Dad turns 80 …


I have so many things to tell about my trip home (and a zillion photos)  but I will start with the bittersweet/sad-happy bit to get it out of the way.

The main reason for going home recently was to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.   Five or six years ago, during one of my trips home, there was some doubt he’d reach this milestone when he was hospitalized with internal bleeding.  He was very miserable and convinced he was going to die during this hospitalization.  My mother was tired when she said:  ” Well, if you’re going to die you’d better do it while Emjay is here.  It would be really inconvenient for her to get back to America only to have to turn around and come back in a week or two.”     I promised him then, if he’d just hold on, I would absolutely be home for his 80th.

Then this year he had a nasty fall, getting from his wheelchair to his bed,  which ultimately saw him moved to a nursing home.   So my father is now a founding member of this place – where you need a secret code, not shared with residents,  to get in and out….

A place where old people go ....

– one of only 9 residents and the only “high care”  person.   Eventually there will be 36 residents in this wing and there are plans for a couple more wings.  Perhaps it will look a little less institutional once there is some greenery around….

Although my sister Jane tried to warn me, I was not prepared for how I found my father.    He seemed so very lost –  his “spark”  was missing.  It was my father’s wonderful wit and sense of the absurd that helped him through the many challenges associated with surviving a total stroke.  For more than 25 years he had broached everything with humour but  sometime in only 4 months of juggling amongst the hands of  hospital and care “professionals”  that humour, and so much more, was stolen from him.

He will not be going home to live again, a fact he has not fully accepted as he thinks he will be home in time for Christmas –  this never going home again is something I’m also finding hard to deal with.   I  do hope though that once he sort of gets into the swing of his new routine some of my old dad returns – though maybe once you are in a soulless place where everyone talks to you as though you are in kindergarten you don’t feel the inclination to be anything at all.   Perhaps all your energy is just put into getting through the day without having a tantrum.

A little sliver of my old dad shone through one morning – though in hindsight it might not really have been humour…..    I was reading the newspaper to him when I noticed a lady in the doorway wriggling her fingers about in a slightly demented way  “hello”  I said. My father gave the doorway a quick glance and said “don’t encourage anyone; they’ll never leave“.

So …   on the actual day of his 80th my mother, the manservant and I took a picnic lunch of his favourite foods to him in the nursing home:

Emjay with her mum & dad

And then on the weekend we had a family gathering in the function room of the home.   

My kids with their grandad  – At some stage the “cook/waitress”  lit the sparklers without telling anyone she was going to and then proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday”  all by herself!     By the time we got over there the sparklers were out and there was only one line left of the song to sing!Eventually poor old Max managed to get his electric chair close enough to stick the knife in which he did with some relish…He didn’t want any cake – just ice cream – but I think he got a bit of cake in his bowl anyway.  None of us got ice-cream with our cake!   Now this photo might give the impression that Jane and I are a couple of boozers  – we certainly needed some alcohol to smooth out the day a bit – but if I was good at photo editing I’d whip that bottle away and that big white “splotch”.       It was wonderful to see my father reach this milestone . It was a huge achievement on his part and entirely unexpected by the medical profession who first predicted he would not live 36 hours after the stroke and then revised that to say he would have a series of strokes and die within 12 months – he was only 54 then.   It  was fantastic to see that every member of his family was there to celebrate it even if at times he looked as though he was wondering what all the fuss was about.  Dad, an only child, fathered 4 children who gave him 11 grandchildren.    If he holds on another couple of years he might see a great grandchild.



30 responses

  1. I can not believe he had a massive stroke at 54 and has carried on with spark and humor until 80. Of course there is the happy and the sad. The bitter and the sweet. But, overall, what a wonderful life, to love and be loved and surrounded by family. Your family is beautiful.

    I just spent yesterday in the hospital with my dad. Chest pains. He went home today, they ruled out heart…decided it was inflammation of the sternum, so we are delighted. But, it was so hard to see him hating every second of feeling helpless and hating to have to rely on other people. They led such independent lives.

    Hugs and a very happy birthday to your dad.

    • Thank you Lauri – yeah dad was a real fighter. That’s one of the things I’m finding so hard to accept now – it doesn’t seem right that things finish this way after all the “oomph” he displayed for so many years.

      I’m really glad that your father is okay – that must’ve been really worrying. It’s horrible seeing them in that situation.

  2. I think it is wonderful that your family honored your father with a celebration of his life. It is so hard to watch as our parents fail, I remember the feeling of helplessness. My mother’s first stroke was at 54 and she lived to 84. Those years were a gift to our family.

  3. What a life lesson that is. THe way that humor carried him through. I am disappointed to see that he has lost this recently and probably through the hands of healthcare providers. I always try to get to people’s funny bone and their sense of the wild and weird. Most patients appreciate it, but some think I am just not serious enough…. I think I would like to take care of your Dad.
    I’m glad you got to enjoy his 80th with him. I enjoyed seeing your photos!

  4. I know it’s hard to see him like that, but really, everything past his internal bleeding attack is a bonus. Or anything past his strokes. And getting the whole family together is certainly worth it. At least Action Economist and the rest of the boys haven’t had their heads bashed in lately!

    If you’ve got to be in one of those places, better a brand-new one than an old one, I say.

    Larui, I had the same thing as your Dad once. It is incredibly painful and stressful. I was a 22 year old girl, so I was reasonably certain it wasn’t a heart attack (but you always wonder). The doc I went to said his wife had had it when he was a resident and he’d been sure it was a heart attack. So even doctors can’t tell right away.

    • It’s so strange, LT, cuz my daughter-in-law had it a few years ago…she was 22, also! And she thought she was having a heart attack. Scary stuff, but we were SO glad it was that instead!

  5. I’m glad you and your family got to have a party with your father, even if it was hard to see him so frail and weak. My father’s doctor said that so often, the family of a person who’s been moved to a nursing home are so depressed by the sight of their parent or grandparent there, they won’t visit, even if it means so much to the old person. The home itself doesn’t look bad, though the waitress lighting the sparkler and singing like that sounds odd, like she was trying to rush things along. She could use a little training there. :-/

    But you and Jane boozers? Never! Though I can imagine wine makes family gatherings a bit easier to smile through. 🙂

  6. Very hard to become old and dependant and to leave his home and wife and pass his days alone, waiting for visits …
    And nevertheless, this party for his birthday, surrounded with his all family, was just a perfect day …
    Jane and you were beautiful, on this special day ! …
    Just a bottle of milk for you two ! … You exaggerated, girls ! …
    Many loves for all of you, and the best : a good health for your Mum and Dad.

  7. Lovely photos Emjay, and he looks so happy in them – who knows what goes on in their heads though. My mother had some minor strokes a couple of years back – no physical damage but it’s triggered dementia and the mother i knew is slowly receding; she no longer knows who I am 😦

    Treasure those happy thoughts.


  8. I understand. My Dad was in a locked unit for the last 4 months of his life, and the whole process of his dementia was like having him die twice. There’s no easy way through this, I am sorry for you and for your Dad. Strength to you.

  9. Firstly, I am so sorry for the pain here. When The Duchess was losing ground so fast, every day another horror (and I mean horror), it was one shock after another–even though it only took 2 months or so for it all to transpire.

    Walking in and seeing a radical change had to be a really big shock!

    The place actually looks pretty. I’ve spent sooo many hours at nursing home (starting as a young child, as a teen, I’d go “smoke with the old ladies” and as an adult, I go less frequently but only spend time in the dementia ward because nobody else dares go in there). It’s grand that so many of you were there and he looks quite happy!

  10. I know I needed a couple of drinks after spending a stretch visiting my MIL in the nursing home. Awful, and it was supposed to be a good one!
    Now she’s in assisted living, in a very nice place. I’m so glad to hear your father is recovering.

  11. I loved the pictures! You and Jane are pretty darn snazzy looking….both pretty blue eyed blonds. Thank you for sharing. I will keep your Dad and Mom in my prayers. (The cake looked extra yummy!)

  12. Home goings like that can be so sad, but I love that he held on and you got to go. Those locked wards are never cheering, and it’s easy to see how they dampen a person’s “spark.” But the party looks lovely and he seems to be having fun. Hopefully, that will help him feel a bit better, knowing that his family is still with him.

  13. My dad was really frail the last few months of his life, and it was even harder knowing that we could have done more to make him comfortable if mother hadn’t been so hardnosed and stubborn about it. But it’s always difficult watching someone fade away. ((((hugs))))

  14. Hi Emjay, I can completely see how this was bittersweet for you. It is amazing that he has this mile mark in his life. And also that you got to go back for it. What a lovely family you have.

  15. My nan is currently ‘fading away’ too, and it is horrible to see that tiny, frail women who looks kind of like my nan, who has the same sharp mind but sleeps on her couch in the sun room most of the day because her body is wearing out. It will take something like your dad’s fall to get her in a home and she is resisting it with all the energy she has left. I don’t blame her! She watched her own mother go through dementia in a home for nearly 15 years, she doesn’t want to be that person as well.

  16. It’s good that you got to spend this birthday with your dad. Being so far way is so difficult sometimes. I know I struggled with it with my own folks. I sincerely hope your dad is able to get a bit of his spark back.

    Loved seeing all the photos of your family – especially you and Jane (and the booze bottle, too 🙂 )

  17. What a gorgeous family you have. I am sorry your dad had to go into a care home but it looks nice and clean.
    You always have a wicked glint in your eye in photos. : )

  18. Old age ain’t for sissies. I am so glad you and your whole family got to birthday par-tay together. What a difficult adjustment for all of you. Seeing your always-tough dad so fragile and at the mercy of others is hard. What a fine man to found such a terrific family!

  19. The thing I rememebr most of your dad is the bit about when he was on the farm and it didn’t rain, he always held out hope that it would. He’s a great man in my book too. I hope gets to see those great-grandchildren.

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