starting to look less like chance and more like a pattern. I can't find the post that I wrote for that, but it's here on the blog somewhere.
Then, in February, my dad had a stroke -- and I started worrying that, while it had looked like he would be okay in his own home for the next several years, maybe that wasn't the case. And even before that, we'd been discussing my father and his eyesight, and how that might complicate or disrupt the life he's set up after mom's death.
But over Memorial Day weekend, he had... I'm not sure it's a second stroke, exactly. It's more of a repeat stroke, as it seems to have happened in the same area of the brain and affected the same general areas of functionality. And while it seems to have come to fruition on that Saturday, when he was out in the heat at the local renfest, I've spoken with his renter and she tells me that she was seeing signs that something was wrong a couple of days before that -- being unable to focus, to find common words, to pronounce them.
So we went to visit him on Sunday (and found the renter at home there -- she's rented out one side of the house, and helps him work through his bills). The visit itself went well, and I think he was glad of the company and the interaction and the chance to get some things done. But I'm looking at him, and I think this second stroke is worse than the last one. We're not talking about it, but the slur in his voice seems worse, the effect on his manual dexterity seems worse, and the stumbliness of his walk -- stumbliness is a word, now -- is worse. The first time, it was barely noticeable, and mainly only if you knew him pretty well. This time, it's... obvious.
He's met with his neurologist, and I think his cardiologist as well. Apparently his blood pressure spiked with this more recent stroke (and apparently that's fairly common) so they've got him on a medication to hold it down, but something about either the blood pressure or the medication or both is making his eyesight even worse -- which he insists is only going to be temporary, but I swear by all the dark and forgotten gods that I can't tell if that's actually the case, or if he's just holding that out as an article of faith. It had better be temporary... but what if it isn't?
And, of course, as a result of that his mental state is quite a bit worse than it was last time. How much of that is psychological and how much is physiological -- if you can even separate the two in a meaningful way -- is impossible to tell. But he's... much more depressed. Much more impatient. Much more irritable. Much more scared. Frankly, so am I. And it's really shaken his sense of purpose -- between the eyesight and the coordination, so many of the things he enjoyed, so many of the things he was good at, have been taken from him. He's a gentle man, but he's proud, too, and so much of his self-image is tied up in being physically well: he's the one who doesn't get sick, who doesn't get tired, who doesn't have to watch what he eats... (I think that makes him sound kind of elitist and snobby-superior, but he's not; he's never been obnoxious about it, he's just quietly proud of the way he quietly keeps going -- and suddenly being frail has shaken a big part of his sense of self.)
I spoke to my brother before we went over there, and again when we got back to our house. He wanted me to ask if our dad had any contingency plans, or thoughts on how he wanted things to go -- the possibility of a group home, or moving in with one of us, or...
So I brought it up, while the boys were busy swimming in the pool and my Beautiful Wife was busy talking with the renter about the situation.
It wasn't an easy thing to ask, especially of someone who was slurring his words as a result of the stroke, and whose slur got worse as a direct result of being asked upsetting questions. And the answer was almost exactly what I'd expected: he didn't have any contingency plans, and didn't want to talk about them. He wanted to live independently, in his own home, and that was all there was to it. He hated the idea of living in a group home. Much like my mother (and if we're being completely honest, myself) he'd rather expire with some dignity on his own. I don't think he's had any suicidal ideations -- though may the dark gods help me, I didn't ask and I wouldn't blame him if he did -- but I think his ideal outcome is to either recover some functionality and purpose, or to expire quietly and on his own terms.
I don't know what to do with that.
Beautiful Wife is trying to recruit him to do some sort of Intro To Computer Mechanics class for our boys, who are out of school for the summer and need to be kept busy anyway. If that helps him feel like he's contributing (and honestly, it could be really, really useful -- far too many people know how to use a computer but don't understand how they really work) then maybe it's at least a partial solution. But if it just wears him out, or frustrates him... I don't know. Trying to get him to move in with either our family or my brother's is equally problematic: so much of his support network is based in his suburb that trying to move him up to ours seems likely to cause more trouble than it resolves. But his current arrangement may not be tenable, even though his renter seems disinclined to panic and look for somewhere else to live (and we've assured her that even if we had to move Dad out, she's not going to be suddenly displaced).
Basically, everything sucks and I can't tell if this is temporary or if we're going to have to work out something for the long term.
And I've known for as long as I can remember that life frequently sucks, and sometimes there are no good choices. But the last couple of years seem absolutely determined to drive that lesson home.