"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
April 26, 2017
This past Sunday afternoon, Jon's father finished his life on earth and made his entrance into Heaven. This week I would like to write a tribute to my father-in-law and share some some of my memories with you.
After Jon and I got married in June of 2005, we saw Stan and Diane quite often; but it was always the two of them as a couple. We attended church with them, Jon worked for his dad, and we rented our home from them. I saw Stan and Diane at church, or at the shop, or we would go out to dinner with them from time to time, but Stan and I never really had any one on one time together during those first years of our marriage.
The truth is, even though Stan was a great man and treated me well, there were times when I thought he was a tad on the grumpy side. I would hear family talk about how sweet, generous, and kind Stan was and I would think, "He must just be grumpy in his old age!" Jon hadn't lived near his parents for a few years and had also noticed some changes in his dad and attributed it to him getting older. We later realized that these changes in his dad's personality were due to the onset of Alzheimer's, although the diagnosis wasn't official for a few more years.
For instance, when Jon and I got married, Stan and Diane decided that they wanted to try downsizing so made us the offer of renting the house where they had lived since 1968. They agreed to leave some of the furnishings in the house for us to use until we could afford to buy our own, then they wanted their furniture back. Jon and I saved and a few months after marriage we bought our own living room furniture. When Stan and Diane came to pick up what had been left in the house after their move, Stan told me, "This furniture we let you use looks just fine and is still in good condition! But if you want to waste your money and buy new, I guess that's your decision!"
I know that Stan and Diane had some adjustments to make to their new daughter-in-law, also, in those first years that I was in the family. They found that I wasn't quite the sweet, meek, easy-going lady that they thought their son had married, but I was a tad more outspoken than what they had anticipated. But over the years, we all grew to genuinely respect and love one another.
The family have shared stories of Stan's sense of humor and love of pulling pranks; fun vacation memories; his sweet nature and great kindness; and what a godly example he was to his family and many others. I have enjoyed hearing all the stories about Stan and the wonderful memories that his family have of him.
Honestly, the majority of my personal memories of Stan revolve around these past four years of his battle with Alzheimer's; especially the past couple of years. I don't have the sweet, fun memories that other family members have of their sweetheart, dad, grandad, and uncle. My relationship with Stan grew over these last few years of his life, therefore, most of my personal memories revolve around things that have occurred during his "Alzheimer's years". That's when we shared a lot of personal time together.
Although Stan wasn't officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's until four years ago, Jon and I were aware of him having issues long before then. In fact, a year or two after we were married, Jon began sharing oddball things that his dad was doing at work that were out of character for him. He designed and built custom machines, and began to hand off a design to Jon and his co-worker to began building; then would forget that he had given them a design and would redo the work and hand it off to them again. There had been a problem with carbon monoxide at the shop at one time, so at first, Jon excused his dad's odd behavior to that. But after that was cleared up and things still happened, Jon and I began to suspect that he was dealing with the beginnings of Alzheimer's. We were also aware that his mom seemed to either be trying to hide Stan's symptoms from us, or was with him so much that she wasn't noticing that he was having issues. We found out that she was aware, but thought she was doing a great job of covering it up and hiding it from the family.
A little over two years ago, Stan had to have a procedure on his back which required an overnight stay in the hospital. He had been diagnosed by that time and the disease was becoming more noticeable to everyone and he was having a lot of issues. By that time his driver's license had been taken from him and he was unable to use machinery and tools that he had used for so many years. Jon and I decided to spend the night at the hospital with Stan, so that Diane could go home and get some rest overnight. We were told that due to the anesthesia, Stan would likely be pretty out of it all night and sleep a lot. That was not the case whatsoever! He was wide awake and talking the entire night. Jon and I had been there with his parents during the surgery the previous day, then up all night caring for Stan, so we were wiped out by the morning. We were sleep deprived and exhausted. During the early morning hours, Stan got on a rampage about something, and it hit a nerve with both Jon and myself. I understood that he had Alzheimer's and that he was still suffering some affects from the anesthesia; but I finally had enough, my patience was worn thin, so I told Stan how the cow ate the cabbage (meaning telling it how it was and being very straight-forward!). When I finished, I went into the bathroom and cried due to being so upset. While I was in there, Jon told his dad that he did not like seeing me so upset, so to never do that again and apologize. When I came back out, Stan was very apologetic and seemed sincerely sorry; and the subject matter was never again mentioned.
That was just one of several nights that Jon and I spent with his dad; most of them being during this past month. But I will get to that a little later.
Stan was moved to a memory care facility a little over two years ago. We found out that he hadn't been sleeping well and his full-time care was wearing Diane out. After the surgery, he only slept maybe thirty minutes within a 24-hour period; and that's not an exaggeration. He was up all night long, and required a lot of care and a lot of work. Jon and I stayed overnight with them a few nights helping out so that Diane could get some rest, and Jon's brother helped out some as well. We realized that this schedule couldn't continue and that Stan needed more care than what we could give him. Diane needed to be able to give her full-time attention to loving Stan as a wife, and not have to be caregiver, too.
Jon and I made the decision when Stan was moved to the memory care unit that we needed to go visit him at least once a week, if at all possible, not knowing with this particular disease how long he would know us; plus we wanted to be consistently present to let his dad know that we would always love him. We also tried to be the support and encouragement that Diane needed and spend time with her.
Honestly, during the past two years we've had some really good visits with Stan, but some that were not quite so good either. We had some where he would share memories with us and be appreciative of us being there. Other times he would be argumentative and there would be absolutely no reasoning with him. We never knew what frame of mind he would be in, and whether or not we would have a good or bad visit with him from week to week. There were a few times when the confrontation would begin as soon as we walked in, and we would leave almost immediately, knowing that nothing we could say would make a difference at that time. But we continued going anyway.
On April 1st Stan was taken to the hospital, by ambulance, due to severe pain he had been having in his right hip for a week or so, plus he had had some falls. The x-ray done at the care facility had shown a fracture. When he was in ER, the more in-depth tests showed that the ball of his hip joint had broken. On the following day, he had a partial hip replacement.
Jon and I spent Saturday and Sunday nights at the hospital with Stan. That first night, it was after 9:30 before he was finally checked into a room. Jon and I walked up to his bedside and he sounded surprised when he said, "You're still here?! I thought you had left me." We assured him that we would be there all night and not leave him. He seem relieved and told us, "Good. Now I can sleep."
While in the ER, only two family members could be in the room with Stan at a time, so I had stayed in the waiting area so that Jon could go into the examination room with his parents. While back there, Stan had asked where I was.
It was very assuring to Stan to have his hands held during his time in the hospital. He was scared, kept forgetting where he was or what had happened so Jon and I explained it over and over; and he seemed surprised each time. One night Jon was holding his dad's hand when Stan looked up and asked, "Where's La...la....la... re...re...ta...?" Jon told him that I was standing on the opposite side of the bed. Stan immediately dropped Jon's hand and reached over and latched onto my hand with both of his. Jon laughed and said, "Well, I know how I rate!"
Another night, Jon and I were standing together beside Stan's bed, talking to him. Stan looked up and said, "Jon... my buddy... Jon!"
One particular night, Stan was having a lot of breathing issues. Jon and I thought he possibly was dying. During a moment of clarity, Stan was awake and Jon and I were able to talk to him and say our goodbyes.... and we knew that Stan heard and understood, for his responses showed that he was greatly touched and he thanked us and told us that he loved us.
The thing is, Stan wasn't consistently aware of his surroundings nor did he consistently have moments of clarity, and he did sleep quite a bit. But by spending numerous hours with him, we were able to catch those few precious moments that now mean so very much.
The last two nights that my father-in-law was in the hospital, Jon had commitments at work so was unable to stay overnight, so I stayed with Stan by myself. One of those nights, I walked up to the bedside when I arrived and told Stan that I was going to be there all night with him. He looked thrilled and said, "Well, bless your heart!"
During those two nights we had a few special moments. Stan had often (really, really often) talked to us about wishing to go back home to live with Diane; as well as going to his son, Ken's, home and doing some work on it. One night, Stan told me, "I had wished....", not "I wish". I told him that for that moment the two of us could daydream and talk about things he wished he could do. His speech had become garbled and he had trouble expressing himself or putting sentences together for the past several months of his life. If he could say a few words, we could often guess at what he was trying to say. That particular night he mentioned the words wished... home... Ken's house to work.... So I talked about him going to his house, going to Ken's, and going to his sister, Jan's, home and everything he had often told us that he had wanted to do at each of those places. I believe that Stan had come to the realization somehow that those things were never going to happen, due to his wording, but for those few moments of time I allowed him to daydream of what his heart had longed to do.
During those four nights at the hospital, I sang quite a bit to Stan. It seemed to relax him and he enjoyed it. In the middle of the last night that I spent with him at the hospital, I sat beside Stan's bed and began singing to him. He had his eyes closed, but wasn't sleeping. As I sang 'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus', 'Jesus Loves Me', and 'It Is Well With My Soul', Stan would try to sing along with me occasionally. His words were garbled and I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I could tell he was trying to sing and that he was being blessed. After the songs, he would raise his hands and say, "Amen!"
Out of all the long overnight hours that I spent at the hospital with Stan those few minutes of clarity, and having conversations, and him trying to sing with me and raising his hands and saying Amen, and Jon and I getting to share our hearts with him and say our goodbyes, and hearing him call us by our names.... are so very, very precious and I will cherish them for a long time to come.
After Stan went back to the memory care facility, he immediately began to suffer a decline. There were no more conversations, no more him calling us by name, and no more him trying to sing with me. In fact, he seemed to no longer recognize us and often seemed to stare past us. Any words he tried to say were so very garbled that we could no longer make out almost anything he was saying.
This past week has been very difficult for the family as we've watched Stan's journey from earth to heaven. We went from Hospice giving him a possibility of 5-7 days last Wednesday; to giving him 24 hours on Saturday. Jon and I once again stayed with him during the overnight hours from Wednesday through Saturday, so Jon's mom and sister could go home and get some sleep. This time we would sit beside him and hold his hand and sing to him with little or no response; but we still stayed. We did it to try and offer Stan whatever comfort we could and to give Diane assurance that family would be there if something should happen in the overnight hours.
On Sunday morning, Stan's breathing greatly changed and Jon and I thought that his time on earth was coming to an end. His breath was very shallow and we could barely feel a pulse. We called Hospice, as well as Diane and Gayla. Diane came in and kissed him and talked to him; and it perked him up! By the time Hospice came, Stan's blood pressure was up and his oxygen level at 90% and his breathing had evened out. The Hospice nurse told us that Stan wasn't following the normal pattern and was doing things his own way.
Jon and I went to his mom's house to sleep for a few hours. We went back to be with Stan around 2:00 in order to allow Jon's mom and sister a chance to go home for a couple hours to relax and possibly nap. We visited with them for a short time, as well as Jon's nephew and his family who were there with Stan. They all left and it was only Jon and me in the room with Stan. His breathing by that time had a gurgling sound and was fairly fast. Maybe five minutes after everyone left, I was sitting beside Stan, with Jon at the foot of the bed. Immediately Stan's breathing slowed and became shallow. I knew that his time had come. Probably about the time that Diane had walked into her earthly home, Stan entered his heavenly home.
I believe that Stan loved his wife so greatly that he didn't want her to watch him die. He waited until she left to leave this world. As he was taking his last breaths, I was singing to him the song: "Going home; I am going home. There is nothing to hold me here. I've caught a glimpse of my heavenly home. Praise God, I am going home." What an honor it was for me to be able to sing him Home!
Honestly, the last 3 weeks have been muddled together. I know after Dad returned to the nursing home, there were a lot of times that he reached up toward heaven. I usually took hold of his hand, thinking he wanted someone to hold. One of those times, I thought he wanted a hug, and tried to do my best to hug him. That time for sure, and several times I reached for his hand, he dodged me. He wasn't reaching out for me, but for heaven. And one of those times, he was able to voice just enough for Loretta to understand, "Momma is calling me home." It was about the longest string of words he put together after his surgery.
The nurses at the nursing home and hospital were very good at filtering out the bits of Dad that showed through from the Alzheimer's disease. And they all enjoyed getting to know as much of him as they could.
In many ways, the last two years of Dad's life were a return to his childhood. At different times, he seemed like a boy ranging about 3 years old to 10. He still loved Mom with all his heart, but it was more of a child-like love. And he loved the attention he got. He told us in his first month or two at the nursing home that he hired a couple of the pretty ladies there to help him put his shirts on. He was charming with them, and flirted about as well as any 8-year-old would be expected to.
Many years ago, Dad was a great father, husband, boss, engineer, and jack-of-all-trades. He earned respect from anyone he worked with. He taught me and my brother how to be good men and good husbands. And he taught our sister how she should be treated as a wife.
Dad was always slow to anger, and had a way to show if he was disappointed in us or upset without having to yell. In fact, the only time I remember hearing him yell was because someone had let a dog chase Dad's sweet little daughter.
Aunt Ruth's Punch
2 packages strawberry Kool-Aid
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 large can pineapple juice
1 (2 liter) Mountain Dew
2 large juice cans of water
Mix all ingredients together. Can be refrigerated or can be put in freezer to make slushy (my favorite!).
Stan greatly enjoyed my cooking! Many times I cooked for the family and he was always very complimentary. The first Christmas that he was in the memory care facility, we reserved a room for the family to gather to celebrate the holiday. I made finger foods for everyone to enjoy. From time to time after that, Stan would occasionally remember that and say, "I remember when you brought food here and it was so good." He bragged on my cooking many times. Cooking is fun when those eating it are appreciative!
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. - Dr. Seuss
We love you!
Loretta & Jon