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My Dad passed peacefully. He was laid to rest on a gloomy, foggy, rainy day. The whole family was there. All of his children, grandchildren and most of his great grandchildren, plus his brothers and many of our cousins were there. It was a great weekend. He would have loved it. My Dad used to love a party.

I gave the eulogy at Mass. My brother C had some beautiful words about Dad and for us at the wake. I wish I had a copy of it. Here is the eulogy I gave:

First and foremost, before God and everyone I want to thank my sister and her family. Because of them Dad was able to live as long as he did and for the most part on his own terms. For that I am eternally grateful.

Son, brother, uncle, husband, daddy, grandpa, gpa, papa bern, great-papa, dammit V, friend, no matter what you called him we are here to celebrate his life. If you were to judge by the last few years you would think he had a pretty tough life. The last few years were a struggle but the 70 some years before that were a celebration of life. While writing this the line from Mark Anthony about Cesar keeps coming to me. I have rearranged it a little. “I come not just to bury Dad but to praise him.” As my cousin said “Dad got life.” Thank you cousin for passing that oh so apt comment on to us.

Our dad was an eternal optimist. He didn’t just see silver linings in clouds he saw gold. Good things were always just around the corner. He knew it, if he just waited long enough or tried hard enough it would all work out in the end.

We all have great stories about him. From the epic ping pong battles with his brothers and nephews, to his willingness to show up with a hammer and saw to help fix things. We remember his stories about the donut shop, walking on the rock river when it froze, riding cows, and getting lost with a truck full of ammunition while in the army. We look forward to hearing more of your stories about him today and in the future.

He was always willing to help out. We all get our sense of community and our need to help others from the example set by Mom and Dad. They did an awful lot of good everywhere we lived. Some things we know about – PreCana, building dugouts, helping at church. But did you know about the poor box? If Dad had anything extra it went into the poor box.

The Friday before one of my cousins wedding I got a killer migraine. He drove 2 hours to take me to the doctor. He sat in the dark for more than 6 hours and held my head while I threw up even though he had plans with his brothers. When I broke my leg after mom died he came up as soon as I called and took care of the girls while I was in the hospital. Many of us have similar stories.

Our Dad was an artist at heart. He was always sketching things. This is how the such-a-cards came into being. Each card was made especially for the recipient. Dad would think about and start gathering materials for each card months in advance. Hopefully you were able to see some of them yesterday.

We had a complicated relationship, he and I. I am his first born child, the prototype, and a girl. Growing up without sisters he didn’t always know what to do and as we all know kids do not come with user manuals. Plus for some odd reason all of his kids have this stubborn streak . . .

I wear red today because of an argument he and I had. I don’t remember what we were arguing about but in exasperation and probably just to get his goat I said “Fine then I am wearing red to your funeral!” and his reply was “You had better!” at which point the argument was over. 

We are here to celebrate the life of our Dad, who loved our Mom and us 5 kids, and 17 grandkids and 10 great-grandkids and who is loved in return. Thank you for coming to help us learn to live without him.

He will be sorely missed. Love and peace to you all.

M

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I can’t see my Dad this week. My daughter needed me. She called, I travelled. Anytime one of my girls say they need me takes precedence over everything. I do feel bad because my Dad is not doing well at all.

It started Monday. My Dad has been feeling very anxious because he can’t remember things. Because of the anxiety he is not eating and is sleeping at odd hours and not for long enough. He is on anti-anxiety medicine but it is too recent to be completely effective.

I called him on Monday to let him know that I will not be visiting him this week. I had to be out of town. He sounded awful, didn’t know it was Monday, and I am pretty sure I woke him up (it was 10:30 in the morning). We are talking to Hospice to have them come in and help make him comfortable.

About 7:45PM Dad called me. He was very confused and having a panic attack. He woke up from a nap and didn’t know where he was. I had him push the call button and got the CNA to get the nurse for his medications. I also texted my siblings what was going on. He kept saying he was scared and didn’t know what to do. Luckily my niece A was in town and able to see him. They got him into his pj’s and to bed.

I talked to him on Tuesday and had a really weird conversation with him. He said people won’t leave him alone to get his work done. I asked what people and what work did he need to do. He said he told him to do the work  and now they want him to take out and change the information he took all morning to input in the system. I asked him what system and he mumbled something and got more confused. I told him it’s ok, the work can wait until later.

The Doctor says it’s time to call hospice. Wednesday B went to see Dad and he wouldn’t wake up. A says that Gpa says the Russians are helping him with his breathing treatments. I have no idea what that means.

This morning (Thursday) he called B. He was highly confused, told B that he is in bad shape (I think that is the first thing he tells everyone these days) and is ready to give up. It is so hard to hear. It makes my heart hurt.

My brother C is going to visit this weekend. We have discussed him telling Dad that it is ok to go be with Mom. None of us want him to suffer anymore. As B said “Honestly I’m kinda praying for it . . . I can’t imagine what he is going through in his mind.” I agree with her. None of us want him to go but none of us want him to stay with the way things are going.

My heart hurts.

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After 30 years a new family will live in my Mom and Dad’s house. I finished cleaning out and cleaning up the house yesterday. I had never seen this house empty. It was a bittersweet day; the end of an era for us. Empty houses hold such promise, I hope there will be lots of sweet for the new people and hardly any bitter.

I stopped in to see Dad before going to the house. He was sleeping. I stood there and watched him sleep for a while like I used to do with my kids. Unlike with my kids watching my Dad made me sad instead of happy.

Even in his sleep breathing is a struggle. He looks so small and the effort to move air is so hard for him. Part of the problem is he lays down flat to sleep. With as bad as his lungs are he should be sleeping sitting up. He has never been able to sleep that way, so he won’t.

I left after a few minutes and went to finish the house. There wasn’t much left and I had everything cleaned and loaded in my car before noon. I checked the house multiple times to be sure I had everything.

Once done I set my timer and sat down on the floor and meditated, remembering the fun times we had in that house. Remembering the sad times we had in that house and missing my family. I cried a little, I smiled at the memories, I left wishing the new owners all the happiness we had experienced and more.

I stopped in to see Dad before I headed out of town. His breathing was still labored and I was lucky that the respiratory therapist came while I was there. Because he was struggling even after using his rescue inhaler she had them give him a prednisone. He is to take it again today if he is still struggling.

He can’t be on prednisone all the time because of the side effects. ‘roid rage is a real thing. Sister B and I have been on the end of some of that and the staff at the home does not need to deal with that if they don’t have too.

Dad’s memory isn’t good. He has a hard time understanding what is happening. He forgets when he took his medicine, he forgets the names of the people who are taking care of him. It frustrates him that he can’t keep things in his head. It also makes him anxious. Brother G said he talked to him today and Dad sounded awful.

We are on the downhill slope. I am still hoping that it will be a gentle bunny hill but it feels more like we are heading down a mountain. COPD is a horrible insidious disease. It is robbing us of our father/grandfather/great-grandfather/brother/uncle.

There are times when all I do is feel. Everything feels raw and right at the surface. Other times I feel numb. Sunday I wanted to cry until I threw up. Yesterday there were tears but not as many. Today I feel rather detached from it all. That inertia is very hard to overcome. I know it is grief. We are all feeling it. I will write about my grief another time.

The end of the era of visiting at the house is over. I don’t know how long we will have with Dad but I am so very grateful for everyday.

Happy thoughts for a happy day!

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I was hoping this would be about the last time I was at Gpa’s house. But . . . I have a lot of negative things I would like to just spew all over this page. But I am restraining myself from writing them. At least here, in public. 

Gpa’s house is almost empty. I have a few things to pick up on Tuesday. I was feeling very emotional on Sunday on our way to his house. So I want to thank the person for the anger and hurt to help power us through what had to be done. 

The intention was to finish everything on Sunday but I couldn’t fit everything including the garbage into my car so I will be going back and finishing up Tuesday. I need to load a couple things and clean up. Vacuum, sweep, load up the garbage that didn’t fit into the can and that will be that.

And that will be that. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that when I go to visit my Dad I won’t be able to stay at his house. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that my Dad lived in that house for 30 years and now we have done the right thing and sold it. 

Dad is having his ups and downs. When we saw him in the morning on Sunday he was really struggling. He was having a hard time breathing and needed his rescue inhaler. They ended up giving him his breathing treatment early because he was struggling so hard. I have said it before but it makes me tired watching him breathe. He has to work so hard to get the air out so he can get air in.

When we saw him in the afternoon he was doing better. He had gone down to the cafeteria for lunch. They have new cooks at the nursing home and he likes the food now. I hope that he will continue to like the food. His appetite is so sketchy, I am willing to feed him anything he will eat. 

As I mentioned above I was feeling emotional on the ride to his house, Hubby and I were talking about how surreal it feels and how I am trying very hard to hold it all together. He is lucky both of his parents are alive and relatively well for being in their 80’s. I am sure when the time comes for them to clear out his parents house he will come to understand how I am feeling. 

It is my hope the person has not chosen the nuclear option and instead is just waging a small cold war. I can stand the cold, the nuclear option makes me unutterably and inconsolably sad. 

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Visiting Gpa

I went to see Gpa this week. It is so hard to see him. He looks so small. My Dad is not a big guy, he is 5’4″ maybe 5’5″ although he has always insisted he is at least 5’7″. But he has always seemed bigger. He used to have a very big personality. He was the first to have fun, he was the first to volunteer, he was a presence. Now he is more of an absence.

He has become so introverted. Everything about him is turning inward. He seems to have lost that gregarious presence that he had. I know a lot of it has to do with this terrible disease COPD. His breathing is labored it takes all of his energy just to breathe so that  . . .

His house was on the market for 1 week and we had an offer which we have accepted. The closing is 1/31. So fast, I was prepared for it to take a while. Other houses in his area have been on the market for much longer. The good news is with this we can keep him in a private room for much longer.

My dad complains that he has no time to be social. I couldn’t understand what he meant until I found out besides physical therapy and occupational therapy he has 8 scheduled breathing treatments a day. The first one at 5am and the last one at 9pm. There are treatments through the night as he needs them. This means that every 3 hours he is having a breathing treatment. And he needs them, by the time the three hours are up he is wheezing and turning gray.

My dad is physically smaller as well. He is having problems eating. Nothing tastes good, many things upset his stomach leading to other issues, and frankly the COPD makes him not hungry. When you get to n-stage of any illness it takes away your desire to eat. And my dad has been n-stage for a long, long time.

I was talking with my brother G and he mentioned that Dad was first diagnosed with COPD 30 years ago. I think one of the reasons it has taken so long for the COPD to get so bad is my Dad was very physically fit. Aside from the smoking he was very active, riding his bicycle everywhere, building things for the church, and more.

Now when I go see him, he is so tiny, you can see the bones in his face. His legs and arms have no muscle tone. The lack of oxygen is affecting his memory. His skin tone is grey, and he gets tired so very easily.

He is struggling, we are struggling. We keep trying to keep him here, I am not sure he wants to stay. I am not sure I want him too either.

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It has been a stressful fall. My dad (Gpa) has moved into a nursing home. We had been looking at assisted living places when his health took a drastic downturn. We, my siblings and I, were lucky that he didn’t fall and break anything or set anything on fire, etc. He just got very sick and went from sort of mostly functioning to not.

We have been getting his house ready to sell. This is a lot more complicated that we all anticipated. All five of us were able to get together in early November to begin the process of cleaning out the house. It has been eye-opening. My parents kept a lot of paper. We found tax returns as far back as 1971. We sent 6-8 leaf bags of burnables with M. Luckily she was able to burn them or we would still be shredding. We filled up a big dumpster, donated many items, gave away things and all of us have many things to find homes for in our houses.

His house is small so would be perfect as a first house for someone. The problem is for first time home owners the house has to have no peeling paint anywhere. B and I spent a few days in the basement finishing cleaning it out and scraping the floor, throwing away even more empty boxes and broken things. G was able to get the walls painted and M took more things out to the dumpster. I hope we are close to being ready to put it up for sale.

My dad looks very small these days when I go to see him. He is very unwillingly adjusting to living at the nursing home. He has been very angry, very confused, depressed and sometimes happy and accepting. We have been angry, confused, worried, and relieved that he is somewhere safe.

This is not how any of wanted this to go. In a perfect world he could have made gradual transitions into assisted living then as the disease progressed he could have gone to the nursing home. However, my Dads disease, COPD, is pretty insidious.

Don’t be fooled by the commercials on TV, they lie. They act like COPD is just a small inconvenience when in reality it is a horrible, horrible disease that robs a person of their ability to breathe. As you lose this ability it affects your memory, your balance, your life.

My Dad’s illness has affected all of us. The effects will be felt for many years. All of our children have seen his struggle and I am happy to say most of them will never smoke. But it is a sad ending to a formerly very active life.

The good news is while we have our prickly moments the five of us are on the same page and seem to work well together. Which is good because he will get worse and we need to be able to lean on each other.

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