Looking back over the past year, I see God’s hand in preparing us for what we are experiencing at this very sad and special time.
Last New Year’s Eve, Ed’s birthday, our son drove us to New Jersey where we had a fabulous dinner with my brother Bob and his wife Jean at Don Pepe’s Restaurant. The place was packed with holiday revelers, and Ed and I shared a six-pound lobster with all the trimmings in the festive atmosphere.
On New Year’s Day we visited with very dear friends Ann and Tony Humphreys in East Windsor and then with Jill and Jim White in Hamilton. The next day we had brunch with Ed’s brother Denis and his wife Joan. The weather was beautiful and everyone was in great spirits. On our return trip to Rochester, we encountered some snow but made it home safely.
A few weeks later we learned that our brother-in-law, John, Ed’s sister Mary’s husband, had passed away after a long bout with COPD. Because of distance we were not able to attend the funeral services but a few weeks later got to see Mary when Stephanie attended an orthopaedic conference in Orlando and invited us to travel with her. We had a wonderful visit and also had a chance to get together with a long time friend, Ed Hamburg, who lives nearby.
Although having been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s Disease the previous August, Ed was functioning normally and continued to attend classes at Osher Life Long Learning Institute where he took classes in subjects of interest. He didn’t always remember the content but would bring home the handouts and notes he had taken, and we would review the subjects at home.
During the Lilac Festival in May, my cousin Jas and his wife Janet were in Rochester for a doctor’s appointment. We had lunch at TRATA (The Restaurant at the Armory), took in the visual and fragrant beauty of the flowers, and spent a lovely afternoon together before they headed back home to Wellsboro, PA.
Ed decided to skip the summer session at Osher, but we went on two of the field trips: one was a narrated boat ride along the Erie Canal starting in Spencerport, followed by a delightful lunch at the Canal House Restaurant and then a tour of historic Fort Niagara; and the other was to the Aquarium in Niagara Falls and a visit to the Carousel Factory and Museum in Tonawanda, NY, including a ride on the antique carousel—what fun that was!
Another highlight of our summer was a visit with our Grandson Brett. While he was here, we played miniature golf, which we hadn’t done in years, and had a chance to just enjoy his being with us and interacting with his cousins.
All during those months I was l putting together material for my book. As fall approached, it was time for the last steps in getting it published. After consulting with my advisors (Son Ed and Granddaughter Claire) I decided to self publish and use a local consultant rather than going through the process of seeking an agent or doing it on line. I chose Mary Dougherty of Bootstrap Publishing whom I had met at a writers’ conference last year. She is a delightful lady with the same beliefs and values I hold dear. We set a plan and timetable to have the manuscript edited, printed, and in hand by December 18th. The day my father was killed would be the day his story came to life. That was also Mary’s birthday (an omen?), and she said she felt privileged and excited to be part of the project.
To devote the time necessary to focus on my goal, I went with Ed to Osher three days a week and used the time he was in class to do my writing. That gave me four solid hours each time, and I was making great progress. My first due date was November 5th to have the manuscript complete and ready for editing. Everything was going beautifully. The staff and students expressed interest in my endeavors and were enthusiastic and supportive of my efforts.
Then on Friday, October 28th, Ed exhibited signs of confusion and disorientation. He didn’t have any evident physical symptoms, so I thought it was just a progression of the dementia. The next morning, however, he seemed even worse, so I called our son Edward the EMT and he came over to check things out. Stephanie was in Philadelphia with Helen for a regatta that weekend. We called to fill her in, and she recommended we go to Urgent Care to have Ed’s condition evaluated. We did. Their tests indicated he might have had a stroke, and we were referred to Highland Hospital for further testing and treatment.
Suspicions were confirmed with a CT scan, and Ed was admitted. I stayed with him for three days while he received wonderful care from everyone while he was there and when discharged was visited by therapists at home. He was so good about doing his homework and gave his best efforts to getting better, but the cognitive decline continued at a precipitous pace. To the casual observer he might have seemed fine, but Ed was frustrated by his limitations. It was heartbreaking to see him struggle with thoughts and tasks that had previously been routine, even automatic.
Ed and I always appreciated and enjoyed the time we spent together, but now had a heightened awareness of how precious those moments were. For our anniversary on November 5th we went out for lunch at the Dinosaur Barbeque and took in a matinee performance of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at GEVA Theater. Between doctors’ visits we continued our social engagements, shopping trips and various forms of entertainment.
On November 16, Edward took his Dad to a hockey game at the Blue Cross Arena. They had seats in the front row right up against the glass and enjoyed a father and son night out. The following week Stephanie took Ed to the JCC for a tour and try out of the newly renovated facilities and equipment. Each of the children got to spend some quality fun time with their Dad.
The day before Thanksgiving we learned of the death of our dear friend Ann Humphreys with whom we had visited the First of the Year. It was unexpected—she had been diagnosed with cancer only three weeks before. Ed and I cried over the loss, and he expressed his concerns about dying and his fear that I would go first and leave him.
One evening the following week our son had come over for dinner, and Ed said he had something he wanted to discuss. We sat at the dining room table, and he told us he knew there was something wrong with him and that he wanted to “fix it—whatever it took.” He also promised to cooperate and gave us permission to push him if he resisted our efforts.
On December 7th and 8th we had appointments with Ed’s PCP and Neurologist, both of whom said he was doing as well as could be expected and that it would just take time; but they couldn’t tell us how much time or how much improvement to expect. Ed was disappointed with the news.
To get our minds off the “problem” and into the holiday spirit, we decided to put up our Christmas decorations. Our son brought the boxes up from the basement and set up the nine-foot pre-lighted tree in the living room. We intended to add the ornaments over the weekend. Stephanie stopped in after office hours, and the four of us played a game of Go Fish. Ed had difficulty following the directions for the simple game, but we were patient and with a little help he actually won–being first to get rid of all his cards.
After the children left, Ed and I had dinner. I had made one of his favorites—a ham steak with brown sugar and pineapple and string beans amandine; coconut layer cake was dessert. Ed had no trouble eating every bit and even remarked on how tasty it was.
To make room for the decorations, I had removed some of the items that usually sit on the shelves surrounding the TV and fireplace.—my tea set, collection of Lenox , and some books . One of the books was “Wait for Me” by Judith Viorst. It is a lighthearted dialogue between a long-married couple deciding on where they would meet in heaven, if one of them “went first.” We read the story and decided we would meet near the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—in deference to Ed’s Irish heritage and his years in banking.
By the time I had cleared the dishes, it was after eight o’clock, and Ed was tired; but before we went to bed we set up the nativity scene. Then Ed picked up the mistletoe and hung it in the archway of our living room. All evening we had been listening to Christmas songs and carols on a radio station that plays golden oldies during the rest of the year. As Ed hung the mistletoe, I heard the familiar strains of Twilight Time sung by the Platters coming from the speakers—our song! We danced under the mistletoe in the glow of the tree lights, held each other tight and shared a long Christmas kiss, or two, or three, ………… Then we shut the lights and headed to bed. It was about 9:30.
Since his stroke, Ed woke up frequently during the night—maybe because he napped several times during the day. About midnight he awoke and was concerned about what he had to do the next day. We talked about decorating the tree with the ornaments we had accumulated over the years and recalled happy memories of Christmases past. He finally fell asleep only to awaken again about two. This time we walked through the house and looked out the window. The snow was falling lightly and the ground was covered with a blanket of white. Ed remarked about the beautiful, peaceful scene and worried about how deep it might get. (Christmas Present)
Then a little after four he awoke again, and when he stood up and started to walk to the bathroom his body began to tremble and he said he was going to fall. As I reached out to catch him, he fell into my arms and took his last breath. I could not have imagined, let alone asked for, a more beautiful end to our wonderful life together. Though brokenhearted, I am at peace and grateful for the beautiful gift of a long good bye with which we were blessed. Sleep in heavenly peace, my Love, sleep in Heavenly peace.
None of us knows the day or the hour that will be our last. Never miss the opportunity to show those you cherish how much you care for them. You can never say “I Love You” too often or give away too many hugs. When one of you is gone, there will be loneliness and grief, but there should not be regret. “See each morning a world made anew, as if it were the morning of the very first day…treasure and use it as if it were the final hour of the very last day.” (Fay Hartzell Arnold)
Wishing you a Joyous Christmas and a Healthy , Happy New Year!