I lost my dad...my hero...in September. He actually began to decline the year before when he lost most of what was left of his sight. He was no longer able to read, which was his passion, or e-mail old friends. Then, last January, he was hospitalized because his right foot was becoming discolored due to lack of circulation. It involved a two week hospital stay which included a femural artery bypass to restore circulation. The surgery was successful, but the hospital stay really took a toll on him...he became beligerant and not himself. He spent several nights sitting up facing the door of his hospital room so he could see the Japs when they tried to sneak up on him in the dark. His walker was his machinegun. (Anyone who knows him, knows that he was a Marine machinegunner on the islands of Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima during WWII. He survived a horrifying banzai on Guam, of which there was an actual book written called "The Last Banzai," and was wounded on Iwo Jima.) His hospital stay was followed by two weeks in a rehab center, which he hated even more than the hospital. The day we took him to rehab, he begged and pleaded with us to take him home...he'd be good and do all his rehab exercises at home...he wouldn't be any trouble. When we tried to explain to him that he would only be there for a couple of weeks until he could get around by himself, he accused us of tricking him into going. It broke our hearts and we cried...
We brought him home the end of January, but he had to have another surgery and another week in the hospital in February...with the same dementia setting in after a couple days. We were told it was common in older people, but that didn't make it any easier. We bypassed rehab this time and took him home...and decided he would never go back in again...it was that bad. And we made the decision that he would never go to a home other than his own...thus the pact between we three sisters. He needed 24 hour care, so we set up a schedule and stuck to it as best we could. My little sister lived with him, so she had evenings and nights. She worked full time, so I would go to his house at 6:30 every weekday morning when she left for work, but I had a full-time job also, so could only stay till about 10:30 or 11 a.m., then my older sister who didn't work, would relieve me and stay till my younger sister got home from work. His dementia got worse as time went on, and the nights got so difficult for my little sister that I began to spend the night at least once during the work week to care for Dad so she could sleep all night without being disturbed. It was hard, but we were determined to keep him at home.
Then, about the time we were wondering how much longer we could do it, he passed away quietly one evening at home. I really think God made the last year extremely difficult and made Dad not himself so it would be easier for us to let him go when the time came. He celebrated his 90th birthday in July, so he had a long good life.
My boys and nephew put together a wonderful farewell for Dad, one that he would have loved. They pulled out his M1, attached the bayonet, and stabbed it into the ground in Dad's backyard. They hung his old dogtag and the red Marine cap he always wore from the rifle and put his favorite work boots at the base of the rifle. We lit the firepit and burned the flag that was flying on his flagpole the night he died. The music we played was "Hallelujah" by the Gatlin Brothers, the "Marine Corps Hymn," "Amazing Grace" (bagpipes), and, of course, "Taps." It was simple, but it was awesome!! I miss my dad and will continue to miss him the rest of my life, just as I still miss my mom, but I know they are together again, arm in arm...and that makes me smile.
The year wasn't all bad, though. My two youngest boys bought their first homes and my middle son got married to a very sweet girl whom we already love. And my two grandsons (Sawyer-3 and Liam-1) continue to make life wonderful. Life goes on and God continues to bless us in so many ways. I love my family and friends so much and know how lucky I am to have them all. I pray that this year is a good year and brings blessings to all.