Friday, March 18, 2011

On Death and Dying

Ok, not a title that you would look at and say, wow, I really want to read that. I know, morbid. Especially when the weather is amazing today. After such a long, cold, wet winter, we finally have a sunny day in the high 60s, which in New England, is unusual for March.

But today is the second anniversary of my father's death. A death that did not take us by surprise, but nonetheless was very painful. The first of my parents to die. The first living will. The first DNR. The first nursing home. The first loss...for me. It's hard to say how that death changed my life, but it did. Dementia is a cruel partner, one that is constantly taking and never giving. Occasionally dad would do something that would be pretty funny to my mom and me. We didn't laugh at him, but it was the only way we could deal with the slow loss of a loved one, one who didn't know he was sick. It's the opposite of Alzheimer's in that way. People with Alzheimer's know they're sick and that must be frightening. My dad didn't know he was sick and wondered why we were acting strange, questioning him, or preventing him from doing things he used to do. Some of the toughest memories for me are when he would look at me when he forgot a word, hoping I would find that lost the doctor's office, in the restaurant, at home. He was a very smart man and it was painful to watch the look in his eyes asking me for help. Of all people.

Yesterday, my Aunt Marion passed away. She was my father's only sister, younger by about two years. She was 80 years old, as was my dad, when she died. I am not very close to my cousins but she was the closest relative I had of that generation. She was a sweet woman, but a tortured soul in later years, because her health issues kept her bedridden for several years. Imagine not being able to sit up or walk for years. As her health failed, she was at home in a hospital bed, with her children at her side. Yes, that is comforting (something I'll never have, since I never married or had children), but nonetheless, not easy for anyone. Better than a hospital or nursing home for sure, but still.... I am reliving the pain my cousins are going through now. Not from the loss of my father, but of my mother just last Summer.

My mom was my best friend. She died quickly, less than two months after her diagnosis of bladder cancer. I think this should have been caught by the doctors if they had thoroughly done their job, but thinking like that won't make me feel any better or bring her back, so I've been told not to dwell. She was the one in the hospital bed at home, her family, us, me, watching her die. Her beautiful green eyes still smiling at me, at all of us, until she couldn't open them anymore. She had such a beautiful face and a kind soul. She was a caring and thoughtful person and she touched so many lives. I know people say that about everyone, but in her case it was true. She is terribly missed by so many, and though I'm not religious, I do hope she's with my dad and her parents and everyone she's missed all these years, especially her mother.

A week before my mom died, another uncle died; my father's younger brother by 11 years. What a shock that was. ALS they say. Another quick decline. So in the course of exactly two years, the entire Ambrose family of that generation disappeared. Like there was an expiration date or something. Mom's only brother died a few years ago, and so no direct blood relatives are left. The sobering part about that is that I, we, my brothers and I, become the next to die. And of what? ALS? Cancer? Dementia? What an uplifting post this has become right? Can you see why I'm on medication?

To end on a happy note, for the benefit of anyone who thinks I'm seriously depressed and are worried about me...don't! I'm fine. I have a lot of friends, family, and therapists surrounding me. If we all do our job, I'll come around sometime in 2012. Until then, I am looking forward to the delivery of my iPad2, which temporarily answers my question "what's the point of all this"?  Apps, of course.

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