Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Does a Hummingbird Hum?

Dad loved eating pie as much as he loved telling jokes

Why does a hummingbird hum?  Because it doesn't know the words....  OK, I can hear you groan.  But that was one of my dad's favorite jokes.  That and other zingers like the guy selling candy bars for ten cents each or two for a quarter.  If Dad could be coaxed into standing up and telling jokes at a gathering, the audience laughed till they cried.  And this happened on numerous occasions well into his advanced senior years.  After he died, I came across his notebooks and scraps of paper filled with humorous sayings and old-timey jokes.  To show how nimble his mind was, he had only written down the punch lines.  I would love to have the full text of these bygone, folksy jokes, now becoming a lost art.

When he wasn't telling jokes, Dad always had something witty to say.  Doctors and nurses who attended to him in his final years were often targets.  One nurse was getting information from him for his medical records, asking what he viewed as nosey questions about his lifestyle.  When she asked him if he smoked, he retorted "No!  Do YOU?"  They quickly learned to treat him with a degree of respect.

My dad loved his garage.  In warm weather, he could be found out there wearing one of his favorite tee shirts, full of holes.  Admittedly, he felt cooler in those tee shirts, but it didn't look very "cool."  Hanging on the wall and on every shelf and in every corner were tools he had accumulated for absolute decades, including a huge, unmovable plug-in circular wood saw that took up way too much space.  He had antique farm equipment items that went back to the mule-pulling-the-plow days.  The garage was organized in a cluttered sort of a way, so somehow he always managed to find what he was looking for.  There was barely enough room to park his old Ford van among all the tools, cast-off lumber and pieces of pipe or scrap metal--anything he thought he might use someday.  Most people would have long since thrown it all away.

Zooming with great granddaughters on his Rascal
If someone needed it, Dad could usually make it--handy things such as a smooth, sturdy stool, exactly the right height for my petite mom to step up easily into their van.  It had always been this way.  Dad was the fixer, the inventor, the provider, the protector.  When he could no longer walk as quickly as he wanted, he used a Rascal (motorized chair).  It made my head spin watching him zooming by on his Rascal, cutting through my back yard to who knows where.  We had three acres between us, so he had plenty of room to zoom.

I was so accustomed to his mobility and sharpness of mind, his attaining a very old age crept up on me and on him.  As I look back on it now, perhaps I was comparing him to my mom, who had required intense care giving prior to her death.  Dad had most things under control, including the foresight to decide on his own to stop driving at ninety-one for safety reasons.

And then one day when my husband and I were away on a short trip, I received a phone call from a neighbor.  Dad had fallen during the night.  Before we left, I'd made arrangements for someone to check on him daily.  And hospice came by regularly to attend to him.  Unfortunately he became disoriented due to the fall and couldn't get back up, so he had been on the floor for several hours before he was found.  We rushed home.  Friends had taken him to the hospital.  He suffered no injuries from the fall, but hospital tests disclosed a chronic severe infection that his worn-out body could not overcome.  Three weeks later, he died.  It happened so quickly and unexpectedly.

Dad wanted with all his heart to be with the Lord.  He often had vivid and colorful dreams of the Holy City.  He joyfully anticipated the bliss of his first conscious moment in eternity.  It was foremost on his mind.  So maybe it was time....

In retrospect, how I wish we had all been more protective, even though he seemed to be so self-sufficient.  It would have been circumspect to have arranged for my dad to have a senior emergency alert device.  Dad and I had discussed it briefly on a couple of occasions.  He simply didn't feel he needed one just yet, and I agreed.  And it remains a mystery to me why, through he had medical care, the fatal infection was not detected earlier on while it was still at a curable stage.  I suppose we were all fooled by his quickness of mind and mobility at age ninety-three.  He seemed fine....

I felt I was giving my dad the best possible care.  I tried hard to help him not feel old and in the way.  He valued his independence living in his own home and I wanted to honor that.  Being so close to the situation, I had blind spots.  He and I assumed he could handle the unexpected.  He always had.  But he was in his nineties, after all.  In the final analysis, there were extra measures that could have been taken which might have extended his life or at least minimized the distress of the fall.  Access to an emergency alert network was needed and maybe an assisted living environment was also in order.

If any of you have a loved one or know someone full of years and still going strong, try to gently reason with and explain to them how they can make care giving easier by accepting additional assistance even though it may appear to be premature.  And let's face it, there are occasions when it may be necessary for the care giver to make an unpopular decision for the good of everyone concerned.  Better to be safe than sorry.

The sunset of life can be beautiful....
Joyce Catherwood (c) 2011