Monthly Archives: May 2014

Dad’s Last Gift

May 30, 2014 – My Dad passed away one year ago today. Unsurprisingly, I still miss him. In a way there are two Dads I miss: the man he was before his traumatic brain injury as well as the man who suffered from TBI and dementia. I miss the man who designed and built beautiful, creative furniture, and I miss the man I was able to help care for and love. Most of all, I miss his not being with Mom. Theirs was the kind of relationship about which they make movies; it just seems contrary to the way the universe should be to see Mom without Dad.

Dads gift 1a
Dad and I eating popcorn and watching TV

My reflections on Dad’s passing, however, are not about that moment when his poor, battered brain and body finally stopped functioning and his spirit was freed from the chains of mortal incapacity. Rather, my thoughts are of his last gift to us during the final three days of his mortal existence. They were truly extraordinary.

I went to see Dad on Tuesday, May 28. I purposely went at lunchtime so I could feed him. I suppose I could have been really saddened by the fact that my dad could no longer feed himself, but I found great comfort and satisfaction in serving him this way. I had nothing else scheduled for that afternoon; given my past experience, I knew mealtime could extend for an hour or more. Because he had no idea who I was and was, for all intents and purposes, non-verbal, feeding him was about the only way I could interact with him. Any other time he was either sleeping or paddling around in his wheel chair, completely oblivious to my presence.

I found Dad in the dining area seated all alone at a table, his food in front of him. I sat down and started to feed him, but he wasn’t very interested. I noticed that he didn’t have anything to drink, so I got him a glass of orange juice with a straw. He took one sip of the juice, said, “Mmmmmm!” and kept drinking. Although he actually drank very little, I could tell he was really enjoying the juice. That was the last communication from Dad before he died, and I am so grateful that his last conscious act was one of pure enjoyment.

Dads gift 2
Like I said, Dad was a big guy.

Before long, he began to nod and quickly went to sleep. He looked uncomfortable all slumped over in his wheelchair, so I found his caregivers and asked them to lay him down on his mattress so he would be more comfortable. Because Dad could not stand on his own, he had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor so he wouldn’t fall trying to get out of bed. I sat down next to him and just held his poor skinny hand—he had gone from 230 lbs to about 170 during the year he was in the care center. After a few minutes, he began doing what the nurses called “guppy breathing.” The best way to describe it is he looked like a fish out of water. He would open his mouth and his stomach would suck in, but there was no air being exchanged. This would happen two or three times, then he would gasp and start breathing again. It was really kind of creepy. While this had happened numerous times in the hospital, I hadn’t seen him do it for a really long time, so I decided to call the caregiver and ask if this was something they normally saw with him.

It wasn’t.

Almost immediately, the nurses were there to check his vital signs. Fortunately, one of our favorite nurses, Joyce, was on duty that day. After checking him, she told me that this was basically the beginning of the end and that I should call my mom. She also said they would bring a bed in so he wouldn’t have to lie on the floor any longer.

Because I had spoken to my mom just about 10 minutes before this happened, I knew she and my sister Barbara were already on their way to see Dad, so I decided not to call and alarm them. I did call my brother, Bryant, and my other sister, Emily, and told them that they should come as soon as they could. I sat down by Dad and just kept asking him to stay long enough for Mom to get there. As soon as she and Barbara arrived, I told them what was happening. Mom, of course, immediately put her arms around him as best as she could with him lying on the floor and tearfully began telling him how much she loved him. About this time a couple of caregivers brought a bed in, gently picked him up off the floor, carefully laid him down, and covered him with a sheet and blanket—a circumstance he hadn’t enjoyed for quite awhile. I can’t describe how comforting it was to see him in a real bed instead of on a mattress on the floor. Even though we understood and agreed with the reasons he couldn’t sleep in a bed, it still seemed kind of degrading to have him sleeping on the floor. Before long, Bryant and Emily arrived, and we began to wait for the inevitable end. One of the caregivers had told me that, in his experience, death usually occurred within 30 minutes after a person began guppy breathing, but Dad apparently wasn’t in any hurry to leave. All of the care center staff left the room, and Mom, my siblings, and I found chairs and just sat talking.

About five or six o’clock, we began getting hungry, so we called Barbara’s husband, Ryan, and asked him to pick up some pizzas from Robintino’s—one of Mom’s and Dad’s favorite places to eat. In fact, that was where we went to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. By the time Ryan arrived with the pizza, the other spouses had arrived, so we all sat around eating pizza and just chatting. Occasionally a nurse would come into the room to give Dad some morphine or a caregiver would ask us to leave the room for a few minutes while he changed Dad’s brief.

As it got later, it was pretty evident that Dad wasn’t likely to go anywhere soon, so my siblings decided to go home, while Mom and I chose to stay the night. Even though my Dad hadn’t slept in it, there was still a bed in the room. So Mom took the bed, and I slept in Dad’s recliner which we had brought to his room when he first entered the care center. The staff gave us plenty of pillows and blankets, and we settled in for the night.

The next morning, Wednesday, Mom had one of my nephews and his fiancée stop at her house to get her a change of clothes and some toiletries. She also had them bring the quilt she was hand-binding so she could have something to do while we waited. I had my Kindle and an internet connection and was good to go. So we settled down to wait some more. My sisters and brother came later in the day along with my dad’s brother and his wife, Harry and Barbara. Again, we just all sat around chatting and laughing. There was no sorrow, just contentment. Occasionally, Mom would reach over to Dad, pat him on the hand, and say, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You can go now.” The care center took great care of us, providing food and anything else we needed. While their breakfasts and lunches were pretty good, dinner was less than appealing, so we decided to have someone go to Wendy’s to get us something to eat. Wendy’s is another eatery that belongs in our family’s history; for many years, we would stop for lunch at the Wendy’s in Price, Utah, on our annual trip to Lake Powell.

That night, all of my siblings as well as my Uncle Harry decided to stay the night. Mom took the bed again, I claimed the recliner, and the staff brought mattresses and bedding to the room for my two sisters. My brother and uncle were given blankets, and each found a couch in one of the lounges to sleep on. (About six o’clock the next morning, a couple of the caregivers, who had just come on shift and didn’t know about my dad’s condition, saw my uncle on the couch and figured he was just a new resident who had wandered in there during the night.) Our sleeping arrangements were reminiscent of our nights at Lake Powell with our family of 20 or more all spread out on the top of the houseboat. In fact, the whole situation seemed very much like one of our Lake Powell vacations with us all just relaxing and talking. Of course, Dad wasn’t taking part in the conversation, but he usually didn’t say much during our Lake Powell discussions, either.

Thursday morning arrived, and Dad was still with us. He was being kept comfortable with morphine, and he seemed peaceful for the first time almost since his fall three years earlier. The day was going about the same as the previous two days, so in the afternoon I decided to go home to shower and change clothes. While I was gone, Emily called and asked me to stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up some dinner. Again, although quite unintentionally, we had chosen a restaurant with a particular familial connection—during his career as a cabinet maker, my dad had made and installed the booths and salad bars in numerous KFC restaurants around the state.

After dinner that night, there was a definite change in Dad. His breathing got shallower and more irregular, and we knew that we wouldn’t be spending another night at the care center. Joyce, our favorite nurse, came in and told us exactly what we could expect when Dad died, how his extremities would get cold, how his cheeks would sink in, how his color would change, and how his mouth would most likely remain open. I spent most of the evening timing his breathing. He would breathe normally for a few minutes, and then he would stop breathing for a full minute or two. Finally, about nine o’clock the waiting was over, for both him and us. Perhaps there was a death rattle like they talk about, but I don’t remember hearing one. He finally just stopped breathing and was gone. We stayed for a little while, not really knowing what to do. Eventually we decided to go home and let the care center take over the necessary arrangements. The hardest thing was that everything looked so clinical and cold. Finally, Mom covered Dad with his Jazz blanket. Somehow that made it look like Dad was someone loved and cared for and not just a lifeless body on a bed. Then we left.

We’ve talked often about those three days. I really think Dad could hear us and was just enjoying being with his family until he finally decided that it was time to pass through the veil. I know it was a wonderful blessing and gift for us. We were able to be together as a family for those three days without worrying about Dad’s welfare. He was in neither physical nor emotional pain; he wasn’t confused and combative; he wasn’t aimlessly paddling around in his wheelchair, running into walls or getting stuck in a corner. He was just there with us and we with him. What greater gift could a family ask for than being together?

 

 

In Remembrance

This is my first true Memorial Day. Up until now, I have thought of this holiday mostly in terms of recreation rather than remembrance. All that changed with my father’s death almost one year ago. In his honor, I have decided to share the obituary I wrote after he died last year.

James Edward Collard Dad
On the Road Again

James Edward Collard took off for one last road trip and headed for home on May 30, 2013. Although the last three years of his mortal journey were marked by detours, dead ends, and hazardous roads through mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and dementia, he and his family were blessed to spend the last three days of his life together in peace, love, and laughter.

Born on March 23, 1934, to Harry Junius and Annie Veora Collard, Ed spent an idyllic childhood in Fountain Green, Utah. In particular, he treasured the summers he spent with his family in the mountains of Gooseberry riding his horse and helping his father take care of their sheep.

His family’s move to Daniel, Utah, in 1950 brought Ed to Wasatch High School where he met and fell in love with his lifelong sweetheart and eternal companion, Patricia Mahoney. Their’s was a storybook romance; he was a star on the basketball team and she was a cute cheerleader. Once they started going together, they never went out with anyone else. (Pat’s diary records 483 dates from October 20, 1950, to January 1, 1953!) They were married and sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple on April 20, 1953, and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary just six weeks prior to Ed’s death.

A man of great intellect and many talents, Ed was a natural engineering genius. He loved figuring out how things worked and derived even greater pleasure in figuring out how to make things work better.

He had three separate, and very different, careers. From 1955 to 1977 he was a long-haul truck driver for WS Hatch and Garrett Freight Lines. In 1977 he started his own cabinet-making business, Collard Cabinet. His beautiful carpentry work can still be seen in many of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurants throughout Utah and surrounding states as well as in other businesses along the Wasatch Front.

His wife and children were also the beneficiaries of his woodworking skills as he lovingly built cabinets, tables, dressers, and many other items for their enjoyment. One particular treasure is the oak cradle he built for his first grandchild in 1977. That cradle and a special quilt hand-stitched by Pat have been shipped from coast to coast, with several stops in between, so each grandchild and great-grandchild could spend his or her first days on earth cradled in the warmth of loving grandparents.

Ed started his third career as a recreational property developer in 1989 when sold his cabinet business to take over the development of family-owned land around Strawberry Reservoir. In this role he completed the unfinished Strawberry Lake Estates development, designed and completed Strawberry Lakeview, and was in the planning stages of a third development, Strawberry Cove, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling down a flight of steps on July 1, 2010.

Ed served faithfully in many callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His lifelong struggle with depression developed within him a great compassion for others and helped prepare him for his responsibilities as Bishop of the Val Verda 6th Ward.

Over the years Ed, his family, friends, and youth groups spent many wonderful days, and some not so wonderful rainy and windy nights, on Lake Powell in the houseboat he helped design and build.

Ed is survived by his loving companion, Pat; his children and their spouses, Eileen and Craig Sorenson, Barbara and Ryan Farnes, Bryant and Pam Collard, and Emily and James Christensen; 17 grandchildren and 8 (soon to be10) great-grandchildren; his brother and wife, Harry and Barbara Collard; sisters Ruth Syme and Joyce Anderson; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sisters, Betty Collard and Faye Pay.

As a family we send our warmest thanks to the marvelous staff at Silverado Senior Living for your incredible service in Ed’s behalf during the past year. We never worried because we knew you loved and cared about him almost as much as we did.

And by the way Dad, that IS the shaggiest dog we’ve ever seen.

(Note: Let me explain that last sentence. While we were growing up, Dad had a favorite joke about a shaggy dog. When we began having a family talent show, (see “Sifting Sand and Other Talents”), Dad’s talent was always a retelling of the shaggy dog joke. It goes like this.

There was a farmer who had a very shaggy dog. The dog was so shaggy that his wife encouraged him to enter the dog in the local dog show. So he did.

When the three judges came to the farmer’s dog, the first judge said, “My, that’s a shaggy dog.” The second judge said, “That IS a shaggy dog.” And the third judge said, “That’s the shaggiest dog I have ever seen,” and promptly awarded the farmer and his dog the grand prize.

The farmer then took his shaggy dog to the state dog show. Again there were three judges, and the first judge said, “My, that’s a shaggy dog.” The second judge said, “That IS a shaggy dog.” And the third judge said, “That’s the shaggiest dog I have ever seen.” So the farmer and his dog won the grand prize once again.

Finally, the farmer took his shaggy dog to the national dog show. True to form, the first judge said, “My, that’s a shaggy dog.” The second judge said, “That IS a shaggy dog.” Then the third judge said, “I don’t think he’s very shaggy.”

And that’s the end of the joke. Yes, I know it is really stupid, but that’s part of what made it so endearing to us.)

Love and miss you, Dad.

 

Spiritual Irrigation

Irrigation ditchMy Grandma Mahoney lived in a rural farming area where people irrigated both their fields and their lawns. Water flowed through a series of ditches and culverts, and when it was your “watering turn,” you simply placed a dam on the receiving side of the ditch so the water was diverted onto your field or yard.  Each person on the system had access to the water on a specific day for a specific length of time, so once her turn had ended, Grandma would remove the dam and the water would begin to flow through the ditch again.

Being at Grandma’s during the watering turn is one of my favorite childhood memories. If we had thought to bring our swimming suits, we would put them on and head out to play. No swimsuit, no problem—shorts and shirts eventually dried. Although we ran through the sprinklers at home to play and cool off during the summer, there was something almost magical to me about playing on Grandma’s flooded lawn. As the leading edge of the water crept across the ground, you could feel the water slowly climbing its way to your ankles. The water was never more than two or three inches deep, but that didn’t stop us from getting thoroughly soaked. I particularly remember the squishy feel of the wet grass as we ran around the yard. Sometimes we would sit and splash each other; other times we rolled around on and even slid across the lawn—no need for a Slip ‘n’ Slide.

Once the watering turn was over and the water was no longer being diverted onto Grandma’s lawn, we would watch as it was slowly absorbed into the ground. It was always kind of sad to watch our private water playground gradually fade away, but there was hope as well because we knew there would be a repeat performance the next week.

It seems to me that my life has been a series of spiritual watering turns. There are periods in my life when I have felt immersed in the life-giving water of the spirit. Oh, how I savor them. They are the times when my prayers feel like true communion, when I feel hopeful and content no matter what the circumstance. It seems that these spiritual watering turns occur most often when the torrents of life’s trials and tribulations threaten to sweep me away. I recall the sweet spiritual peace I felt both after my Dad’s fall and then during his gradual fading into dementia. Although it was really hard to see Dad in his incapacitation, I always felt such an outpouring of love towards him. For me, this was one of the important lessons I learned during that trial.

I felt that same spiritual support and comfort during my husband’s cancer experience. During the first week after we received the diagnosis, I suffered the full impact of the emotional inundation unleashed by that fateful phone call. But, once my tearful floods subsided, I could feel the gentle flow of the spirit surrounding my soul, and again I felt that peace which cannot be described.

I have also enjoyed the Lord’s spiritual irrigation at peaceful times in my life. It is a very subtle experience and one which can easily be missed or dismissed. Sometimes I can point to a catalyst for this outpouring, and other times it just simply comes. The one thing all of my spiritual watering turns share is that they gently come to an end. How sad that makes me, but I know it is part of God’s wisdom.

Agricultural experts will tell you that less frequent, deep watering is better for crop growth than is daily shallow sprinkling. Roots naturally seek out sources of water. Thus, watering deeply encourages them to seek deeper into the soil to access the water they need. Frequent, shallow watering usually results in a weaker plant with roots much closer to the surface. Consequently, during times of drought, plants with deep, strong roots are likely to fair much better than those plants that have come to rely on regular superficial watering.

I am sure the Lord ascribes to the deep watering school of thought. He knows I need both times of plenty when the spirit fills me to the brim, as well as times of dryness when I must seek deeper for spiritual sustenance. I must confess, I prefer the times when I am bathed in the peace and contentment of spiritual waters. Growing deep roots is not easy. It requires that I push through dry, seemingly impenetrable ground to find the nourishment I need. Sometimes the task seems beyond my capacity to accomplish, and I begin to wilt. These are the times when I have to trust that there will be another watering turn somewhere down the line. Judging by past experience, however, that watering turn will come much later than I would like.

In my own agricultural efforts, I have sometimes allowed the soil around my plants to become so dry that they begin to wilt and wane. Unlike the Lord, I’m not trying to strengthen their root system, it’s just a matter of neglecting my duty. But I am always amazed at how miraculously they revive once I turn on the hose or bring out the watering can. Unfortunately, there have been times when I have waited too long and the plant is beyond revitalization. At times I get to the point where I am so spiritually dry that renewal seems unlikely, and I begin to wonder if the Lord has forgotten to water me. Those are the really hard times. Fortunately, even though there might not be the good, soaking irrigation for which I’m thirsting, there are always enough little showers to get me through; the Lord has never allowed me to perish from the lack of spiritual water.

I don’t know when my next spiritual watering turn is going to be; if there is a regular schedule, I have yet to discern it. I hope the gentle flooding of God’s spirit is not too far down the road because I feel like I’m getting pretty dry. But the Lord knows that; my challenge is to trust that he will not let me shrivel up and die. For now, even though I would prefer a deep soaking, I am primarily seeking for strength to extend my roots as deep as I need to go to find water to sustain my soul.

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