Thursday, March 7, 2013

WB Family Holiday Season 2012, Part I

The WB Family Holiday Season 2012 was very different and quite rocky to say the least.  Another unexpected long break from blogging, but it was important to ensure my time and focus was spent where I was needed at the time.

While the season dealt with family loss, it's important to qualify our family holiday, as one where we really invested in the meaning of the season, of family and giving thanks to God.  Something many of us have lost sight of over the years because the holiday season has become so commercialized.

The beginning of this story is all over the map, but when I think about it, the real start was with our family Thanksgiving in Iowa with my partner, Steve's family.  While we may have missed one or two Iowa trips over the last seven years, we try to make the 8.5 hour drive to Iowa from our home in Wisconsin each year to celebrate this holiday with this side of the family.  This was an important year for Steve, as his father's long fight with Alzheimer's disease had reached its dangerous peak.  I haven't blogged before now about the affects that this disease has had on our family over the past several years, not only to protect the medical privacy of my father-in-law, but because I felt it was a story that, while it needed to be shared, timing did not permit me to share my feelings from its eventual wake in my blog.  I'm sure I don't need to share with everyone here how difficult living with and being affected by this disease can be on a family, let alone over a holiday season.

Regardless, we usually arrive the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving in order to take part in the preparation festivities with mom, and to ensure that she has the correct number of hands for both the preparation and the all adult cleanup that follows. Just try finding a young person who wants to help you clean up after a big family meal these days...Our arrival on Wednesday evening was later than usual because of the weather and holiday traffic out of Chicago.  Exhausted as we arrived and dad asleep, we said our hellos, set a schedule for the next day, Steve stayed up to catch up with his mom and I hit the sack to prepare for the family entourage to arrive the next day for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Happy Thanksgiving.  While Chenin, Sean, Megan and Brian could not make this trip with us. I was happy that we brought our dogs, Jake and Mattie with us, as they offer me exercise, playtime with them and it was important to me that they were not home alone.  But, you can imagine how it adds to the long drive to Iowa.  It is so worth it to me to have them with us. I digress. It was an early rise to the smell of pie and Turkey and suddently a big thud upstairs.  The thud was alarming, as we'd heard the shower running upstairs, which either meant someone fell in the shower or dad was alone by himself while mom was getting herself ready before everyone got up. We were quick to get upstairs to investigate the noise and from first inspection everything seemed to be alright.  Mom was in the shower and dad was up and about himself.  While dad didn't know what he was doing or who anyone is most of the time, this time he seemed more alert than usual.  He was almost "giddy" a couple of times, which really seemed out of character and a bit alarming to us as well.  Regardless, while we were all a bit guarded, the morning cooking and preparation continued.  During all of the chaos, I noticed that dad, while not understanding all that was going on around him, seemed to be a bit more active than usual.

During a short early breakfast break, mom sat dad down in his regular spot to care for him and provide his medications, her regular daily care givers and devoted and loving wife regimen.  Dad seemd to become angry and spat the meds back out almost as if he was gagging on them.  On some level it seemed as if he was being defiant and rejecting them, all the while he was laughing through the process.  It seemed freakishly weird to me and while not verbally shared by Steve, his mom and now his sister, Shelly, I could tell they too were concerned.  Nevertheless, he finally took what was needed, he went to rest and the holiday morning progressed as more family arrived. By now, we have Steve's sister and brother and their families at home anxiously waiting for the early afternoon Thanksgiving feast. While odd for me, I left Steve, his mom and sister in the kitchen to prepare the meal and I spent the time with dad and the other family members in the living room.  Dad was again wandering back and forth in the hallway and it was as if he was trying to speak to me, I could tell he wanted to, but finally, I understood that he wanted to sit in his rocker and Kevin (Steve's brother) and I got his situated in his rocker.

Dinner is served.  Mom and Steve alerted the family to assemble for dinner.  Kevin and I got dad to his seat at his usual spot at the head of the table.  Everyone was seated and Grace was shared.  The food was making its round around the table.  Some had just begun to eat, as others were still loading their plates.  All eyes seemed to be on dad who seemed as if he could not get comfortable.  Suddenly dad gasped, yanked back in his chair and it seemed as though be began to choke.  In a very quick and what seemed to be a frozen moment in time, I took stock around the table at the shock on every one's faces and then I broke my frozen state and shouted to get dad to the floor, mom yelled for someone to call 911.  Without initially saying a thing, I quickly identified dad's situation as a seizure.  I helped Kevin get dad lowered to the floor, place him on his side and clear his airway.  He was not breathing.  I felt panic over my body, and said to myself, "please God not today at Thanksgiving while the kids are all here watching." 

I scanned the room and everyone seemed to be in shock and frozen in place, Shelly was an emotional mess, the dogs were panicked and the kids crying and/or very upset, in a nutshell there was chaos. Steve was on the phone with the paramedics, he was highly emotional and relaying orders to us that Kevin and I already been able to do.  While shallow, dad was breathing.  Somehow I knew I needed to help get more control over the situation.  I managed to get mom to the floor to be with dad.  It helped her deal with the moment in time. I was able to calm Shelly some and over to her husband, she needed to be held. I ask the kids to get the dogs downstairs and those upstairs to pull the dinner table back and clear the living room to allow the medics room to care for grandpa.  They needed to be distracted. Kevin's wife, Lisa and someone I consider a wonderful person and friend helped achieve a sense of order back into the situation. She is simply amzing!

Medics were caring for dad and now it was time to secure the home and get everyone rounded up in their vehicles for the ride to the hospital.  Dad was in the ambulance, Kevin, Lisa, their kids and mom in one car, Lisa and her family in their car and Steve and I in ours. We were missing the kids now and for a moment wondered if we should call.  We chose to wait for more informaton. The Alzheimer's journey was beginning its end for the Wingert family and I wanted to be there to help hold them all together.

After about 2 miles down the dirt road from the family farm and just as we turned on to the highway, the ambulance suddenly stopped at the side of the rural Iowa highway on a cold and windy Thanksgiving afternoon.  It was about 2:30 p.m.  Not sure where the last 90 minutes went, but the next 20 minutes with all of us parked on the side of the road would seem like an eternity.  Finally, another ambulance pulled up on the other side of the road.  The EMT's were running emergency equipment back and forth.  Kevin was the lead car and Steve and I were the last.  We waited and waited and I when I looked over at Steve, I could see the fear of anticipated loss on his face.  The "what ifs," and the "why didn't I's" were all there in that moment all over his face. My role was immediately switched from Drill Sergeant to Caregiver for my partner, the other half and best part of me. 

What I will share in the next two parts of this family story, will solidify what it means to be a family, having hope in your hearts and God on your side.  Stay tuned for WB Family Holiday Season, Part II very soon...

1 comment:

  1. Mark,
    You are certainly a gifted writer. As you unfolded this story I felt slow and silent tears streaming down my face. You made me feel present during the crisis and the love and care from beginning to end was palpable.
    Thanks for giving me that little reminder today of what is truly important in life.
    Debbie Holland