Pam’s story: caring for my dying dad

Pam's dad Herbie

Pam’s dad Herbie

This week, Pam Diamond shares her uplifting story of caring for her dying dad.

We hope these intimate stories from friends of Final Fling will help others going through challenging times.

Pam’s story

“A couple of days ago I enjoyed an early morning walk on the beach to clear my head. I took a little get away alone for some me time and head clearing. Along with beach walks I also did some birding at the Carolina Beach State Park. I saw some beautiful birds – male and female painted buntings, male and female summer tanagers and a very boisterous yellow-throated warbler to name a few. This is my second time in 2 weeks to see a summer tanager. I went birding a couple of weeks ago with my dear friend Cindi and we saw one on that hike as well as a magnificent scarlet tanager. Yes, my name is Pam and I am a bird nerd.

“But I digress.

“While I was walking on the beach I had a song playing in my head, as I often do. That morning’s song was Bob Seger’s Travelin’ Man – “Up with the sun, gone with the wind…those are the memories that make me a wealthy soul.”

“I watched a few surfers and paddler boarders enjoying the waves and was delighted by a family of dolphins swimming by. Toward the end of my walk I was overcome by a feeling of gratitude. With tears in my eyes I said a quiet thank you to God and then to my dad.

“Before I go further it’s important to say this is my story, my journey. These are my experiences and choices and are in no way meant to be a proclamation of what is right or how things should be for anyone else. Please don’t take offense if you made different choices or had different experiences. Just like with childbirth, pregnancy and mothering, we each make choices that are best for our family and it doesn’t mean other ways are wrong, just different.

“Dad and I lived near one another for about 30 years off and on. I followed him to Texas from Florida after I graduated from college. Jay and I met, married and moved to Florida from Dallas. My relationship with Dad was strained at the time. A couple of years later he divorced the “evil Janet” (there was a nice Janet whom we all liked a lot) and followed us to Florida. When Jay and I moved to North Carolina, Dad followed us a couple of years later.

“In North Carolina, he lived an independent life about an hour away from us. We saw him fairly regularly, especially on holidays or other celebratory events. But for the most part, he had his life in Pinehurst.

“Dad landed well there. Pinehurst is a lovely little town – perfect for retired people who love to play golf. He had his golf, his social circle, a small Jewish congregation. It was a good life for him.

“I stepped into his life a bit more over the last year and half when his memory and health seemed to be declining. He saw a neurologist last summer after much coaxing and was diagnosed with Alzheimers. (We aren’t sure how accurate that was but he had cognitive impairment to be sure.) When Dad got sick and ultimately diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jay and I made the decision to bring him to live with us. I had been talking with Dad – or at least trying to talk to him – about what he would do when he couldn’t live alone. A single man in his 80s needs a plan, I thought. I wanted him to know he could live with us if he wanted to. He even told my sister after one such discussion that I said I was going to build a room under the house for him. But mostly, he didn’t want to have that talk. I said, “Dad, I want you to make a decision while you can and not when you’re forced to.” But he said he would just wait until he was forced to. And he did. Maybe he knew that ultimately I’d take care of him.

“So when he moved in with us it just seemed like the right thing to do. Sure, we could have hired people to live with him in Pinehurst or moved him into a senior living facility but all of these things weren’t what Dad wanted. He seemed to like being in our home, enjoying the company of our dog, Reuben, and being looked after by people he knew instead of strangers.

“For me, it seemed like the natural order of things – you take care of your family, even when it’s messy, or inconvenient. Sure it’s old fashioned thinking but that fit for me. It seemed much like my decisions around childbirth and mothering. (In fact, much of this process of dying seems intimately related to the process of birth – more on that later maybe.) I wanted to have my babies naturally, without medication and medical interventions. I wanted my babies with me, being fed by me and cared for by Jay and me. These were the choices and sacrifices Jay and I made. Caring for my father at the end of his life seemed the same.

“But I wasn’t doing it because I felt overwhelmed by love for Herbie. I was doing it because it was the “right thing to do.” That’s how I went into it. And, I started out often frustrated, angry, resentful even. Having him under my roof reminded me daily of the things that hurt and angered me most as his daughter. It wasn’t lost on me that the people in my life offering spiritual and emotional counsel (Rabbi Dinner, the social worker, Rose, at the oncologist’s office, the social workers from Hospice, and of course my friends) would encourage me to focus on myself instead of how I could change Dad.

“I am eternally grateful for the people in my life who let me vent, offered me wise counsel, got me to yoga, fed me good food and drank with me – all without judging me as I went through this arduous process. Because something miraculous happened.

Ever so slowly I started seeing things differently…”

Follow the rest of Pam’s personal journey here on her blog.

See other personal stories from Flingers.

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