My father passed away Thursday, ironically on Jay’s 50th birthday. He was 91. He is survived by his wife (currently 81), four grown children and four teenage grandchildren.
As I believe I’ve mentioned before, he had been in memory care (i.e. living in a facility for dementia patients) for the last two or three years. He was suffering from vascular dementia, which means (as the name suggests) his brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen. His short term memory was shot, and he had large gaps in his episodic long term memory—he once said, “I’ve lost entire sections of my life”, although he could still recognize people he knew.
He entered hospice care last spring after a bout of pneumonia caused by aspirated food (i.e. food getting into his lungs because he couldn’t swallow properly) put him in the hospital for a couple of days. I am reliably informed that, in cases such as this, the pneumonia typically recurs in about six months, with a high probability that such recurrence will be fatal. That was presumably the rationale for admitting him into hospice care, which requires a life expectancy of six months or less. For any of you who don’t know the term, hospice care (also called palliative care when administered at the patient’s home) is geared to making the terminally ill comfortable in their final days. It’s largely about pain management.
For a time, he was doing well enough that his caregivers considered taking him off hospice care; but about 7-1/2 months after it first appeared, he got pneumonia again. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and in three days he was done. He wasn’t very aware the last couple of days, partly because he had been given morphine to control “terminal restlessness” (as the hospice nurse called it) which is apparently common among people in his situation.
He was, in a sense, a man who lived too long. He was well cared for in the various memory care homes away from home, especially after he started getting hospice care, but his quality of life wasn’t very good. It couldn’t be, given the nature of his condition. My mother visited him every day she could, and my sister visited frequently. (You may have heard the adage, “A son is your son ‘til he takes a wife, but a daughter is yours for the rest of your life.”) I visited occasionally, but I am reliably informed that he usually didn’t remember my visits the next day. His other two children don’t live in the area, so they never visited except as a part of family gatherings.
A friend of mine had an interesting observation when I gave him the news. He said, “[Frank] was the kind of guy who was the most interesting person in the room, but you had to talk to him to discover that.”